Considering the considerate and a consideration of douchebaggery: wordplay and power

A nun lived upstairs from me once.

This is true. Ani Zamba was my neighbor for a year or so when I returned to Hong Kong after a couple of months spent realizing that I was not ready to come back to the US in 2006. Ani used to do teachings in her flat and a lot of the local Buddhist community would come and see her speak. I did not go very often because a lot of times the nature of the group made me uncomfortable. It had little to do with Ani herself and much more to do with the group of people who seemed to flock to her; these people talked so much about how they were spiritual that they didn’t have a whole lot of time to actually practice their craft. Seriously, they were some of the biggest hypocrites I met in Hong Kong, always preaching clean living and lack of judgement and really just being so fucked up and judgemental that they practically smelled toxic. I suppose Ani would have said that these people deserved the most of my compassion. It was just hard because I mostly really wanted to punch them in their pinched up faces. Metaphorically, of course.

Even though I did not spend a lot of time in Ani’s formal teachings, we would talk pretty regularly. She was kind of amazing in her ability to display the kind of compassion that she talked about. She always had a soft spot for Ex#5 even though I am sure she was fully aware of the cloud of bullshit he was living in; she would still listen to him and allow him to experience that load of shit. Ani had a really great sense of humor too, and so I know she understood my issues with her followers, she just realized, way before I ever could have, that their issues were unimportant. They were not about her.

One day I did go up to one of her teachings and as I sat there, a rush of familiarity came over me. I felt like I used to when I sat in Catholic Church with my grandparents, or when I went in to so many churches of so many faiths all around the world. I felt like a poseur. Sometimes that feeling was shameful, like I was trying to pull something over on some sort of supreme being. Sometimes it was colored with jealousy; even if the communion wafers were going to taste like shit, I wanted to be able to go up and get one with everyone else – as a six-year-old the idea of the “host” sounded a lot like “toast”. Sometimes the type of poseur I felt like was totally fraudulent; like why was I standing in front of this Christ-Buddha-Saint-Icon-Tomb looking at it reverently when I was the self-professed Queen of Irreverence, and blocking some other far more devout individual from getting their reverence on?

Sitting in Ani’s place on the floor I felt like I had interrupted an age-old dialog. I moved to the back of the room. But I stayed. Plus, my parents were there and so getting up and leaving would have been triple-embarassment.

I don’t remember much of what Ani said that day. In fact, there is only one thing I do remember. Ani spoke about the power that we give to words, and the choice to embrace them. Like, how if you leave your house in the morning and you are feeling pretty good and someone sees you and says, “Oh my god, what happened? Are you okay? You look so tired…” Suddenly you go from feeling really okay to feeling really not so okay. And nothing has changed. Nothing. The only thing that has happened is that someone has put some words out there – an abstract concept just kicked your ass. In the same vein, you leave your home and someone – a total stranger – stops and says, “My god! You look fabulous!” And equally suddenly your day has just headed off on some magical trajectory – I can almost hear myself saying: ‘Well, this is definitely going to be a good day!’ And there is no difference, Ani said, between the two interaction except for what we take from the exchange, which is entirely based on what weight we give to the words.

I think about this a lot. In fact, I have used the example a lot.

Last night I was sitting at home deliberating about what I wanted to do. I had been out with one person but opted out of joining them in the second phase of their plans, another person who I was supposed to meet had some issue. I was considering meeting another person, but was unsure of the timeline and so I texted a fourth person. What was she doing? You will guess in two seconds who I am with, she replied. I figured she meant Sonny Liston and I was right. Whatevs. The thing that bothered me about this the most is that Sonny and I – according to him – are supposed to be friends. Though his definition of friend is unclear to me. It could be that British thing where he is trying to be polite and says he wants to be friends but in reality he does not and just can’t say that because it would be rude. Either way, I found myself feeling suddenly and decidedly UNgood as I thought back over the rounds of conversation Sonny and I had had over the past few weeks. This was perplexing to me because frankly, I am not really that interested in Sonny. But the fact that his disdain for me is so clear really irks me. [On a phone call, answering, “Sonny Liston’s phone,” instead of hello, I say, “Oh, I guess I have been deleted,” and he says, “No your name came up,” and I think to myself, – the man cannot even say hello lest it be interpreted as kindness –> Douche.] I looked around and realized I had gone from a totally fun afternoon and evening with fun people and good energy to being sullen and cranky. Because of words. Abstract, fleeting, wisps of vapor transmitted through fiberoptics and cellular technology. Bizarre.

And then the phone rang again and it was someone else altogether. Was I up for grabbing a beer around 10-ish? I texted my reply, “Certainly.” This person is someone I have known in abstract terms for about six years. We have never been in each other’s physical proximity. Seriously. Still, the shift in my mood was dramatic and clear. I no longer felt irritated by – wait, who? Sonny Liston? Who is that? I was up and excited and ready to go out.

I thought about Ani’s teaching about the power of words. That one person’s words could be such a downer and at the same time someone else’s the total opposite. And the power of the words seems to have no correlation to the nature of the relationship. How is it that the words of a total stranger can often lift you up or knock you down far more effectively than those of someone you have known a lifetime? Or that someone who you have known but a short time can work out such a direct road to Hurtville, when in reality they are not even that significant to you? I suppose because you know that your “lifers” are there forever there is some safety in their words, so they are less traumatizing when they are harsh, and sadly, less euphoric when they are complimentary. Ironic, but true.

I got up and walked out of my building passing two girls who have just moved in as I went out the door. “Hey! You look awesome! Have a great night,” one of them said as I held the door for her. “Thanks,” I smiled back and headed out to meet a long-awaited non-stranger.

{image from here.}

About Amanda

I am repatriating expatriate trying to work it all out. Well, to work some of it out anyhow. I am writing here for sanity, focus and general over-sharing.
This entry was posted in Friends, Hong Kong, Life, Perception, Relationships, true stories and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Considering the considerate and a consideration of douchebaggery: wordplay and power

  1. Apropos Buddhism. I like it. It’s not deistic and all about self improvement and dealing with what we have. And smiling. Lots of smiling. Just started the dummies guide and will see how it all stacks up when I finish. What I’ve read so far tallies with a lot of the cog sci self help I’ve been reading in the last couple of years and I’ve not found and red flags.

    It helps that my girlfriend is Buddhist and is obviously the awesomest. We’re having a Buddhist wedding ceremony in December. Eek!

    • Amanda says:

      I think Buddhism is awesome. It is the practitioners of it that can be tiresome. You know the ones I mean. They are Western. They have all the assessories. They talk the talk. They faceplant on the walk.


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