This morning I walked our dog Flash around the neighborhood. Turning a corner, I saw ahead of us two elderly smokers having a chat. Under my breath I complained to Flash about the upcoming pollution. I then held my breath while quickly scooting around them. After we passed them, I continued to mutter to Flash about their nasty habit and felt anger at the man and woman for desecrating our pure air with secondhand smoke. While I had seem them before, I didn't know anything about them other than I wished to avoid them on the way back.
On the return trip home, Flash and I encountered the same woman. She had always seemed rather unfriendly before, and I held Flash back to give her a wide berth on the sidewalk. She stopped. She extinguished her cigarette. And then a flurry of words snowed upon us: "What a beautiful dog! What breed is he? What's his name? His curly fur is amazing!" Before I knew it, Flash and I were engaged in conversation with a lovely human being.
As we parted ways, I started to question how certain I could be about my assumptions and expectations. A woman for whom I held a mild repulsion actually made my day. While I still abhor smoking, this person who smokes and whom I assumed to be unfriendly turned out to be delightful. What else might I be wrong about? How might my life be different if I approached each moment with a clean slate (the Bhuddist concept of "beginner's mind")?
On a macro-level, I couldn't help but wonder how the current impasse over the "fiscal cliff" is another example of unquestioned, entrenched assumptions. To be honest, I've seen the Republicans as arrogant, inflexible and dead wrong. Is it possible, however, that I and those of my political persuasion are also arrogant, inflexible, and, at least on some issues, partially or totally dead wrong? Am I adamant in the superiority of my positions, when I should be learning, investigating, conversing, getting involved, advocating with passion...and all with an open heart and mind? Can I be dedicated to my values, yet willing to grow, evolve, and, yes, be surprised by the humanity of those with whom I disagree?
Today an Airedale and an elderly smoker melted my icy judgments. They taught me that I can oppose smoking and any number of other behaviors without walking around in a cloud of resentment. They invited me to hold my assumptions lightly so that I can pivot freely when the unexpected emerges. They reminded me that the truest way to experience each moment is with a mind and heart held as wide open as possible. And in that moment, I inhaled the deepest breath of pure, fresh air.