Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Easy to Preach, Not So Easy to Practise

I have posted a few articles recently on issues like surrender over struggle, following one’s bliss and trusting God, and practising the virtues of charity, humility, and forgiveness. These articles usually arise from some incident or crisis or conversation in my personal environment that has caused me to reflect on how I—and others—react to life. The musings that are these articles come from an inclination to transcendence and from a passionate heart, but they have yet to be translated into a mode of living that is a true imitation of Christ.

I suppose I can say that I live “in community.” I have been hosting international students in my home for the past seventeen years; I am what is known in the international education field as a homestay father. So far, more than seventy-five students have lived in my home for periods ranging from two weeks to more than six years; they have come from Japan, China, and Korea, Mexico, Argentina, and Brazil, and several Western European countries. Overall the experience has been more than positive as most of the students have been “family” in the warmest sense of the word and there are many with whom I still keep in touch.

This year, however, has for some reason been rather difficult. There has recently been a spate of students who have been variously unbelievably boorish, unengaged and uncommunicative, boorish 2, and finally prima-donna-like. These characteristics often manifest themselves in behaviour that is thoughtless, insensitive, and self-centered or just plain selfish. They also show themselves in attitudes toward food. Here are some recent behaviours and comments at the dinner table:

  • A student who likes his meat well-cooked comments on a barbecued steak (expensive cut) prepared for him: “What is this black thing you’re giving me?”
  • A student vigorously scrapes the blackened surface of broiled ribs, completely oblivious to the incredulous stares of everyone else at the table
  • A student requests soy sauce to put on the curried fish he was served
  • When asked how they liked meatballs cooked in the slow cooker (and they were delicious), one complains that he only likes “classic” meatballs; another complains of too much garlic
  • A student grinds enough salt to preserve a whale on his food at every meal

Most of these students never offered/offer to help with the preparation of a meal by setting the table or making salad, preferring to lie on the sofa or sit in the big easy chair watching TV while the work goes on nearby. Students are often late for dinner and on numerous occasions have called from downtown an hour or less before the meal to announce that they will not be eating at home. On several occasions I received no call at all.

All of my students are “adults.”

As you can see from the tone of what I have written so far, these behaviours do not sit well with me, especially where they concern food. Often a great deal of preparation, as well as expense—not to mention love—goes into an evening meal in our home. The lack of manners, and more important, of appreciation are appalling to me, and on a few occasions over the past few months, I have found myself so angry I have been unable to sleep and have stayed angry for more than a day.

I am relating this in order to point out that there is a profound disconnect between what I have been preaching—to myself primarily, if truth be told—and what actually happens in my daily life. It seems that the habits of a lifetime—reacting to perceived insults or offences due to over-sensitivity—are not magically transformed with a few pretty phrases about charity and forgiveness and surrender. Old baggage must be consciously cast off through practise, and the practise of observing the ego so that it may be dissipated must be as constant as one can make it.

I am reminded of the story told by Eckhart Tolle in A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. When Tolle was a university student in London, he often saw a woman “who appeared to be quite insane” on the train as he rode to school. “She looked extremely tense and talked to herself incessantly in a loud and angry voice….There was the angry tone in her voice of someone who has been wronged, who needs to defend her position lest she become annihilated.” It turns out that the woman got off at the same stop as Tolle and actually walked to one of the university buildings and entered, all the while talking aloud in the same aggrieved voice.

I was still thinking about her when I was in the men’s room prior to entering the library.  As I was washing my hands, I thought: I hope I don’t end up like her. The man next to me looked briefly in my direction and I suddenly was shocked when I realized that I hadn’t just thought those words, but mumbled them aloud. “Oh my God, I’m already like her,” I thought. Wasn’t my mind as incessantly active as hers? There were only minor differences between us. The predominant underlying emotion behind her thinking seemed to be anger. In my case, it was mostly anxiety. She thought out loud. I thought—mostly—inside my head. If she was mad, then everyone was mad, including myself. There were differences in degree only.

Some of us have had a lifetime of this angry or anxious mental activity, reacting to the world around us, near and far. It seems to be very difficult, especially as one gets older, to even be conscious of the voice, let alone to let it go by surrendering in love and forgiveness to a greater voice.

It seems that I am being tested these days on my ability to practise what I preach. I don’t think I want to show anyone my report card just yet.

Photo Credit

"Anger" by sahlgoode

Creative Commons: some rights reserved


1 comment:

  1. It always intrigues me how life gives us what we need not what we think we we want.