#Buddhist philosophy: Clean my face, not the mirror

I threw out my third glass of water, believing there was another bug or dirt swirling around in it, before I realized the intruder is in my right eye, not the water. I have another detestable “floater.” Almost 60, I am acquiring more of those suckers each year. I HATE FLOATERS! But, did I need to waste all that water to figure this out? Right.

I feel even worse that I was easily fooled into believing the problem was external to me. I should have known better.

About 25 years ago, still in my thirties, I noticed the phone at our house was not working right. I kept having to ask people to speak up because their voices were coming across too quietly on our phone. It was an old, corded phone (remember those?) but our only one. Easily could just be that it was defective, but we couldn’t afford to get a new one (they were quite expensive and we were poor).

Over the next few months, I would go to others’ houses and use their phones on occasion. I began to have the same issue. I wondered for many months “What is wrong with all these phones? Is it the phone company’s lines?”

Until I heard myself saying to too many people (mostly men, with low voices) I was talking to who were right in front me, “Speak up. I can’t hear you. You’re mumbling (this last to my innocent son and male partner) and heard echoes of both my father and my grandmother (his mother) in my impatient questions, I never thought the problem was with my own ears. But, it was. It is.

I had my ears tested: I found out that I will continue to be losing my hearing, slowly. Just as they did. Right.

According to Buddhist philosophy, whatever the problem seems to be rooted in, we should actually be in the habit of assuming the cause is in us, not “out there,” regardless of the “evidence.” When we are upset: angry, worried, sad, hurt (especially hurt), we should not look out the window at the world, at others, to find the source of our discomfort. We should look in the mirror.

When my face appears dirty, do I clean the mirror or clean my own face? Right.

Prior to practicing Buddhism and understanding something about my own mind by doing so, when my life would get difficult I would often go into hyper-control mode. I was not nice about it, either. Sorry, family; sorry, friends.

Buddhist teachings offer and I slowly became able to understand this metaphor: when I am walking on a very large field filled with sharp stones, is it feasible and effective to cover the entire field with a protective blanket to protect my feet or should I just put on some shoes and cover my own feet? Right.

Easy to understand, harder to apply. Especially when I feel that surge of righteous anger at being disrespected, misunderstood, mistreated in some way by another, I can still forget to apply these incontrovertible facts:
1) this situation, this relationship arises due to my karma (prior actions, thoughts, words in this and/or other lifetimes);
2) these current thoughts and feelings are in my mind and are mine to manage;
3) the only aspects I can actually successfully control (and not always, even when I try) are my reactions and responses.

Regardless of how strongly my knee-jerk reactions are, such as “How could this be my fault?” “I did nothing wrong!” “It’s her fault!” “It’s his responsibility!” “These are their mistakes: they’re WRONG!” “They’re to blame!” it’s all on me to manage my own reactions and see my part in the human drama we’re all playing out.

Better to save the water, keep the phone, put on shoes, clean my own face and look more closely in every mirror than to keep misunderstanding my life and wasting resources on wrong turns, dead-ends and misplaced attempts to change others and circumstances out of my control.

I apologize in advance to everyone I forget to apply this with; I will forget. But, I also will try to remember. Got the washcloth right here.