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Lions Roar : March 2006
C' est la vie SYLVIA BOORSTEIN went to the antiquaire with a complaint and a demand for compensation. But she left with a very French lesson in letting go. N E--< ...... > o ...... ::r: u >-< V) V) ...... IE PROTESTE! After my husband and I bought a bed at the antique store in the French town where we live part of each year, we received an added and unexpected 400-euro charge. I tele- phoned Madame Blaise, the antiquaire, who explained that, un- fortunately, our bed, which was made in the 1840's, was a unique size that required a special- order mattress and the construction of springs. I went to speak in person to Madame, urged on and accompanied by my husband, who was angry and doesn't speak French. "Remind her," he said, "that she told us the price of the mattress and indicated that it was included with the bed. We already paid for it. If there is any extra charge, she should pay it. She is the expert. It is her responsibility." "Madame is an eighty- five-year-old small- town antiquaire," I countered. "She is not Macy's. You can't undo these things." "It's not fair, though;' he continued. "You should insist that she make amends. If you won't do it, I will. I'll pantomime how unhappy I am. Even if she won't give us any money back, she could at least offer us something like those bed- side tables you were looking at when we bought the bed." I spoke to Madame Blaise in my most elegant and polite French. I explained the shock, dismay, and distress we felt. We had trusted her to disclose the full cost of the bed and now we needed to pay the mattress company a further 400 euros. I looked pointedly at some of the furniture around us and suggested she might consider making us a gift of tables as a form of reparation. I ended by saying that we had enjoyed our previous meetings with her and were sad that we were now left with bad feelings, mauvaises emotions. "0 Madame," she responded, with a look of sudden and genu- ine concern. She leaned towards me as if to reach out and com- fort me. "Mauvaises emotions are very bad for you. You should put them down. It's in the past. These things happen. Forget about it. You need to look to the future. Really, vraiment, mau- vaises emotions are very bad for you." I wasn't surprised. Even while I was a bit chagrined about having made a fuss, and also disappointed about not getting a consolation gift, I was tickled by the correctness of Madame Blaise's advice. Bad feelings aren'tgood for you. Modern scientific experiments confirm what the Buddha taught 2,500 years ago: anger is "a toxin in the veins" that stresses the body and mind and leads to illness if it can- >-< ÇQ z o ...... E--< p::: E--< V) .....:i .....:i ...... not be transformed into a constructive response and forgiveness. Her succinct instructions for what my unhappy-looking hus- band and I might do to get over our upset were also correct. They were simply stated, but hard to do. Think about it: 1. You should put them- "these angry feelings"- down. Being mad is uncomfortable. It seems, though, that the wounded mind, startled both by an outward challenge and its own angry response, goes over the script incessantly: "I said;' "She promised;' "It's not fair." The repetitions feel like attempts to work things out differently, or ways to insure that no similar affront happens in the future. The replays keep the mind inflamed. Sooth the mind by giving the argument a rest. 2. It's in the past. The event itself is in the past, but the memory of an injustice can move the mind into new anger each time it is recalled. Verse 3 of the Dhammapada re- minds us that harboring resentful thoughts creates ongoing ill will in our own minds. Verse 4 suggests, "Abandon such thoughts and live in love." In my experience some change in perspective needs to happen be- tween Verse 3 and 4. I need to honor my anger as a lawful result of circumstances (not a product of a bad habit or moral flaw) and I need to recognize the pain of continuing the anger. Most of all, I need to remember that. . . 3. These things happen. Sometimes things happen for reasons we can discern (like a miscalculation of an antiquaire), and sometimes because they are unpredictable events (like breast cancer, or freeway accidents). Life is punctuated by challenges. The Buddha recognized that the mind that struggles carries tension. We could wisely recog- nize and respond to that struggle as the source of suffering. 4. Forget about it and Look to the future. I am liberated from the trap of bitterness whenever I see my momentary experience within the larger context of my life. I don't forget about it as much as I see other possibilities that lighten my heart and allow the anger to disappear. "What did Madame say?" my husband asked as we left the store. "She more or less said, 'That's life;" I responded. "And remem- ber those modern glass tables we saw the other day down the street? I think they will look great next to the antique bed." . S Y L V I A BOO R S TEl N has a Ph.D. in psychology and is a founding teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California. Her most recent book is Pay Attention, For Goodness' Sake. SHAMBHALA SUN MARCH 2006 27