I was in a horrible mood and decided to blow off steam with a walk. I noticed a dog I had never met was sitting in the front yard of a house in my neighborhood. He got up and ran down the front yard onto the street, straight at me. I instantly went into fear and ran.
When I felt far enough away, my fear melted away and anger began to rise. I was pissed! I instantly went into a rant. “How could they just leave that dog outside without a leash or fence!?” “How irresponsible is that person?!” “That dog is out of control!” “He tried to attack me!”
From then on, I was a person who loved dogs but not THAT dog. He was an a-hole. I feel horrendous saying that about a dog because I am such a dog person but it was how I felt.
For the next 8-months, I would look to see if the dog was in the front yard and if he was, I would walk the other way. I always had a harsh comment about the dog’s owner as I did.
Recently, it was a nice day and I was going for a walk. I decided to go by the house with THE dog. He wasn’t anywhere to be seen. As I walked by the front of the house the dog came around to the front from the backyard.
The killer dog was coming for me! I froze, ready for the attack.
Instead of an attack, I heard the sound of happy dog feet. Next, he was gently pawing my leg in an attempt to get me to pet him. I knelt down on the ground with him and pet his head. I was able to really see him this time. He was an older dog, with grey fur. He seemed more like a gentle giant then the ferocious beast I pegged him to be.
I got up and his owner came outside and waved. As I walked away the gentle guy (the dog, not the owner) joined me for a little bit of my walk.
And when he turned and ran back to his house, I felt confused.
How was that the same dog and owner that I had so much aggression towards for the past year?
In my meditation practice, I have had the same sort of confusion. How can the same practice seem life-saving one day and so torturous that I don’t want to do it the next?
The answer is causes and conditions.
We are always being impacted by the conditions around and within us, often without awareness around it.
How we feel during a particular day may change how we see the same person or situation.
Did we sleep well the night before? Are we stressed? Are we in pain? Are we in love? Did we just get a raise?
These are all conditions that impact the way we react to the people and world around us. To add to that, the person that we are in relationship with is also being influenced by their own conditions.
We also have our social, cultural, and personal conditioning that influences our perception. Our own personal experiences from the past often overlay what we experience today.
When we get into trouble is when we have an encounter with someone (or some dog) and freeze that encounter in our mind in a way that keeps those conditions in place forever, even when they are no longer present.
It seems I perceived the same dog in two completely different ways because of causes and conditions in my life.
A year ago, I was having a bad day and had not slept (you can read about another one of these days here). This clouded my ability to see the old dog clearly. I honestly do not even know if he was running at me anymore or just walking down to the street from his yard to say hello.
In the second meeting, it was a nice day and I was feeling good. Even though the story I kept telling myself about this dog impacted my reaction to his presence, I was feeling rested and nourished. This grounding enabled me the opportunity to see clearly what was in the moment – not what happened a year ago.
The other possibility is that the dog (and I) changed over the past year, which also happens as we are not static individuals. What I know for sure, is that I am no longer stuck to my story about this dog.
I think about some people in my past that I still have anger for or judgments about.
What causes and conditions were present during our encounters? Have I frozen them in an unfair way the same way I did to my neighbor? The blame and anger does not feel good inside me, yet it still rears its head when these people come into my awareness.
As usual, I emphasize that anger is not bad. I actually believe anger is a healthy emotion. It empowers us to act, feel, and make changes. I like to let it rip! (in safe, conscious ways). And there are times when anger justified. I will not argue that. What is not helpful is when anger freezes into resentment and vengeance.
When I bring insight around causes and conditions to my past experiences, it softens my reaction to whatever or whomever I feel stuck in a pattern of resentment toward. It doesn’t take my feelings about a situation away (I don’t aim for it to) but it softens something.
And while I do not make excuses for some actions or want to spiritually bypass an event, it empowers me to choose how I relate to my anger. I choose to feel it and keep it moving as much as possible. I have seen this insight empower my clients over and over as well.
Have you ever experienced causes and conditions in this way?
A great way to understand how causes and conditions impact your life is to practice the loving kindness meditation. Over time, you will start to see how your views and opinions of the same person (including yourself) change with varying conditions.