he year was 1993. Strolling through San Francisco in a buoyant mood, I had been lifted by the success of a juicy musical performance I had just given.
Since my latest self-love stretch was learning to be more generous with myself financially, I decided to have dinner at a nice Japanese restaurant. I sat down at the sushi bar, humming a tune and spreading my joy. The waitress approached and asked if I wanted to try the restaurant’s most popular and respected sake. “Of course!” I said. My “yes” had the conviction of a man enjoying being prosperous with himself.
At the end of a delicious meal, I perused the check. The drink I’d ordered was eighteen dollars, about twelve more than I had ever paid for sake. Calling the waitress over, and reaching down for my New York City attitudinal roots, I gave her a piece of my ego-mind. “What’s with this check?” I barked. “I would never have ordered this sake if you would have told me the price. You should have said something about how expensive it was!”
She apologized timidly and repeatedly. I requested not-so-timidly that she just charge me the price for regular sake. Still bowing in apology, the waitress let me know that she would have to pay the difference if I didn’t pay full price. I paid for it begrudgingly and left the restaurant steaming with resentment. How unfair!
Making my way down a steep San Francisco street, it occurred to me how dramatically downhill my mood had gone compared to what it had been an hour earlier. Before, I was happy and carefree. Now I was anything but.
I was convinced that her ‘mistake’ was a grave injustice, a sin by omission, deliberately manipulating me into buying an expensive brand of sake. It didn’t even taste much better than what I was accustomed to. I got ripped-off! “How unfair!!” I whined to myself.
Then something happened that, at first, pissed me off even further. A passage from A Course In Miracles found its way into my mind, the kind that makes it impossible for me to continue cherishing my grievances and enjoying my righteousness.
Oh, how I hated the Course in that moment!
Nothing in life ruins perfectly good whine as quickly as a sobering line from its pages. I could no longer pretend I was a victim. The quote that rained on my charade was this:
“Beware of the temptation to see yourself unfairly treated.”
Ouch! “But I WAS unfairly treated!” my ego child ranted back at the Course. After giving that child a chance to huff and puff a bit, and be heard with compassion, I was ready to listen to what Spirit had to say.
“Scott, why are you giving twelve dollars and a sweet Japanese woman the power to get you this upset? Could it be possible she saw you in your celebration, perceived you as prosperous, and figured you weren’t one to guard your pennies so fearfully? Is it possible that she was responding to your prayer to treat yourself more generously in the physical universe? Are you willing to consider that underneath all this righteous anger is your own difficulty in seeing yourself as worthy of love and deserving of fine things?”
Whoa! That was quite a jump. Was being stingy with myself behind all this? Was it my own guilt that I projected onto this waitress and the price of Sake?
“Beware of the temptation to see yourself unfairly treated.”
I suddenly remembered two more lessons from the Course, and my righteousness dissolved completely:
“I am not a victim of the world I see.”
“I am never upset for the reason I think.”
The waitress was clearly not the source of my pain. In an instant, a holy instant, my case for her guilt was thrown out of court, and I was set free as well.
Tears came to my eyes. How sad, that I’d acted on assumptions rooted in fear and paranoia and attacked this lady, ruining a perfectly splendid celebration by letting unexamined anger dictate my behavior. And then, how liberating to uncover the hidden sense of unworthiness driving my feelings, and let them all go.
I wish I could tell you that I went back to the restaurant and apologized. But I did not consider that practical with my time commitments ahead of me, so i did the very next best thing.
I imagined the waitress before me, and out loud I exclaimed, “I forgive myself for losing my sanity with you. I apologize, and ask for your forgiveness.” As if I were back at the restaurant, I lifted my imaginary glass and said, “ I offer us both the very best sake, and make a toast in celebration of a lesson learned and a job well done.” I saw myself paying the waitress, this time with gratitude and friendliness, as well as a big tip.
I went on to review other situations in which I have seen myself as unfairly treated. The telephone company putting me on hold for longer than I would like. A storeowner who never paid me for the CD’s she sold on consignment. People not returning my phone calls. A lover who rejected me. My mother being so negative. How unfair! How unjust! What a war I had declared on life with my list of grievances! How personal it all has seemed to my ego! I made a commitment to catch these kinds of perceptions earlier on in their process, before they can cause me such anger and grief.
A week later I jumped on an opportunity. A driver cut me off while I was about to get on a freeway. I slammed down on the judgment pedal and was just about to accelerate into righteous anger. In a split second I saw that there was a choice, that the attack thoughts and angry feelings were arising in me like clouds, and I could either engage the ‘I’m right!’ energy or just witness both his haste and my own reactivity passing through me. This time I was able to remain the witness, never fully identifying with the point of view that I was unfairly treated by this rushed driver. The clouds passed quickly, and my mood easily returned to clear and sunny.
Of course, a driver I am not personally intimate with doesn’t push the same buttons as mates and mothers can, but I am very interested in refining my practice of letting go of P-BUT’s (Perceptions of Being Unfairly Treated) more quickly as they arise. The better I get at it with the minor irritations of daily life, the more transfer value my practice has to the larger stuff.
I used to think that as I dedicated my life to serving God I would be asked to become pure in diet and drink, and that pleasures like sushi and sake would have to be relinquished. What I have been finding is that Spirit is much more concerned with my ‘whine’ intake, my mental sobriety. It is when I am thinking the hard stuff that I am most in trouble!
“You cannot be unfairly treated. The belief you are is but another form of the idea you are deprived by someone other than yourself.”
— A Course In Miracles