Pema Chodron

“I am a Selfish, Judgmental Bitch” (and Other Declarations of Love)

2 Train in Brooklyn

Originally posted May 11, 2011

YouTube has a video of Pema Chodron discussing the 5 Slogans of Machig Labdron, which are instructions for waking up so we can alleviate the suffering of others. One of the slogans is “Approach What You Find Repulsive” (or as I like to say, “Love the Unlovable”). Well of course am a loving, open-minded, spiritual person…until I discover that unlovable lives inside of me.

I was on the train the other day, playing the role of “devoted yoga student”, when I found myself sitting across from an obese, homeless, black man. Unfortunately, this is an all-too familiar scene in NYC, so my jaded self would have either surreptitiously covered my nose or moved to the next car once the train had stopped.  Except that I was instantly captivated by one fantastic oddity: he wore a set of neon green, acrylic, one-inch fingernails (with one nail missing from the middle finger of his left hand).  Afterwards, I couldn’t help but study him: the wooden cane slung over the seat railing, khaki linen pants and matching shirt, a navy-blue fringed flannel scarf over both shoulders, white tennis shoes with laces loose on the left one, a reusable Walgreens bag to his left, the smell of day-old garbage emanating from his corpulence.

And then I discovered his penetrating stare.  To my chagrin, I realized that for as much as I was openly observing him, he was observing me…and he could see that I was watching him. I felt exposed. I instantly wanted to contract in fear. I couldn’t let him (of all people) see me like that. Then I felt guilty for being judgmental…and I feared he would see that ugliness in me too. I thought to myself, “What can I do to help him? Food? Money?” But I recognized that thought came not out of service to him, but out of a desire to alleviate my discomfort. The most intimate thing for me simply was to sit and approve. I didn’t have to change or fix anything. Just notice his eyes boring into mine and allow him to look at me that way. And then it came to me: we were not separate beings. Not at all. This man. This subway car. This air. These rats trembling below. We were all part of the same universe-organism; we simply have our own unique roles to play, like different organs within the same body.

Because the truth is, his path is perfectly designed for him. My path is perfectly designed for me. The rats’ path is perfectly designed for them. And what’s more: all these different beings on different paths make exquisite mirrors for helping me get to know the many (and often disowned) parts of myself. My guilt. My judgment. Normally I want to tuck them away. Give ‘em a spare dime, send ‘em packing and sit back in my righteous nobility. But it’s through creating a loving relationship with my guilty self that allows me to know my purity. Creating a loving relationship with my judgmental self allows me to know my tolerance. And by gently inviting a relationship with this curious being (even if for only two minutes), I walked away knowing a piece of my soul a little bit better. My impenetrable heart softened.

That is, until I unfurled my mat and rolled my eyes at the selfish, uppity, white bitch yammering on her phone (in the yoga studio of all places!) about her stupid, petty life.

I still have so much to learn about love…