“Win within,” my teacher says.
“Been there, done that, didn’t buy the wristband,” I could respond. It wouldn’t be overly audacious, given that my teacher is an advertising slogan on a bus shelter. But I hold my tongue, and think back instead to my recent encounter with the sentry at the Irish festival.
Jenni, a friend of a friend, was in town for the Toronto International Film Festival. As her tour guide for an evening, I suggested going to the islands across the harbour, a favourite respite from downtown concrete.
As the ferry neared the island, we spotted signs for an Irish festival at one of its restaurants. Not the peaceful setting I had in mind, but Jenni’s the guest in town and she gets to make the call. And her call is the festival. We order a couple of helpings of nachos in the restaurant, and are given a number to put on our table for the server to track us down. Stepping onto the patio, we join a picnic table of celebrants. While Jenni talks with them about Brexit and its potential impact for Ireland, I become distracted, wondering how our server will find us in such a loud and crowded space. I head back in and discover I know what I’m worrying about. Food is only served inside, and our number is up next.
I start my way back to Jenni, but am stopped by a guy in a plastic green top hat, his arm lowering with the gravity of a railroad crossing gate.
“I need to see your wristband, friend,” he says.
“Sorry?” I say.
“You need to buy one of these,” the sentry says, holding out a fistful of green wristbands, “if you want to join the festivities.”
“Wristband? No, that’s okay. A friend and I just came out here. No one said anything about a wristband. So I’ll just get her and-”
“That’s not going to happen. If you want out there, you get a wristband here.”
“Listen,” I say, resenting having been cut off. “My friend and I bought food inside. We were given a number to take to our table. We went outside. No one stopped us. No one said anything about wristbands. I just want to get her and we’ll go back in.”
“I’ll get your friend,” he says. “Where is she?”
I roll my eyes. Not with my inside voice.
“She’s at the far end of the patio. She’s wearing a navy blue dress and the number on the table-”
“Go ahead,” he says, opening his palm and waving me through.
Still steaming, I find Jenni, and explain what’s going on with our food. She exchanges goodbyes with her newfound friends, and as we head back in, it occurs to me that I’m bound to cross paths with the sentry again, and I start to anticipate ways to even the score – maybe wave the table number in front of him. But almost as quickly as I have the thought, I realize it won’t get me anywhere. Getting even might feel good in the moment, but it’ll also perpetuate an unhappy temper I won’t enjoy carrying around afterwards. I decide to let it pass.
Before I know it, he’s in front of me. Again, lowering his hand.
“I owe you an apology,” he says, shaking my hand. “That was a dick thing to do.”
He’s not a professional doorman, just a volunteer trying to make things happen right. Which he’s now doing by wrapping wristbands around our arms. “These are on the house,” he says. “Enjoy the festival.” Not only are the wristbands free, but so am I, that much more able to enjoy the mediocre nachos in the restaurant, and then afterwards, the blues harmonica we catch once back downtown.
I like to think my mindfulness practice has something to do with my having found the pause button, allowing antagonism to morph into affinity. After all, if I’m going to spend twenty minutes on a meditation cushion most mornings, it would be nice to see tangible benefits. I’ll never know, of course; cause-and-effect with practice is seldom that clear. But I do know that because of my practice, I don’t go off the rails as often as I would otherwise, and when I do, I get back on more quickly, and the world enjoys the kinder part of me.
So when the advertising poster tells me to “win within,” yes I could respond with been-there-done-that. But yes, I hold my tongue. Or, if I’m to be honest, my tongue is held for me – I’m seldom that quick-witted, and the clever response only arrives days later. But even if it had come to mind right away, I think I would have held back.
Maybe one day when I’ve achieved enlightenment – let’s say , I don’t know, next month – and remember to win within a little more reliably, I’ll start getting lippy with my teachers.
Let’s get mindful
Pick a sign. Any sign. Or let it pick you. Is there a teaching in it? Or a suggested practice? Unless you’re sure there isn’t, give it some consideration. See if it brings a shift in how you relate to the world or offers a reminder of something you sometimes lose sight of. And then, as you go through your day/week/month, keep it in mind, and see where that takes you.
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