Teaching a Pig to Sing

“Never try to teach a pig to sing. It’s a waste of time and besides, it annoys the pig” ~ Robert Heinlein~

I wish someone would have pulled me aside when I started attending Dharma classes at my local Buddhist temple and told me that I was at risk of losing the smart mouth I’m so well known for. I wish they would have told me that eventually, I would no longer feel it necessary to give a verbal firestorm to people who irritated me.

If someone would have told me that, I may have reconsidered my desire to become a better person right there on the spot. After all, I had a reputation to keep up. Had I known about the possible side-effects of ‘practice’, I may have shook my Sifu’s hand, bowed awkwardly, pushed wide the heavy wooden doors,marched off into the Saturday morning sunshine, and given the world the finger.

Instead I was welcomed and tutored in temple etiquette, meditation,Buddhist theory and history. At the same time, as I was being tutored by my brown robed, and bald-headed smiling Sifu, I also had a bad relationship for a teacher.

 Constantly fighting and feeling exhausted, I was distressed at how this person brought out the very worst in me. I used to come to the temple on Saturday mornings, quite often upset from something he said or did, and one of my classmates would ask in the cute way that we all did, “How is your practice?”For someone with beginner’s mind, it’s akin to asking a golfer about their swing after they just shot 10 over par. My response was almost always the same, I would shrug and say, “It’s coming along”, feeling terrible about myself and how I was handling the relationship.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t sit at home, legs crossed, ommmming myself into some state of entitled bliss. Subtlety is not my strength, nor do I desire it to be. I am straightforward. I have contemplated the person I was in relationship with. He was an unhappy man and not a good match for me. He had some good qualities – he was intelligent, and he was a great cook. He’s not a terrible person. He was just terrible to me. Life goes on.

Years ago my friend gave me a card with a funny photo of a pig on it. Underneath the photo, the text read, ” Never try to teach a pig to sing. It frustrates you and annoys the pig.” ~Anon.~. She said that it sounded like advice I would give. To the point, a bit comical and true. I was flattered.

I thought of that card yesterday.  You see, yesterday while cleaning strawberries and listening to Bob Dylan tunes, I had the unpleasant surprise of a phone call from a woman who truly is a blessing. You see, Buddhists believe that the people we struggle to relate to in a positive way are our greatest blessings – teachers in disguise.

Just flipping fabutastic! I thought, slicing the green tops off the red, ripe flesh of the berries. I cradled the phone against my shoulder and continued my work as this woman (and I use that term loosely, because I really want to refer to her as an orifice, but that would be insulting to the orifice) ranted for over an hour. An hour. An hour of my life. An hour of my life I will never get back. An hour of my life devoted to her own selfish, manipulative and mean ways. An hour when I was acutely aware of my practice.

I calmly continued cleaning my berries, occasionally popping one in my mouth, giving the odd, “Uh-huh.” or “I see” as she continued to rape my ear. If you put your ear to a garbage chute for an hour you I’m convinced you wouldn’t hear as much trash.

Anyway, my point is this; without continuing to try to be a more gentle, kind and strong person through my practice, my reading and my relationships, I would have reacted in an entirely different way. I would likely have come out with something like, ” Oh yah? Well you’re a manipulative, mean, f-ed up old sack of crap. And you know what else?! Nobody gives a rat’s hairy rump about your cock-eyed sense of reality and psychotic sense of entitlement…..(and then the classic, when you just can’t possibly come up with any more insults)…Who the heck do you think you are anyway?!”

“BREATHE”…..I told myself when she told me her reason for calling, “You are your thoughts”. I went back to these thoughts as I continued to clean the berries. What on earth I was going to do with her madness??? Then, out of nowhere, quietly stumbling into my consciousness and climbing peacefully onto my shoulder was a little, brown cloaked, smiling Sifu. She scared the hell out of the menopausal devil woman sitting on the opposite shoulder. I decided I liked the little brown smiling one, so I  listened to her.

“You don’t have to do anything. This is not your trash.  It’sher trash.” The little rolly monk reminded me. 

 This anger belonged to the raging mad woman on the other end of the phone.  Her crapstorm of garbage blew by like the wind, and was gone. “Thank you Sifu,” I said, and fed her a tiny bit of the strawberry I was cleaning. We bowed to one another and she disappeared.

By listening without reacting, I had done two things. I had not betrayed my own sense of self, and I had not done any further damage to her than she had done on her own.

I will have to address some of the things that she said, because I believe she is hurting a dear friend of mine. To not discuss it would be unkind.

I have to admit, using the f-word, raging a bit and letting someone have a taste of their own medicine is often very satisfying. But I don’t want a bad taste left in my mouth any more. Yesterday, despite my unpleasant interruption, I enjoyed every sweet drop of fresh strawberry flesh, and I was happy.

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8 thoughts on “Teaching a Pig to Sing

  1. What wonderrful blogs you write. Your use of the English language and sense of humour along with wiseness is truly a gift. Love especially the remark about putting your ear to the garbage chute. Will have to remember that one. Haha I am going to read your blog again.

  2. Thank you for sharing about your personal growth. I know for myself I must learn eventually to listen to other people’s sh*t and just tune it out without getting so very pissed off. For now, I just block them from Facebook or cut them out of my life.

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