Buddhist philosophy has suggested 5 paths to happiness: Give more, worry less, live simply, learn to let go of hatred, expect less. It’s the final one that has thrown me up till now.
I’m thinking of these five paths, as I take my path home from work, in the November darkness. The wind is growling, snatching leaves from trees, invading the personal space of the people passing. ‘Worry less’ is the one I’ve been focusing on recently. My method for worrying less is to practice mindfulness, another aspect of Buddhist thought. Mindfulness is: ’paying attention to present moment experiences with openness, curiosity, and a willingness to be with what is. It is an excellent antidote to the stresses of modern times. It invites us to stop, breathe, observe, and connect with one’s inner experience’. This evening, though, as I stop, breathe, and try to connect with my inner experience, as I concentrate on the impact of the wind on my body, the point where my feet hit the floor, my breath reaching the top of my lungs, I sense a figure coming towards me. He is quite short, scruffy, Afro-Caribbean in origin I decide. He starts to walk in step with me. He begins to speak with what might be a local accent, but I am a foreigner in this town, so I can’t tell for sure.
Have you got any spare change he asks. I’m starving to death he claims. But he doesn’t look on the brink of malnutrition to me. I revert to my typical white liberal do-gooder self and ask him isn’t there a centre in this city where they give you food and a bed for the night. No he says. He asks if I’m going home. Yes, I lie. I’m not ready for someone to spoil my night by following me to the pub with their destitution. Can I come back with you. Will you cook me a meal. Give me a cup of tea. His questions are more like attacks. Or maybe that’s just my middle class guilt. No. I’m not that guilty. And then he says, to me, or to the night in general:
Will you come down that back street and give me a cuddle.
What. No. Sorry. No. Now I am crossing the road away from this man and his desperation. I try not to run, as if that is rude. But I don’t think I manage it. I dive into Tescos to hide from the horror that begins to dawn on me. Even though I don’t need anything. Well. Nothing you can buy in Tescos. Because the fact is I do want a cuddle. I’d actually consider paying for one, 3 for 2, 50% off. Or even full price. He asked me for what I never ask for. I start to feel sick at the resonance. I need a drink.
Safe in the warmth of the pub, surrounded by people who don’t have to ask strangers to go down back streets to cuddle them, who obviously have well-groomed boyfriends, and cheery wives and intense, elegant lovers, to hold them in their arms in well-lit living rooms and newly made beds, I am hit with disappointment. A white russian slips down my throat, reaching for the jagged edges, smoothing them over. But not quite enough.
My expectations, as unrealistic, pathetic and ugly as those of the little man on the street just then, haunt me afresh. These ghosts of what I thought might have been, hang round, dregs in my glass. They say that ‘with every broken heart we should become more adventurous’ but I am scared to leave my chair. As I drag myself up and over to the bar, for another white russian that might help me forget the events of the last few minutes, the last few years, I find myself glimpsing something that passes for light. I stop. And breathe. Maybe now is a good time to start to expect less.
So I do.
picture, tree in the wind by Bernard Re, Jr :http://pictify.com/118080/tree-in-the-wind