At the moment the Dalai Lama and I are on opposite sides of Maui. He's on a two day speaking tour in Paia and Wailuku, and we're condo'ing it on Napili Bay.
We're opposites in more ways than that, obviously. Yesterday the Dalai Lama spoke about compassion, saying "Compassion is the universal message of all traditions."
I often come up short in the compassion department. Tuesday morning, a few hours before the Dalai Lama's free talk at Maui's War Memorial Stadium, my wife took me to task for being self-centered and (one of her favorite ex-psychotherapist terms) "having a sense of entitlement."
Which most men are over-stocked with, in Laurel's entirely accurate opinion.
The Napili Kai Beach Club walkway to the beach is a narrow rocky path. There's room for two people to walk abreast, but just barely. Carrying my boogie board in one hand and a beach mat in the other, I saw some people coming the other way.
I moved over to the right against the railing as far as I could go. It was obvious to me that there was room for the other group to pass. And there was.
But I was criticized as soon as they were out of earshot. "You should have gotten completely off the path when you saw them coming. That's what I did. You need to be more considerate."
The last statement of Laurel's was indisputable, in general. However, I defended myself in this particular instance. "They got by just fine. I knew that they could. There wasn't any reason for me to do anything more."
I was right. Yet also wrong. For I readily admit that my viewpoint of the situation was almost entirely from my own perspective.
It was our first full day on Maui. I was eager to get to the beach. I didn't want to delay my arrival by even a few seconds. I calculated that I could keep on walking, with a rightward sidestep, and not interfere with the other people.
Me, me, me. A Honolulu resident, Caroline Odo, came over to Maui to hear the Dalai Lama. She's quoted in the Maui News.
I have my own faith, and he's still affirming the things that I believe in. It's all about having respect for one another and showing love to one another—you don't have to bring religion into it.
Indeed, the newspaper story says:
He told his listeners not to consider negative emotions to be a natural "part of our mind," but to embrace emotions "that are good for (your) mental health." "These are not religious examples, but scientific explanations," he said.
One of the reasons I like Douglas Hofstadter's "I Am a Strange Loop" so much, the subject of my two previous posts, is that Hofstadter likewise considers the human condition from a scientific/philosophic rather than spiritual/religious perspective.
Like the Dalai Lama, he challenges the notion that each of us is an isolated "I," separate and distinct from everyone and everything else. Hofstadter's conception of soul is markedly different from most religio-mystical teachings (though not so much from Buddhism).
To him, souls aren't encapsulated in a single body—the "caged bird" metaphor. Each of us is the result of innumerable influences acquired over a lifetime of interactions with countless animate and inanimate entities.
Our "I" is shape-shifting continuously; there's no firm boundary between either us and other people, or between the person we are right now and the "I" we have been in the past and will be in the next moment. Hofstadter says:
What makes all of this so counterintuitive — verging on the incomprehensible, at times — is that your brain (like mine, like everyone's) had told itself a million times a self-reinforcing story whose central player is called "I", and one of the most crucial aspects of this "I", an aspect that is truly a sine qua non for "I"-ness, is that it fluently flits into other brains, at least partially.
Out of intimacy, out of empathy, out of friendship, and out of relatedness (as well as for other reasons), your brain's "I" continually makes darting little forays into other brains, seeing things to some extent from their point of view, and thus convincing itself that it could easily be housed in them…[Indeed] your "I" isn't housed anywhere.
Today, leaving the beach after an enjoyable couple of hours boogie-boarding (me), snorkeling (Laurel), and people-watching (both of us), we decided to exchange our wet and sandy towels.
The towel hut wasn't far away on the Napili Kai grounds. But it took us quite a while to get there. We found ourselves behind an older couple, he getting along with a cane, she arm in arm with him—not looking so spry herself.
The wide curving sidewalk allowed plenty of room to pass. We could also have stepped onto the lawn and moved around them easily. Today, though, I didn't feel any inclination to do anything but stay well behind them.
I paused to read signboards. I stopped to look out to sea. I did my best to not let the couple know that some speedier people were behind them.
I put myself in their place: enjoying their vacation, knowing that there won't be many more times they'll be able to visit Maui, happy that they can still hold onto each other and move, albeit slowly, along a walkway beside beautiful Napili Bay. They didn't need a "young" 58 year old breezing past them, a reminder of healthier years gone by that won't come again.
A small – very small – act of compassion. Maybe a tiny bit of the Dalai Lama had entered my soul, from what I'd read in the Maui News this morning and perhaps even vibes that had soared over the West Maui mountains and landed on Napili Bay.
Regardless, I felt better than I had the day before, when I'd kept on walking rather than stepping aside.
After exchanging our towels, Laurel and I found ourselves behind another slow-moving bunch on the oceanside path. Different people, same reaction. I was happy to stroll at their pace, bringing up the rear, hungry for lunch though I was.
When they turned off toward their building, Laurel said, "Wow. You were so patient. I'm impressed." "Actually," I told her, "this time you were the one guilty of tail-gating—or rather, butt-gating. I think you should have stayed further behind them so they didn't feel pressured."
Now, saying those words really felt good. Hah, beat you this time at the compassion game, lovely wife of mine. Which indicates that I've got a ways to go before egolessness is complete.
But, hey, I'm a man. Give me some slack. Like most of my gender, I've got more of an ego to lose.