In my favourite coffee bar you need to stand in line to be served, then you can find your seat; if you are alone that is. It’s one of my pet peeves that I can standing patiently waiting my turn and a couple can walk in, one takes up station in the back of the queue the other plonks themselves down on the chair I was seconds from occupying once my cappuccino was ready.
On this occasion I was lucky, I managed to get my preferred seat and settled into a pleasant caffeine fuelled scribbling session. After a little while the shop got busier and a queue began to form. Two middle aged women came in, one dropped her bags in one of the free chairs and herself in another, while her friend joined the queue.
Even though I had my chair, the unfairness of it rankled. The moment she put her bags down I began to dislike her, once that judgement was made my mind went on a mission to find other things to dislike about her. In a very short space of time everything about her was beginning to rankle: the (imagined) contents of her fancy shopping bag must be trivial, the way she fussed about was annoying, her clothes, her hair style ….
Suddenly I had one of those peculiar moments of clarity where you can see the workings of the mind while it is going on, which is the aim of meditation. Unfortunately at moments like this what you notice isn’t very appealing. I had uncovered a pattern that began when I judged the women for the first time. Then I started to look for things to justify my judgement, which fuelled my resentment. The growing resentment encouraged me to look and find more (ridiculous) reasons for more resentment and so on.
A unpleasant and pointless loop of judgement, resentment and justification. The results were quite unpleasant for me, it was a very nice example of what Buddhists would call suffering, a self inflicted distress that has very little to do with the outside world. The process is a very familiar one and doesn’t just happen in coffee shops, and I don’t think it’s just me. I’m pretty sure that just about everyone from time to time goes in search of evidence for the prosecution, feeling both justified and unhappy at the same time.
I was reminded of a quotation I once saw on the wall of a Buddhist monastery during a meditation retreat which sums this up.
In a moment’s judgement, heaven and hell are set infinitely apart!