I hated the garbage and I stopped

How is that? There is a story behind it.

After many months of postponement, I started my morning walks while working in my company. I chose a dirt path around the boundary wall of the housing colony of our company, to avoid meeting known people, having to talk to them and breaking the walking tempo. This path had the frequent hazard of a band of monkeys that used to chase people some times. I used to pick up a stick and carry it for that stretch.

Most of the path was peaceful and was a visual feast of green trees, early morning sounds of birds and an occasional ‘good morning’ with a known person. It was a wonderful break from the concrete, steel and continuous streams of people I was seeing throughout my working hours.

On the first day, at the mid point of the path, I smelled the faint stench of garbage. As I walked on, the stench intensified and became progressively unbearable. I was distressed that the beautiful and peaceful path I had chosen was marred by this stench. I cursed the garbage and blamed the people who chose this place. I almost ran past the length of path with the stench, feeling relieved when the stench stopped.

The next day, having known the spot from where the stench would start, I would anticipate the stench even before it was felt. Automatically the disgust at the garbage would arose in my mind. Day after day the garbage and it’s unbearable stench became a prominent part of my morning walk experience. I tried to minimize the duration and impact of the stench by taking a deep breath, holding my breath and walking very fast for that stretch. I would resume breathing after the stench stopped.

I stated hating the garbage every day and the hatred was accumulating. Even before I reached the starting point of the actual stench, I used to anticipate it and start hating the imaginary garbage and the imaginary stench. Soon the actual stench would join the imaginary stench and actual hatred join the imaginary hatred.

This prolonged (or so I felt) disruption of an otherwise peaceful morning walk was bothering me. After a few days of this very unpleasant experience and going through the drill of holding breath and walking fast, I started reflecting over it.

It led to an internal dialogue. Who was the culprit? Who else but the garbage spreading the unbearable stench? “That stinky garbage is spoiling my walk!” Why am I hating the garbage? Because it was giving out the unbearable stench. What do I expect the garbage to do? It should stop giving out the stench. What smell do I expect from the garbage? Why not the opposite of stench? Do I want the garbage to give out a pleasant smell – of  lavender, rose or jasmine? Yes, then I will be very happy and may even love it.

The moment the above thought arose, a smile came on my lips realizing the stupidity of my thinking. My attitude towards the garbage changed dramatically.

What am I asking from the garbage, to smell like roses or at least not smell at all? Am I crazy? If it does not give out that unique garbage stench, it can not be called garbage. It will of course stop smelling bad when it fully decomposes. Yes, this is what I want from it –stop smelling bad. But, if it decomposes and stops smelling, it will no longer be called garbage. It’s name will then be ‘Compost’. Then I felt silly for hating the garbage for it’s stench. My persistent hatred of garbage came to an end. I stopped hating garbage. Garbage is only exhibiting it’s inherent nature by giving out the stench. It is least bothered about who is getting offended or hating it, let alone my tiny self. It does not even recognize my existence.

After some time, this concept spread into other life situations. I used to dislike some people for their unpleasant behavior. I applied the garbage concept to their behavior. Being human beings with higher capabilities, they are capable of being nice to some people and nasty to some others. It is their nature to behave badly towards me for which they may have their own reasons or they may be retaliating to my own nasty behavior towards them about which I might have conveniently forgotten.

There are two dimensions of suffering here. The first dimension is the direct suffering due to the unpleasantness of their behavior. The second dimension which is more intense and longer lasting is their indifference to my suffering.

What can I do to avoid these two kinds of suffering? When I can not change their behavior to a pleasant one, I can adopt the same attitude that I adopted towards the garbage. First I should accept that it is in their nature to be nasty towards me (like it is in the nature of garbage to smell bad). In other words I should attach the label of ‘Stinky Garbage’ to them. I should not wish that they change their behavior. I better avert my mind when they give out the stench and minimize it’s impact on my senses. Once the episode is over I should take it out my mind just as I forget the smell of garbage after I go past that stretch of the path.

What prevents my forgetting their nasty behavior is the secondary suffering due to their lack of concern for my hurt feelings, even ignoring my existence. It is easy to avoid this suffering as well. Treat this second aspect of their behavior as the second bad smell of a special garbage. Accept that these people have two kinds of bad smell – one is the desire to hurt others’ feelings and the second is to be insensitive to their agony or even to enjoy seeing their suffering. You can label them ‘Dual Stink Garbage’. Once labeled like this, their behavior can only bother you only when it is occurring, not afterwards. Any kind of prolonged suffering is totally avoided.

One more thought. In our last year of Engineering College our class was taken on a visit to the local sewage treatment plant. As we came close to it the unbearable stench of open sewage was felt and all of us held hankies to our noses. The in-charge of the plant was showing us around the plant and explaining how the process works. He did not seem to be bothered about the stench even one bit whereas all of us were holding hankies to our noses. As you know, every group of people has it’s own humor specialist. One of our classmates was adept at poking fun at any one – his classmates and professors as well. This guy asked the in-charge of the plant after being with him for a few minutes and seeing his unconcern for the smell. “Sir! You are so much used to being in this smell for hours. You may be even liking it”. Even after 40 years this remark of his rings in my ears. How close to truth was his joke! When one is exposed to anything many a time he becomes immune to it or indifferent to it – be it the stench of garbage or the smell of a perfume.  Hence my reaction to the stench was mostly due to my lack of repeated exposure to it, going by my comedian friend’s joke.

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