You Never Know When You’re Having Breakfast with a Buddha
From many years (and lifetimes) of being a spiritual seeker I can honestly say some of my biggest lessons appeared from unexpected and unlooked for encounters with “average” people. But over the years, I’ve noticed a trend leaning toward spiritual teaching from experts with degrees and easily acquired certifications or professionals who had a spiritual epiphany from a near-death experience awakening to the realization (surprise!) that there’s life beyond death.
There is an abundance of online, world-famous teachers and speakers with online courses, books, dvd’s, certifications etc. who are sharing their experience. I think it’s great that so much of this information is available to so many and I don’t have a problem with people being paid for their expertise and the work they’ve put into gathering the information they present. There’s certainly value in much of the knowledge they offer.
But somewhere along the way, as spiritual seekers, we need to remember that spiritual growth is not necessarily reflected in the number of degrees or certifications achieved, the amount of money or accolades acquired or the size of the group who follows you. That can become the illusion of the physical world and the ego gratification of money and fame. He who is the richest is not necessarily the most spiritual.
I’ve met teachers in every walk of life in many different cultures who were profoundly wise and generous and had little to no education or money. Actual shamans rarely call themselves that. We sometimes tend to appropriate spiritual practices and terms without the respect, permission or true understanding of the cultural we are borrowing from. This may be out of admiration or perhaps to lend authenticity to our own spiritual practice by adopting the trappings of an ancient lineage or culture. Nothing wrong with learning from spiritual wisdom wherever you find it, but respect and acknowledge the origin and be who you are in this body and lifetime reflecting the culture you picked.
The teachers I’m talking about are living an unassuming spiritual life and usually appear when I least expected them. My interactions were always exactly what I needed at the time. These quiet teachers are all around us, but if you get caught in judging someone’s worth by the appearance of worldly success, you will probably walk right by the Buddha on the street and miss him!
Many years ago, when I lived in Traverse City Michigan, I had an encounter that knocked my ego on its behind. I was working for the local television station as a weather girl/traffic manager, doing community theater in the evenings and always felt like I was failing and not doing enough. My own self-judgement was creating a lot of anxiety in my daily life. Braving an icy, snowstorm I went to get some breakfast before work at my favorite Omelet shop.
As I read the paper and relished my hot coffee and breakfast, my attention was drawn by a raggedy woman sitting at a table next to me. She had grey hair braided into a bun with wispy straggles framing her wrinkled face. She was loudly engaged in an intense conversation with the empty chair across from her. Customers were furtively glancing at her in embarrassment and hurrying to finish their food and leave. I started to eavesdrop on her conversation and I heard her say, “I don’t think she will listen to me. She’s never happy with what she’s got!” She cocked her head to the side to hear the response and said with a sigh., “Okay …I’ll try!”
When I headed to the counter to pay my bill, I noticed she got up and stood behind me. I asked the cashier to let me pay for her breakfast as well and she said, “Oh, that’s nice of you, but we feed Elizabeth every morning.” After I paid, I turned around and handed the woman the change. I looked up into her eyes and saw clear blue eyes, sparkling with humor and wisdom. She embraced me and in a crisp English accent whispered in my ear, “Doest thou think I am a charity case my dear?” Flustered, I blurted out “No, not at all (I did) I just wanted to help!” She took my hand and said, “We all need charity, even you. Remember where it begins.” She smiled, turned and walked out the door into the blizzard. I looked at the cashier who smiled at me and shook her head. “Remarkable, isn’t she?”
As I headed off into the storm to my job at the T.V. station, I felt altered somehow by the brief encounter. Where did that voice come from? She didn’t seem stressed or uncomfortable with her position in life. Yet I and all in the restaurant were embarrassed about it. I felt compelled to help her but she helped me.
I reflected on the phrase charity begins at home. I looked up the definition of Charity and what stood out to me was kindness, goodwill, compassion and tenderness toward others. These were all things I was not giving to myself. Charity begins at home had a different meaning to me after that. If we don’t have these attributes for ourselves how can we pass it on to the rest of the world? Charity would simply be sympathy and judgement not compassion.
The most unlikely of teachers taught me an important lesson about self-love and then tightly clutching her tattered coat, disappeared into a white wall of snow. Pay attention to the least of those around you. You never know where wisdom will come from or how spirit will choose to get you to listen to the truth.