The road to compassion


Buddhism isn’t about being calm and peaceful all the time. It’s about being open to reality, not rejecting the present moment.

I took the Metro rail this morning to my appointment in the Texas Medical Center. I had ambitiously bought a day pass a couple of years ago and never used it.

I idealize the experience of public transportation when I haven’t used it in a while. Relax and see the city! Let someone else do the driving! When the train doors opened at the Quitman station on North Main, I was greeted by the screams of a high-volume argument between two women standing in the aisle.

My first instinct was to shut down. My M.O. since childhood is to pretend that nothing is wrong, nothing bothers me, I’m FINE. I found a seat. I kept my sunglasses on. I put earbuds in my ears, even though I wasn’t listening to anything. I stared out the window, not looking at the warring women just ten feet away.

Then I realized what I was doing. I realized that I wanted them to just stop–not for their benefit but out of my ego’s desire for comfort, safety, predictability, a “nice” experience. I reminded myself that when someone is angry, especially when the argument is none of my business, trying to be pacifying just makes them madder.

But if my task isn’t to be calm, then what is it? I began to pay more attention to the two women and the content of their argument. I immediately saw that this wasn’t a case of random violence or mental illness. They were arguing about a misunderstanding, and the louder woman was highly frustrated, insulted, and demanding to be understood.

I noticed how other riders on the train were observing and either reacting or not reacting to the conflict.

The biggest switch happened next. I genuinely felt badly for the women, and I truly hoped they could work it out, not for me, but for their own happiness.

This was not an “I should have compassion” moment. Compassion arose out of curiosity.

It’s not about me.


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