“Insert Brain A Into Mouth B”
When I was in high school a kid came back from winter break with a shaved head and a scar on his scalp. In one of my greatest asshole moments I looked at him, laughed, and said, “Whadya do? Have your brain replaced?” He looked back and coolly replied, “I had a brain tumor removed.”
I have felt bad about this ever since.
It was, perhaps, the beginning of my practice of mindfulness, as I vowed never to say anything that could cause harm. And since that time… my words have caused harm many thousands of times, I’m sure. But the awareness is the practice, and I have learned to catch myself as I stumble, and I know I’m a better man for my consciousness.
Last week I went to a meditation center that I often frequent. I arrived early for the sitting and sat in the lobby and shut my eyes for a moment. (The greatest skill I fully possess is the ability to catnap, nearly anywhere, at any time, and this seemed like an opportune moment for a quick snooze. If there was such a thing as “Right Napping” I would be a Buddha.) Moments later, I was awoken by a ghastly smell, one that I vaguely recognized. Sitting across from me was a young woman chomping away at a bag of McDonalds burgers and fries.
My mind leaped from one angry place to another like a grasshopper. How inconsiderate! Bringing food here! And how horrible to bring McDonalds, of all things! It’s not difficult to guess the societal, ethical and health inclinations of most people here, and suffice it to say that Mickey D’s is antithetical to most of them.
It dawned on me that I’d seen this young woman before. A week or so prior she had been yammering away about her new cell phone, at full volume for all to hear, despite there being a group meditation taking place in a nearby room, and a talk being given in another. Her again. A completely mindless being! I looked over and studied her face. She bore down on her food with all the grace of a hyena, with a far away stare, as bits of food fell to the floor or stuck to her lips. It was revolting, and I left.
Days later I revisited the scene. Though I didn’t say anything, I wondered about my reaction. I had rushed to judgment, I leapt to an emotional response, and I allowed something rather trivial to get under my skin. But suddenly a light went on in my head, and I felt terrible. What was going on dawned on me. This woman may have been mentally challenged. I don’t say this as a joke, but the loud talking, and even the rhythms of her speech as I now recalled them, combined with the sloppy eating and vacant look, pointed firmly towards the possibility.
I stopped in the street as I realized what had transpired. And a few choice words came ringing through my head. “Whadya do? Have your brain replaced?”
Well, no, but I’m working on it.
For the Mineralava Musings, this is Edoardo Ballerini.