(By Paolo Propato, LAc) A businessman was angry that his children were going to the Buddha daily to sit with him in meditation. The man thought they were wasting their lives sitting around doing nothing. One day, filled with anger, he made his way through the gathering of followers and approached the Buddha.
At that moment the man's mind went blank. Unable to make out any words but filled with anger, he looked at the Buddha and spat in his face. The stunned crowd waited for the Buddha's response. But he simply smiled, a response that was enough to make the man storm off in anger and confusion.
The man couldn't shake off the response of the Buddha's smile. He tossed and turned all night. The next morning he went back, and everyone watched to see what would transpire. The man walked up and asked forgiveness for his actions the day before. The Buddha replied, “I can not excuse you.” His followers were shocked that he would reply in such a manner. “He is the Compassionate One, how could he reply in such a way?”
The Buddha continued, “What have you done that I should excuse you?” The businessman explained that he had spat in his face the day before in a fit of anger. The Buddha replied, “That person is not here anymore. The person that is here at this moment is wonderful. You’ve done nothing wrong.”
Growing up in my family, if you were male you had to work in the family business. You didn’t question because all the cousins did the same, it's just what you had to do. Hard work was praised, and as a teen that translated into self worth.
When I was done for the day, I’d walk upstairs to the office to drop my paperwork off on my father's desk. Those steps were old and made loud creaks. With each step you could tell who was coming up to the office by the sound. My father, my uncles all had a slow, weighted sound from taking their time due to back and knee pain. I did my best to mimic that sound every time I walked those steps. No matter how good I felt that day, when it was time to go upstairs it was done weighted and slowly to give the impression that my back hurt and I had given my all. My self worth was wrapped up with being a hard worker.
Quarantine life has brought the sound of those creaking steps into the forefront of my mind. My cousins and uncles are still in the family business and still working during this time and I am home... doing nothing.
At first I try to combat the issue with thoughts of, “You are doing lots of things, going through old acupuncture notes, listening to different classes, teaching your son to read.” A few weeks have gone by and acceptance of "doing nothing" has begun to settle in. It's a difficult feeling to grasp because hard work is applauded in our culture, especially in immigrant culture, and it's easy to disguise as “doing what's needed for my family, or for my patients.”
Sometimes in meditation those thoughts creep in and begin to make noise, so I just sit with a smile. Those thoughts are from long ago but today, I am wonderful.
(Story of the Buddha and the businessman excerpted from here.)