What happens when you spend five months in the mountains, come home, read a Yoga philosophy book on the train home and then wait for 45 minutes to be picked up in Starbucks? In my case, something strange happened. My view of the world and how people interact seemed altered.
Yoga teaches us to stop judging ourselves and everyone else. To observe without attachment. In the words of the Tufty road safety campaign, it teaches us to ‘Stop, look and listen.’ And so what did I see when I stopped to look and listen in Starbucks, Leeds train station?
Reunions of friends and family – sometimes tearful. The lunch date – early days? The business meeting. The mum and her baby son, smiling his gummy smile at the barista girl on her break. “He likes you.” The girl with red shoes and red hair and red lipstick in a sea of grey, black, brown and navy.
Smiles. Handshakes. Eye contact. Hands wrapped around hot comforting mugs. Like comfort blankets. Anchors of security in a sea of new experiences.
Beggars come in, dressed in suits and trainers with back packs. How hard it must be to ask; to put out a hand and say ‘help me’. How easy to shake a head and look away. To avoid the gaze. “Not me. Don’t ask me.” “I’m ashamed to say no, but I don’t give. I don’t give. I keep.” What’s the least you can give? A smile? A kind word? An acknowledgement of another human presence?
A large group of people with special needs and their wonderfully patient carers enters. People stare, move, leave.
And it was these latter observations which struck me as ironic, given that all around me are cups with names written on them. Now at Starbucks, you are not identified by your drink, but by your name. People are not identified or defined by their choice of beverage, they have an identity, they are a Self. Starbucks say it’s to be more friendly and personal (maybe it’s also to stop peer judgement? ‘Caramel machiato? She’d be better off with a Skinny latte!’ ‘Sencha green tea, who does she think she is, smug yoga bitch.’)
I used to think Starbucks’ name thing was manipulative and cheesy and on the rare occasions I went in, I never gave my name. But actually, I now see that’s a pretty cynical, miserly attitude on my part. Why not give Starbucks the benefit of the doubt and applaud their recognition of a person with a name and a Self, whatever the motive.
In James Cameron’s Avatar, the Na’vi people say “I See you” meaning I see all of you and we are all one. Yogic philosophy says the same thing. We are all part of the same energy field, the same world, the same atoms, the same society.
If we lived some of that philosophy ourselves, if we saw past the outside details of societal judgement and recognised the human energy inside, maybe we would give to beggars we don’t know, as readily as we’d give to a friend who asked for help. And maybe we would sit next to a group of people with special needs, as readily as we would sit next to our nearest and dearest.
What would the world be like if we embraced the Na’vi meaning of I see you? What if the happiness of everyone we encountered was as important to us as that of our own family? Or even as important to us as our own Self.