May 25, 2016

The Man to My Right might have been Buddha—Focusing on our Differences creates our Disconnect.

Photo: Mysi via Flickr

Doha’s International Airport is a gigantic world melting pot.

At any given moment, one could take part in an international costume party of colour and diversity.

For those who have travelled little, the stopover in Doha, Qatar can be overwhelming. It could either be experienced as an assault on the senses or a real cultural elixir.

From incandescent orange sneakers to bougainvillaea saris speckled with gold, jet-black burkas and flowing white gowns topped with twisted turbans, the count, if tallied, would display—‘’all present.’’

As the gaze shifts from one costume to another, it’s interesting to pay attention to the mind. Preferences, preconceived notions and even judgments float to the surface.

There are our stories, real or unreal, that are attached to our migrating thoughts. Some evoke deep attraction and others, strong aversion. These are the two motivating forces that, if we are not mindful, drive us toward connection or disconnection.

Flight Q89 was called to board.

As always, I had pre-selected an aisle seat enabling me the liberty to circulate when the flight became just a bit too long. We boarded from the back of the plane. My gaze led me down the narrow aisle, counting silently with the intention of seizing my seat, 23B. I whispered under my breath, “28, 27, 26, 25, 24, 23, 23A, 23B…”

To my surprise and disappointment, 23B turned out to be a middle seat sandwiched between two people for the next seven hours!

I squished in between the two already occupied spots. To my left, a discrete woman dressed in a sky blue hijab and matching abaya, or cloak which ironically is defined in Sanskrit as ”having no fear.’’ Seated to my right, a middle-aged man in a long white gown, his bronzed head topped with a propped-up prayer cap.

Slightly annoyed to say the least, I sank into my seat and shifted my body to the right offering the man in white my back. I wished I was more “appropriately’’ covered or was sitting between two women.

I felt my body retract and contract noticeably and was startled by my reactivity. Having travelled throughout the world, I had never noticed any particular aversion to any one culture, especially one that I couldn’t identify; but there it was right in my face.

This was a moment of truth, one that I couldn’t ignore. I cringed with shame and humility at my uncomfortableness and then quickly sent myself meta, loving kindness, remembering the words of Lama Yeshe—Be gentle first with yourself if you wish to be gentle with others.

As we left Doha and soared across the endless sky, I continued to observe.

I searched for obvious reasons why I needed to ‘’protect’’ myself from this man and, as life would have it, there were none. In fact, the man to my right, from a culture I knew nothing about, was rooted in humble peace and completely oblivious to my internal hysteria.

I took out my book on compassion as he took out his book. From the corner of my eye, I glanced over my now slightly softened shoulder to catch a glimpse of what he was reading, still attached to finding something to make him wrong and my ego right.

At that precise moment, my heart became the most tender of hearts.

In his hand, the man to my right was holding a book on compassion. One in the same, same in the one.

That moment became my soulful teacher and left an indelible mark on every cell of my being.

There was something so simple about that moment yet so unbelievably transformational.

My heart filled instantly with overwhelming compassion and love for this gentle being to my right. I naturally extended my heart out to him with great respect and humility.

Fear of the unknown, our misinterpretations, as well as our conscious awareness of the apparent differences between them and us causes our egos to judge wrongly and distort the truth.

This finger pointing is our unconscious way of making meaning out of what we don’t understand, what appears at face value different and becomes our protective cover-up from feeling like we don’t belong.

We create justifiable differences between them and us so that we can feel better about ourselves, deeming ourselves right while judging them undesirably wrong. When we look for the differences, we harden and shut down, narrowing the scope of the mind and the flexibility of our hearts.

What we don’t realize is that an underlying discrepancy is seeding within because as much as we can come up with legitimate differences, intrinsically we know, whether we choose to admit it or not, that we are all human.

Maybe next time when we are face to face with a sudden need to contract and judge we can relax and offer ourselves the expansive space to witness and connect. From there, we can allow ourselves to look courageously into the eyes of that person and search for the endless similarities between us that connect instead of disconnect.

Seeing others with new lenses opens the soul to the essential truth that regardless of who we are, we are all infinitely connected, sharing the same warmth of the sun and breathing the same air. Every sentiment being, without exception, seeks love and happiness and, although we might appear to be individual waves, each one unique in its own way, we together make up the splendor of our great oceans.

Once home, I researched his attire out of curiosity and was once again gifted another lesson.

According to my findings, my teacher could have been an African Jew, a Muslim or a Christian. My conclusion was, it didn’t matter.

He was a human being.

There is not a day since that flight that my thoughts and heart haven’t extended their sincere love and gratitude to the ”man on my right” for this invaluable lesson. As they say, we never can be assured who is sitting to our right or our left.

The man to my right might just have been Buddha, Mohammad, Krishna, Jesus, a manifestation of the Divine herself or even you.

In the words of Ganga White:

“What if our religion was each other?” 


Author: Jessica Magnin

Apprentice Editor: Bere Blissenbach / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Image: Flickr/Mysi

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