Taking the bait
1 June 2007
‘Can we resist taking the bait?’ was a question posed in a discussion group on Zen practice that I participate in. How many times do we take the bait when we can see not just the worm but the hook, line and angler? In my case, sometimes my mind gets in the way, and it starts thinking, ‘Maybe the worm isn’t a worm and it isn’t attached to a hook. I’m just imagining things.’ That’s when the trouble starts.
I went to my regular group meeting yesterday evening and sat for the usual hour, did some dharma study for the second hour, and then checked my phone for messages, as one does. I had two text messages from Mr. Ho-hum from the previous post. We have had no contact since that encounter last weekend. The first message read, ‘Hi, how’re you doin’?'; the second, which came in about ten minutes later, read something to the effect of, ‘If you don’t want to reply to my msgs, you could say so and I’ll let you be. I think it is very childish and discourteous [of you, presumably].’
All the sitting in the world couldn’t have prevented my annoyance from rising. The irony alone, though, was worthy of a Zen fable. There I was sitting in meditation, and someone else is thinking I was ignoring them. The greater irony though is that I probably would have ignored the first message had I not been sitting in meditation.
So, there’s life throwing me a worm. I don’t react immediately to my annoyance, but I can feel the self-righteousness rising — how dare he make assumptions about what I was doing? How dare he accuse me of childishness and discourtesy when he was the one being childish and rude?! I share the story with two friends from my group: one says, if only there was a way to give a smart reply (implying that she was aware that that was a very ego-centric thing to do, but she was empathising); the other says, don’t bother, don’t dignify it with a reply, don’t become like the other person.
I drive home thinking, ‘Yes, Friend No. 2 has a point. Don’t reply.’ Of course what he saved me from was restraint from immediately replying before I even started the car. On the drive home, however, Friend No. 1’s remarks started to brew in my brain. ‘Hmm, how to give a response but not in anger?’ Talk about trying to be smart. In hindsight, I can see that I was trying to outwit my own practice!
Of course, I just had to text back, didn’t I? I texted, quite curtly, ‘I just came from a meeting. Yes, please let me be. Thanks.’ Ooh, who was being self-righteous now? Geez. I got what I deserved. Not only did he not leave me alone. He sent me more annoying messages. One of which was ‘Hurray! You replied.’ (*cue that awful sense of being baited and falling for it); I had the sense to ignore it this time. The second of which was ‘I think we started off on the wrong foot. … It would be a pity to end it like that.’
Annoyance rising, annoyance rising! What did he mean ‘wrong foot’? Foot in mouth, you mean?! And what did he mean end ‘it’? There was no ‘it’ to be ended!! Fret, fret, frown, frown. But no, I’m not stupid enough to fall for the same worm twice. Not responding at all is the only way to break the cycle. The irony is I didn’t want to continue the association in the first place and keeping silent the first time would have achieved it; but no, I had to assert my right-ness.
The law of karma dictates that things have a way of coming back to you. And this incident made me think about Yolanda again, and whether it might be possible to be friends on different terms. I had after all sent her a text last week. And she had replied — two days later.
Knowing when to give up on a bad/annoying/unpleasant thing, I now think, is perhaps best when we can do so out of kindness or compassion, rather than out of anger, resignation, or annoyance, though I can’t with good conscience say I am giving up communicating with Mr. Ho-hum out of kindness. But I haven’t crushed him with the violence of my anger, which I’ve done so before in similar instances. So, maybe that’s a start, and maybe as a result, I can learn to resist taking the bait in future.