Unexpected nuggets: from Buddhist temples to budget hostels
How wonderful that at any moment, we can meet someone who can change our lives.
Whether that be love, romance, friendship, mentorship or a general life lesson. Whether that becomes a life-long, two year or 20 minute relationship. Even if we don’t have the person in our lives for long, what we learn from them and experience with them can have a lasting effect.
The following is an example of one of those moments.
When I walked into a British hostel for an event, I couldn’t possibly fathom the myriad of characters I would unexpectedly meet and the conversations I’d have, by chance.
With hostels, you often get more than you pay for. We become rich internally. We become kinder, more open-minded and learn more about the world, sometimes without having to fly around the whole thing.
Whether you are in Warsaw, Plymouth, Santiago, Lviv, Brussels, New York, Tel Aviv or Pisa, you can find yourself sharing breakfast with a host of worldly beings. If you look up from your phone and share more than just your pastries, you may end up really learning something.
In this one British hostel, I met a shedload of interesting people, as ever. I met a retired lady in her seventies who still has the travel bug and shared her stories with me, a man who was pissed off at the world but still happily shared his Doritos as he vented, a confident French man with an infectious smile, a Portuguese girl my age who was telling me about her fears of coming out the closet and a sixty-something yoga-loving writer from New Zealand who taught me a little bit about numerology and then proceeded to give me a free copy of her book. Signed.
I was shocked at how many interesting individuals one introvert could meet in a handful of hours, when I was getting ready for a wee night out.
As I was about to leave, I said goodbye and introduced myself to a sleepy lady getting an early night. She sat up and we unexpectedly fell into a deep conversation for an hour.
She was one of those people whose wisdom was awe-inspiring. I felt as if I was basking in the beams of the knowledge she was happy to share. Sunbathing in these rays, I felt my ignorance evaporating a little.
I’d like to share a few little rays, just to put some ideas out there.
Here are a few unexpected nuggets from a conversation between two strangers during a late hour at a budget hostel.
1. Ignorance, Guilt and Bubbles
The producer of light was an Israeli lady who’s spent a big portion of her life in America and the UK. Let’s call her ‘H’.
I told her that I felt ignorant about my lack of knowledge about Israel. I hadn’t read a lot about it and I didn’t trust half the stuff the media fed me.
H responded with the following:
‘You shouldn’t feel guilty. My experiences have given me a certain point of view. I was in London for a while … We were in a North West London bubble with only The Guardian and certain types of people to talk to. Of course my opinions were going to be of a certain type. That’s okay! We shouldn’t feel guilty about where we are, what we have been exposed to (or not) and how this has affected us. I grew up in a stable house in an affluent area. That happened to partially form my view of the world. One shouldn’t feel guilty about it. It’s just ‘this is the view of the world that I currently have’.
I can see H’s point here and greatly agree, yet people should be careful to not use these societal bubbles as excuses.
In my opinion, we shouldn’t suffocate ourselves with guilt, but we should be aware of our ignorance, as that’s the first step to changing it.
Once we are aware of the limitations of our bubbles and knowledge we should begin to be open to what’s outside it, expand it and build upon what we already know. Even pop the thing if you can.
How can we do that?
H: ‘In order to expand the view you have, you have to start venturing out of the bubble’
2. How to Feed a Tiger
Have you ever helped others and found yourself feeling exhausted, as a consequence? Do you often find yourself in others’ sticky situations, even though you just want to help?
We conversationally strolled through more topics, some airy – others heavy, when our pace slowed and we explored a few in a bit more depth. The main topics were kindness, compassion, charity, self-protection and self-love. The question of how one should best help others. How can we give without being consumed?
She shared her stories with me about staying in temples and spending a lot of time with Buddhist monks.
‘It was a time when I was studying Buddhism and a group of us were following different Lamas. Some peers said ‘here I am, helping and helping, yet I just feel exhausted … People are taking advantage of me … Some situations aren’t turning out well’. For example, you try to help someone with a heroin addiction and end up in the chaos of their lives.
So we asked a monk:
‘How do you balance kindness and compassion with feelings of being overwhelmed? When things just feel too much? Is it my fault that I can’t cope sometimes? Should I try harder?’
I’ll never forget it. The monk turned around and gave us an analogy. He asked us
‘How do you feed a tiger?’
We just looked at him like ‘whaaaat?’. He continued:
‘How do you feed a tiger? There is a tiger. He is hungry. You have meat in your hand. How do you feed him?’
And, the answer is, through a cage.
‘Make sure, that in your acts of compassion, you do not become the meat’.
The first acts of kindness and compassion are towards yourself. Know your limitations. Know your needs. Be kind to yourself.’
H said that it completely attached to her belief system: ‘We do see people that are on a chaotic trajectory that they sometimes need to go through on their own. If you try to hold them back when they are ravenous you may become the meat. Sometimes you try to save someone and you end up with a worse problem than the person you were trying to save, then you may be unable to help anyone. Often, the sooner people fall flat on their faces, the sooner they will get up on their own’.
She patterned these comments with shocking stories from her own life and I was almost dumbfounded as we slid into another topic.
3. The Gentle Power of Staying Quiet
We began to talk about our biggest changes in our very different yet similar lives and we both highlighted one thing. We had experienced many of our biggest struggles and greatest moments alone. We had both chosen to have space from others and step back in order to get better, grow and develop. We discussed how it’s great to share things with others, good and bad, yet it’s monumentally important to take a step back sometimes too.
‘We live in a society where we are supposed to puke every single feeling. But sometimes it devalues it and confuses it’.
We talked about the importance of sharing one’s emotions with others but some things should be kept away from the masses. How it is difficult to process and well-convey emotions to others if you don’t have some space to quietly order them first. You need to work out what’s in your dish before it’s ready for diners to consume.
Before your spew feelings, occasionally try to understand them quietly too.
As the Dalai Lama said:
‘Attempt to understand in order to be understood’.
It is important to take stock yourself and have some alone time. When in doubt, stay quiet. The clarity will come.
We discussed the joy of discovering one’s own ‘Internal Navigation System’. This INS is like our GPS and is essential for understanding; be it our relationships, jobs attitude, mental health, hobbies or friendships. Who we are and how we are in relation to what is around us.
And, with this in mind, how important it is to learn how to be secure in who we are and finally saying goodbye to unhealthy ideas, behaviours and relationships (platonic or romantic).
We talked about the wonder of becoming acquainted with kind and incredible people when we are being nice to ourselves, and not-so-nice beings when our mindset has been set in ‘self-destructive’ mode and we aren’t treating ourselves with respect.
You sometimes look back to where you were a few years ago and the types of people you attracted (and were attracted to), then think ‘okay, well that was me then, but it does not apply to me anymore’.
‘You will naturally attract the right sort of people for where you are in your journey and where you are mentally and spiritually. The world hasn’t really changed … But your awareness has. And your view of the world’.
This led us into the next topic…
4. The Brain, Biases, Objectivity and Triangulation
The brain remembers according to biases. What we think that we have seen is not everything and is not 100% correct. We don’t pay attention to everything at any given moment. You revisit places from your childhood and suddenly notice different things.
‘I have passed this tree hundreds of times, but I’ve never noticed this carving until now’.
We discussed how one can make decisions and form opinions when there are so many biases, variables and contradictions in this world.
Sometimes my main focus, as an intuitive person, is to follow my gut. But it’s often about more than that. H raised some points that became catalysts for discussion.
‘In my view, the greatest mastery is to be able to see the world in its full spectrum and then decide’.
We talked about triangulation. How we should consider things from different perspectives and sources before we completely believe it and let it define us.
‘Every source has its biases. At least be exposed to multiple biases than just one single bias’.
As ladies currently in the Western world, we are lucky that we can freely and legally do that to an extent, compared to citizens of other – for example, some Arabic and Asian – societies.
If you can, expose yourself to different things, talk to different kinds of people, travel, look around you, read more than one newspaper or website, explore multiple subjects, consider things from different points of view.
Our lens was then focused more sharply on objectivity and subjectivity. In H’s opinion, ‘there is no such this as true objectivity’.
As the 1918 Nobel Prize winning quauntum physicist, Max Planck, commented:
‘Science advances one funeral at a time’.
H: ‘Scientists can be incredibly dogmatic in once they have a particular view of science, they won’t let go of it … Until they eventually die and a new load of scientists are born’.
These are just a few rays, from just one of the lovely individuals I happened to meet, at just one hostel of many. These conversations happen often to thousands, and they will happen even more if we all continue to open ourselves to the world and don’t become isolated.
I thought I’d just share something. How blessed we are that we have the internet in addition to places like hostels. It is not always about the medium; it is about messages, ideas, thoughts, and being free to communicate them.
Thank you, H.
May we all continue to learn from others and do our best to triangulate. May we explore, develop and seek to understand; no matter where we are, who we are and who we are with.
Please feel free to share your thoughts, ideas and experiences.
What do you think?
Thank you for reading.
Remember how to feed a tiger.