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There’s only one corner of the universe you can be certain of improving,
and that’s your own self.”
                                 – Aldous Huxley

It is not always easy to choose the path less taken.

You know the one. The path that requires you to work through the high grasses and the weeds. The path that challenges you to face your fears. The same path, that when taken, can lead to higher ground, inspiration, oh, and if I dare say it, enlightenment. If not enlightenment, then certainly personal evolution.

It is much easier to take the other path – the well-worn path. The path where the lines between walking space and the unknown are clearly delineated. The path where you know it is “safe” to walk because you have walked it a thousand times before. You have walked that path behind others and in front of others. It is the path we take out of conditioning, based on our personal story, the path we ALWAYS take. There is no adventure here nor learning necessary. We simply respond as we have always responded, step as we have always stepped and glide forward half-looking ahead.

Now that other path, the one that is less familiar, can be challenging. It requires us to override habit and move away from  “comfortable and safe” responses. It requires us to seek beyond ourselves, and seek within ourselves. And as we trek into the unknown, stepping tentatively through god/dess knows what, we have to trust that by choosing this path we will still be “okay.”

But let me tell you my sweet potatoes, we are not “okay.” Having chosen this alternative path just yesterday morning, when confronted with a situation which was less than bright and sunny and more like uncomfortable and unforgiving, did not leave me okay. Having to choose compassion over ego reaction was a momentary challenge. A challenge that seemed to resonate with me throughout the day being played like a broken record, or scratched cd, or corrupted mp3 in my head.

There were moments throughout the day when I longed for a simpler time. A time when my Ego was in control and driving me like Miss Daisy. It would have taken control of the situation and come back with some quick-witted response, something clearly condemning and abrasive.

But the Ego and I kind of have this weird relationship. It’s more of a back seat driver these days. As I work on my practice, it is my heart and energy of compassion that rules my responses. It is the lighter side of my spirit that voices a response and the ego screams from the back seat angrily, “What are you, an idiot? Say something ELSE! Don’t just nod and smile. Don’t send them blessings! For Ego’s sake stand up for yourself! Tell them what’s up sister!”

I hear this of course, in the back of my head. Yet I take that extra moment to choose. I choose to respond with thought and compassion.

Here’s the kicker.

For the rest of the day I carry the hurt, the frustration and the imbalance with me.

Until I take a hot shower and drink some Crown.

And Crown makes it all better.

Or does it?

Isn’t the true meaning of my practice being able to embrace the challenges, respond with light and then release it.  I don’t think it means carrying it around all day, pondering why people feel they have to be so judgemental, controlling and hurtful. Then drinking Crown to make it all go away.

I am reminded of a Zen story about a Zen master and student who are walking through a village when a  daughter of the upper class demands that they carry her across a large muddy puddle with all of her purchases. The student does not wish to do so but complies only when the master takes the lead to assist the demanding young woman. When they are done, the woman does not offer so much as a thank you but rather insults them and stomps off. The master and the student walk on until the student, fuming with built up frustration demands to know from the master why he has allowed himself to be treated in such a way. The master’s response is quite beautiful and simple. He responds by saying, “”I set her down on the other side of the mud puddle, while you are still carrying her.” (Note: there are many variations on this story, this is simply one of them).

Yes, I was carrying the insulting woman throughout the day. I should have had the sense and wisdom to set her down. Yet she corrupted me, my balance and my energy long after the encounter. Finally, after I realized that my “carrying” her was counterproductive I released her. I released her, her energy and her judgement to the outer nebula.

There is an amazing quote from Wayne Dyer that I have now adopted as my personal mantra:

“How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.”

This is a powerful statement. One that bears repeating.

“How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours.”

We cannot control other people’s thoughts, words or actions. Sometimes other people cannot control their own thoughts, words or actions. But that does not mean that we should become victim to them, buy into them or even lash back. Honestly, mean people suck. They do.  I am not a psychoanalyst nor do I want to focus my time and energy trying to figure out why people have to be controlling, judgemental, mean, rude, or whatever. That is their job to figure out (if they choose to seek a wiser and kinder path). What I am is someone who is attempting to practice compassion. And (unfortunately or fortunately) that means choosing the higher path  or the one less traveled when confronted with someone or something of a less than kind or enlightened nature.

It’s not easy my chickadees. Oh, no it’s not. It requires a serious pause. Because our gut reaction is to throw something – words, fists, an iron. But if we pause and wait for the voice of spirit to speak up and allow its echo to carry over EGO’s shouting, we will know what path and what response to take.

So maybe it’s a smile. Maybe it’s as simple as saying, “that’s interesting.” Maybe, if we are really feeling Hanuman-Strong, filled with compassion in action and devotion in motion, we can actually embrace what the person is saying and send them blessings.

I am not saying I am there yet. Heck No. That’s why it is called P-R-A-C-T-I-C-E. Because I am working on it.

Some days are clearly harder than others.

But what I hope to learn is to let it go, really let it go. And as I release these difficult situations and difficult people, I release them with love and kindness and send them blessings and hope that they too can find a way to PRACTICE compassion and know that their karma lies in their own actions.

And my karma (thank the heavens) lies in how I respond.

So I choose to respond with compassion.

Like my mother use to say, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

In those cases, I simply respond with a smile.

By doing so, I still stay true to my practice and choose a compassionate path.

We always have a choose.

Make it a good one.