By Deborah Brink Wohrmann
Ringu Tulku Rinpoche says most dharma happens in daily life. "The real practice is living in the world," he said. We need to realize how we impact another person all the time, he emphasized. "If I'm laughing, you laugh. If I'm crying, you cry."
Ringu Tulku Rinpoche has a way of telling stories and speaking that invited me to smile at my own awkwardness rather than squirm in embarrassment. I appreciated his kind presence, his clear sharing, and also appreciated those bold and generous members of the audience who asked questions. A highlight that evening was when a woman asked about her frequent feelings of anger.
"What makes you so angry?" he asked her.
The woman gave a similar response to what I might have said: she becomes angry when she feels she has been treated unfairly, insulted, or left out. She gets upset by what someone says or does, or when she feels slighted.
Here is when Rinpoche introduced the problem of expectations: "Our expectations cause us to want to be treated differently than how we are treated," he said. "But people have their way and we can be grateful for how they offer what they offer: It is their way."
"I love to eat," he said. "I'm one of those people who lives to eat, but when I'm in Germany the people are working so hard they forget to eat lunch or dinner. . . and they feed me thin slices of dark bread and some cheese. . . I could feel insulted, but this is also what they are eating. It is their way."
I was laughing so hard with a slice of my mother-in-law's pumpernickel bread in my mind's eye! My husband and friend were next to me and also laughing because they knew about my experience of going hungry in Germany! On my first visit, I didn't much like this bread, but now we sometimes make it at home because we miss it between visits to my husband's family.
Another story told was about a young woman in Maine who was anxious and depressed. She was having a real hard time of it, and then one day she backed her pickup truck into a very expensive car while at the gas station.
"I'm so sorry!" she said to the older woman who emerged from the driver's seat of the expensive car. "I will call the police," said the young woman.
"No need for that," said the older woman. "Just give me your phone number. This is no big deal. I will call you in a few days."
The young woman was so surprised and grateful. "Thank you," she said.
In a few days the older woman called and told her she had not yet found anyone to fix her car for a reasonable price. "They want $2000, and that's too much. I will call you when I find a better offer."
Another week passed, and the old woman called again. "I have found someone who will fix my car for only $500. If you have money you can pay for this repair, but if you don't, don't worry about it. It's no big deal," said the old woman.
The young woman had no insurance. She had been out of work and she was struggling in every way.
"Soon her anxiety and depression lifted. She felt so much better," Rinpoche said. One person's kindness and generosity helped another person to overcome her dark feelings.
It is good to be reminded in such concrete terms of how I can impact another's life. The older woman driving her fancy car could have been furious. She could have called the police. She could have also done what she did but in a way that left the young woman feeling guilty and anxious. But this wise woman showed such love and understanding that it helped a stranger to heal.
I appreciated how Rinpoche, throughout the weekend, reminded me to develop my capacity to be patient and act wisely, with compassion. Rinpoche's comments on anxiety and depression also stay with me. "In the West people have freedom, but this lead them to expect so much of themselves. They want to be the best at everything... So maybe the problem isn't that a person doesn't love herself enough but that she loves herself too much but expects to be different from how she
And when the topic of post-election fears came up, Rinpoche suggested that we act as we need to act. "If we can do something to improve a situation, do it," he said. We need to remember the part about doing something, 'Don't worry, do something." I'll continue to ask myself, "What is it I can do?" And how will I contribute to growing peace, including all beings in my family?