Friday, December 7, 2007

Under Attack!

It was a trivial incident, really. Insignificant in the grand scale of things. I had just left the front door of our house, about ten o'clock at night, taking George the dog out for his last pee walk before bedtime. We live on a blind bend in the hills, a very narrow street, made more narrow by the customary row of parked cars, and I heard the aggressive roar of the engine before I saw its source--a large black SUV, taking the bend at inordinate speed. Caught in the headlights, I shook my head in a clear--but quiet, I thought, and non-threatening--sign of disapproval of the speed at which the vehicle was traveling. And was rewarded for my pains by a direct hit from a paper cup filled with ice cubes, hurled at me from the open window of the car as it roared on past.

Trivial, as I say. But I was shocked. The first reaction was a surge of belated fear. This guy--sorry, men, this was masculine driving; my general impression is that women drivers are aggressive in different ways than taking dangerous bends at a high rate of speed--this guy, I thought immediately, would have used a gun on me if he'd had one. Those drive-by shootings are common enough in the city, and surely, some of them, as senselessly provoked. Another surge of anger, easily noted and dismissed. And then sadness, that we humans are reduced to such pitiful instinctive behavior.

So I looked for the gift. I found myself thinking about the driver, the bad karma he must have been carrying with him as he drove, and of which he had certainly just acquired a little bit more. I had learned something from direct experience, I thought, about human nature, the quick resort to violence, the easy release of rising anger through instant action, the gratification of a fragile ego. I thought about that demented teenager in Omaha, Nebraska, who did have a gun available and who used it to devastating effect. The death of those men and women who were the victims of his unprovoked attack is a dreadful reminder of the essentially harmless banality of my own incident, but in principle it was no different. (Is it not disgraceful that we, in this country, apparently still lack the good sense and the will to keep lethal assault weapons out of the hands of even the mentally unstable and the criminally insane?)

And what about myself? Easy to learn about others, less easy to look into oneself and find the teaching there. However minimally, I had my own part in bringing about this explosion of petty rage. What little part of my own ego prompted that message I conveyed, that small, disapproving shake of the head that undoubtedly said: I'm your Daddy, I'm wiser and older than you, I look down upon you from the perch of my righteousness and offer you the benefit of my superior judgment. From a different viewpoint, from the driver's seat, jubilant with my own driving skills and daring, I look out at this judgmental old prick with his stupid little dog and, well... fuck him, right? Who's he to lecture me on my driving?

A trivial incident, yes. And, yes, I was right. The guy was driving like a maniac. His rage was evident in the way that he drove before I provoked it further. I have no need to reproach myself, nor to make the incident bigger than it was. Still, a little something was learned in this very small "gift wrapped in shit."

It's this kind of thing that I'm interested in exploring in "Accidental Dharma," soon to offer space for those teachings that reach us unexpectedly, in small ways--a paper cup, flung out of the darkness on a narrow hillside street--or, sometimes, in truly terrible, life-changing events like those Omaha killings. I'll be asking for stories from anyone who cares to examine the impact of these unanticipated life-lessons on their own consciousness and the way they conduct their lives. I hope that you'll join me. More to come on this topic, next week...


thailandchani said...

I totally like your analysis of this. You're right. Completely!

There would be far less violence if everyone could examine it similarly.

KathyR said...

I like your take on this incident, too.

Unfortunately, being behind the wheel turns a lot of us into different (and not better) people.

the living mandala said...

Since I've been making a conscious effort to examine motivations (mine as well as others') I've had a lot of moments like this. This is an excellent post.

When you do have a call for stories, I'm sure I've got several that I could share. A worthy project, to be sure!

PeterAtLarge said...

Living... thanks, I have you on my list for people to turn to in this effort.

Chani and Kathy... thanks for being here today! I hope you'll come visit us at Accidental Dharma, when we're up and running.

carly said...

P: I think due to things in your make-up, you invited the attack. You communicated your judgment of the man and he communicated to you his, as simply as you noted. What if he hadn't thrown the cup? What would you think then? More smugness perhaps? Or remorse? Blogsville is a similar thing.

What amazes me is that there are much worse people out there and you seem to think you can change any of them in remote ways, such as internalizing something and passing along an ideal. I think it takes more penetration of understanding and a philosophy which hands people something they can use better than what they have now.

Blogs attract people of like mind, those who already agree with each other. Outsiders are usually bored by that kind of community. But often it seems to me like a mutual admiration society apart from mutual help. If that is true, it does not make a difference. Also, words are inadequate without contact in blogsville, except the nicest words. It's easy for one to get "pissed off" not realizing the possibilities of words taken another way. And curiously there are short answers to everything and apologies for going on in depth. I also find people sense they are easy to anger and don't really want opposition of any kind, only support. They are tired and haven't much energy to make real contrasting contacts. Especially Buddhists, who are withdrawn people to begin with, people seeking peace at all cost. This approach surely has its deficiencies. This can be very boring. In a creative mind, a whole range of responses to the cup-throwing man could have been possible. But with a mindset like Buddhism there is just one response, and some Buddhist friends to agree wholeheartedly. A Buddhist blog works only on the strength of interest in Buddhism because it's too predictable.

I have to conclude there is something else going on here. People reaching out, but from the safety of limited contact, pat ideas, compliments, and nice words, which are fine and wonderful. But there is no creative tension in that, little to strengthen convictions or truly enlighten. That is the limitation of tying one's convictions to a doctrine, neatly listed in eight easy steps. A whole range of life is precluded, because in fact there are thousands of other myriad ways to move through life. Ways that utilize what is called the "strange attractor".

A creative analysis of the man and yourself would have been much more interesting, but I will agree that blogging is much easier than writing a great short story where the irony of the cup-throwing man meets your fate and destiny and further tests your lack of faith.

As always, your humble disagreer. I'm with Missouri too.

PeterAtLarge said...

You miss an important point, Carly. I don't know about other bloggers, but I don't write The Buddha Diaries with the intention of preaching to anyone. This blog is a place where I have the opportunity to explore the byways of my own mind day by day. It's where I stay AWAKE. I'm flattered that anyone else chooses to listen, including your good self. But I don't presume to be trying to teach you anything. The "creative tension" of which you write is between me and the words I write, not between writer and some imagined audience. Thanks for writing!

TaraDharma said...

excellent post, Peter. your words resonate greatly -- all the nuances of human behavior, cause and effect, random happenings, gleaning the gems from the manure. i have many experiences to share, and will be looking forward to the new blog. my mind works in much the same way in that I find I drift quite effortlessly to considering a situation from many vantage points.

Carly, in my limited understanding of Buddhism, I have not assumed that "peace at any cost" was the goal of practice, nor have I experienced that Buddhists are any more withdrawn than anyone else. Quite the contrary, but it's instructive to hear your perspective. Your comments remind me to check myself before making generalizations. And I do generalize, a lot -- I know this.

Mark said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cardozo said...

Carly wrote:
"But there is no creative tension in that, little to strengthen convictions or truly enlighten. That is the limitation of tying one's convictions to a doctrine, neatly listed in eight easy steps."

Carly - in my opinion you cannot ever really hope to directly change the world for the better EXCEPT through self-awareness and self-improvement. I believe that the more you understand yourself in relation/reaction to the world, the more "authentic" and therefore "world-changing" your actions will become. If you know yourself well, you are probably less likely to throw ice at someone, and probably less likely to shake your head in disapproval as well (an action that, as Peter intimated, probably only confirmed to the ice-thrower that the world is a place for combat not cooperation).

So I agree with Peter that blogging is useful not for the sake of expounding/confirming any particular doctrine, but rather for "logging" one's individual journey in order to travel more efficiently toward one's goals. (In Peter's case, I imagine, a world and a life with more joy and less strife.)