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Why you gotta be so rude?

Why you gotta be so rude?

A story made the headlines recently of a woman who had failed to turn up at a children’s birthday event with her son and was subsequently invoiced by the irate organizing parent. A bill of £15.95 was fired off to claim back costs incurred (it was a dry ski slope party) and not long after, the lawyers and press had joined in the fun. The main bone of contention was that the absent party goers had not informed anyone that they weren’t going to make it. Seen through the eyes of the party planners, these people had simply not bothered to inform them. Cue mayhem. The villain of the piece, however, is still up for grabs in the PR war: who is in the wrong here? Were they fussy penny pinchers who deserved the public shaming or simply irritated, innocent and out of pocket? Were they loveable yet absent minded free spirits, or lazy, thoughtless layabouts?

The first casualty here seems to have been common courtesy. No one comes up smelling of roses in what is a perfect snapshot of modern forty-something frustration. But behind the mild comedy, there seems to be something here which goes quite a bit deeper and affects all of us: a lack of time. One suspects that had these poor folk had a few more moments of peace in their day, this whole situation would never have occurred. Parent A could probably laughed off the loss of £15 whilst Parent B might have had the foresight to be a little more organized. What happens when we don’t have this time, however, is that we begin to forget those little pardons and acts of respect which allow us to live happily together. The “demise of manners” is the predictable mating call of the middle aged, but there is no doubt that the way in which we talk and interact with each other has an enormous impact on the way that we feel about ourselves and those around us. When we are rushed, pressed and stressed out, our consideration for others can suffer and not long after, consideration for our self can go the same way.

Yoga practice speaks of finding true happiness in that which binds us together as a universal family. The ancient Upanishads in particular talk at length about the quest to find this connection that all living beings share: “Those who see all creatures in themselves and themselves in all creatures, know no fear. Those who all creatures in themselves and themselves in all creatures know no grief. How can the multiplicity of life delude the one who sees its unity?” (Isha Upanishad, 1st millennium BCE). So much in life, however, seems to separate us from one another. More often than not, it is all we can do to struggle through the day, busy from the moment we wake until the moment we drop back into bed. The irony is that the more we run around to secure our financial future, the more we can seem to lose this sense of connection with others and ultimately move further away from the very peace that we are trying so hard to find.

Seen in this light, the issue of manners and tolerance then takes on a unique importance. It is these tiny acts of kindness, which show each other that we care. I can forgive you all your failings if underneath it all I see you struggling and trying in the same way as I am. When we are patient with each other, how much easier it is to forgive and offer compassion rather than frustration and anger. Manners can seem so mundane as not to qualify as “spiritual” but in reality they are the building blocks from which everything else can grow. At the heart of all mystical traditions is this understanding that our bitterness and frustration with one another needs to be disciplined before the inherent love that connects us can begin to bloom. In Buddhism, the four Brahmaviharas of loving kindness (maitri), compassion (karuna), joy (mudita) and equanimity (upeksha) are ancient virtues cultivated to help speed a practitioner’s spiritual progress. These same virtues also show up in the Hindu tradition within Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (Book 1 Verse 33). In many ways, our everyday dealings with each other are the most effective training ground that we have. It is one thing to keep your cool on an ashram miles away from your noisy teenage neighbours but quite another to do it while you are trying to get some work done on at 10pm on a Friday night!

The familiar “namaste” to close a Yoga class is sometimes translated as “the light in me recognises the light in you”. Quite often we bow our heads and repeat the word in rather a robotic fashion but really the message here is the most important of all. We have to learn to live with each other, with all our faults, imperfections and petty selfishness. These countless acts of patience and courtesy which we show to each other, are where we truly begin to bring into practice this mutual respect. Moreover, the most wonderful thing about this practice is that the more we can realize it in our own lives, the more everybody around us also benefits. “Those who see themselves in all and all in them, help others through their very presence to realize the Truth themselves” (Katha Upanishad). Out of this respect, comes love, and that really is the heart of the matter.

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Friday, 15 December 2017
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