On Monday I drove to Newcastle Airport to pick up a monk returning from America. Walking through the wide open space in front of the check-in counters a man stopped me and started talking. He hardly drew breath. He was giving a pitch. Raising money for Shelter, the charity for the homeless. I had the option to cut him off and make a run for the toilets. Which is where I needed to be! But I didn’t. I listened. For no reason, I continued to listen knowing I’d not be donating. As he went on the content was fading into the background of my awareness as my admiration grew for this chap. Eventually I drew breath. He thought I was about to exit. Yes, I know you are busy. Just need to tell you a bit more… I responded thoughtfully, Well to be honest I’m just so impressed at your ability to keep on talking! That’s no small skill and what you are doing here must be really hard. Probably demoralising too. Said just what came to mind. Soon afterwords with his words Just five pounds… and my, sorry I’m a Buddhist monastic and don’t receive a wage (excuse?) echoing in my mind, I beat a retreated.
I love airports. Love all that open space, and the shops too. Since it was early and I’d not eaten yet, I had a treat at Starbucks. A muffin and small drink for breakfast. Now alert; watching out for flight arrivals, watching shoals of passengers flooding into the concourse with their luggage. All the while looking out for my arriving passenger. Enjoying my breakfast, while thinking about that five pounds and contemplating going back to offer it. I’ve that much with me and a bit more.
Out the corner of my eye as I finish breakfast I spot the man just feet away from me. He’s talking. I wait until he stops. Can you take change for a ten pound note? I call to him. Turns out he can’t take cash. Too bad. More ensued about donating on-line but he seems to be abandoning his pitch… Engaging me in conversation. Taking an interest. Is it like spiritual what you do in the monastery? We talk and in the end I gave him the address of the Throssel web site and this blog written on the paper bag the muffin came in. I told him, his name was/is Chris, that if there is one thing to come out of our conversation it’s to get some cards printed. I’m always writing address on scrappy bits of paper. But cards seems…well pretentious somehow.
It’s the subtexts I’m particularly interested in. The subtext of this encounter and encounters generally. And the non stereotypical response, mine and his. There’s the words people say. That’s one thing. But there is much much more, to any encounter, who ever is talking and who ever is listening. What is interesting to me, and the challenge, is to take in the whole picture while at the same time allowing the parts to come and go in awareness. That’s to stay with the detail long enough to be able to respond to the whole. To respond past ones preconceived ideas and prejudices. This can happen at work, at the dinner table, in the street even when reading this blog. Nothing special really.
Hum! And when I really think about it I’m really relying on you reading past the text. Not using that little old trick of reading between the lines which really means adding in ones opinions and preconceived ideas. No not that. Please! Reading past the text is to encounter yourself while you read, and to encounter the writer too. Directly.
3 thoughts on “Direct Encounter – Direct Response”
Thanks for this piece; I’ve missed you and am glad to have you back.
So there you are, I assume wearing your robes, in an airport eating a muffin enjoying watching the life go on within and without and a charity worker otherwise a stranger asks ‘is it like spiritual what you do at the monastery?’
And here I am looking at me imagining the scene and wondering is it spiritual the way I am reading this? Am I aware and compassionate?
I once read a Dutch writer, a linguist, saying: “its remarkable, we as man we have the ability to express ourselves in words ánd the ability to hide ourselves in words”.
Sometimes I don’t understand words and lines, it can be helpful to try and read ‘in between’. It maybe tricky, but that’s the risk I am willing to take.