By Julie Spangler
Having been blessed with some acute senses, I move through a world brimming with sights, sounds and smells. Given that I share that world with a partner who has no sense of smell and is partly deaf, I am especially aware of how much I depend on these senses. Last week my dependence on my nose was brought uncomfortably to my attention.
While in the local grocery store shopping for a crusty bread to complement our dinner, I stood surveying the options. To my pallet, some artisan breads are tastier than others, and I depend on my sense of smell to tell me which one to choose. Standing by the array of breads in their bags, I carefully sniffed them, discarding the sour ones, trying to decide between two finalists when a woman nearby said, "People might not appreciate your nose in those bags!"
My response was defensive. "I am drawing air in, not blowing out." In my mind I was being careful, not touching the bread, not contaminating it. We went different directions while I stewed for a bit. Then I asked myself why I was upset. OK. I was embarrassed. Even if I thought I was being careful, I had to admit she had a point. Some people, if not all, might not appreciate my nose so close to bread they would like to buy. Though I was still embarrassed, accepting her point of view I felt the tension I was carrying in my body ease.
My practice when encountering stresses in the world involves first noticing the place in my body where I am feeling uncomfortable, naming the cause, and then allowing my awareness to step back into the space where I can stand in what I sometimes call "Big Julie". This is a felt sense within myself of a wholeness which is more than the specific emotional experience in the moment, in this case of “embarrassed Julie.” I gather into my expansive self the small embarrassed self with loving forgiveness. This love fills all of those embarrassed spaces, holding them and accepting them. Yeah, I am not perfect, and that is ok. I let this love surround and permeate the discomfort in my body, permeate the space around me, and flow out to my sense of the woman who spoke to me. It is from this place where I can love the stranger who caused me distress.
When I got to the checkout lines, there were three to choose from, one of which would take me right behind this woman. Noticing her felt uncomfortable. Do I hide from her and let this discomfort continue? It seemed as if she was studiously avoiding seeing me. I decided that I would push through my embarrassment and reach out to my neighbor, perhaps alleviating her probable discomfort at the same time. I pulled into line behind her and touching her gently on the shoulder, getting her attention, I said, "You are right. People might not appreciate my nose in the bags. Thank you for pointing it out to me."
It was not a particularly comfortable moment for either of us. She apologized, I apologized. We found ourselves in that social ritual of each wanting to make the other more comfortable, which was actually difficult under the circumstances. But we could laugh a little. Much better than leaving a small cloud over our shopping experience to linger throughout the day. We did not become friends - there wasn't enough time for that - but I suspect we could have.
To me, this is a form of subtle activism. It is these little daily moments of turning a potential conflict into a moment of connection that can make such a difference in our world.
Would you like an opportunity to deepen your capacity to meet daily moments of choice with an attitude of wholeness, love and blessing? Would you welcome the chance to develop your practice of subtle activism with others of like heart and mind? From December 4-10, join us for Sphere of Blessing, a six-day Incarnational Practice. Click here for more information or to register.