I returned yesterday afternoon from a three and a half day spiritual retreat with the women from my 200 hour yoga intensive studies teacher training. It was surreal to wake up this morning and realize this part of my yoga journey was ended.
I went about my morning routine in a bit of a cloud. It was partially a literal fog, for I could feel an increased heaviness in my body and pressure in my sinuses from lack of restful sleep. It was also a spiritual one, for I feel the kind of emptiness one feels when something big has been accomplished and the question of what happens next is looming.
I went for a swim as usual. After my swim, I washed my feet and flip-flops in the sink to remove residual chlorine, as is also usual for me. As I was switching from right foot to left, I had the sense of being watched and looked over my right shoulder to see a pair of eyes burning with intensity.
I recognized her immediately as a regular customer at the bookstore where I used to work in downtown Prescott. She would come in an quite aggressively verbally harrass the staff. She was the customer we would bemoan after an encounter. If you have worked in any kind of service industry, I imagine you can relate to this kind of experience.
I cannot recall her exact words. They were stridently delivered and had something to do with feeling badly for the person to use the sink after me. The sentence ended with the word “kid,” which was supposed to be me.
“It seems a bit wasteful to clean my shoes in the shower and use all of that water,” I responded and smiled.
She stormed out of the bathroom. The woman two sinks down who had been doing her hair looked rather like a deer caught in the headlights. I breathed out and whispered the words, “oh my!”
In all honesty, the moment I saw her, I knew she would remark on my foot washing ritual. I gently told myself not to make assumptions, but she followed through before I could finish shifting my assumption.
I left close behind her and reflected as we walked. We may have been in linear tandem, but I felt worlds apart. I knew she was the spouse of a man with Alzheimer’s because I had witnessed her speak somewhat less aggressively to another customer who was purchasing books to help her learn about the condition after her own husband had recently been diagnosed with the same condition.
I felt sad for her when I worked at the bookstore. I felt sad now, thinking how much time she had spent seething from within and spewing out fire in response to her internal suffering.
I thought about the Yama Saucha, which means purity and the notion of tasting our words before they leave our mouth. Her words did not appear to have been tasted, for I felt them with what seemed like unfiltered intensity of flavor.
I reflected on the idea of Satya, or truth. She shared her Satya, and it most certainly did not fit with my own. How dirty did she think I was? I had just swam in chlorine, and rinsed off in the shower.
I also thought about whether or not to respond. I know from experience that there was likely very little that I could say that would be welcomed; however, I also felt that I was not a “kid” and also not deserving of abuse.
“It’s funny,” I said as I walked behind her, “but I had this feeling you would say something unkind to me.”
She reeled around and met me head on.
“I did NOT say anything unkind. It is just incredibly that you would dare to wash your disgusting, dirty feet in the sink.”
“Actually, they were unkind,” I said.
She turned and stormed through an open doorway and into an exercise studio.
“Good luck to you,” I called after her in as kind of a voice as I could muster.
I left feeling a bit shakey, as I often do when I have been at the end of an aggressor’s metaphorical sword. I also felt gratitude that she had offered me the opportunity to choose how I wished to respond. I had spoken with an even, gentle tone. I had stood up for myself and communicated that it was not ok for her to project her frustration with her own suffering onto another person.
I wished I had a small piece of paper with the Sutra that speaks of being happy for those who are happier than you, content with your own state of being, and feeling empathy for those who are suffering.
I shared the experience with my virtual community, and I love the suggestion I received from one person of simply saying, “thank you for sharing that with me.”
I would love to say that there will not be a next time, but I live in a perfectly imperfect world. At least, next time I will be able to bow to her with a namaste and say thank you.