‘Enlightenment. It’s a strange concept most will never understand,’
I was told by a middle aged man on the ferry yesterday, on my long commute home.
He had approached cautiously, gestured whether he could join me. I prepared for the unwanted possibilities but decided to remain open and non assumptive. Why shouldn’t we welcome engagement and conversation in public? Community is one of my alleged values I need to embrace.
So he sat down.
And we talked.
And he opened with, “I wanted to talk to you because you are a stylish woman who appears intelligent and educated, and as a heterosexual male...” (okay, so I am tensing up at this point waiting for the other shoe to drop, )and he continues,
“... how do I be a man now? It used to be fun. Talking to women used to be fun, now everyone is so tense about what to say, how to be.”
And my younger self might have been angry, defensive, righteous; but I chose to listen and offered my counterpoint and we engaged in a conversation as strangers across the gender divide. I believe this needs to happen far more often now as part of the antidote to the poison atmosphere in the world. I believe it is our collective responsibility to change the conversation. To invite conversation.
I shared that it wasn’t just the news that made us tense, these weren’t isolated incidents of a handful of individuals, but rather (tragically) the everyday commonplace experience of almost all women at some point.
We discussed how men generally don’t communicate well or in-depth. How they often don’t risk challenging each other in group think either. I suggested it was high time they did.
He spoke of his choice for a zen lifestyle, an American who moved to Canada for 6 months of the year many decades ago. He spoke of his own choices working toward enlightenment, and although my critical mind questioned his bold statement, I held his sharing as respectfully as I could, recognizing I also felt envious and interested about his spiritual exploration and experiences with ‘all life as light.’ He described that his belief was all life came from the same light source and how much darkness was present merely indicates how attached we are to ego.
In other words, pain is largely manufactured I added.
He was respectful, pointed in his personal questions, curious and interested.
Still, it would have been much easier to disengage. A v o i d. Politely decline needing to go to the loo.
I noticed waves of tension and clenching in my body come and go, but I decided to sit with it. Stay open and engaged. I questioned whether I was just doing the polite female thing indulging him, and in part that was initially true.
‘I am safe.’ I kept reminding myself. ‘You can handle it if it goes sideways. ‘ And inherent in that reminder is the underlying issue with women’s experience. Because we so often are not safe. Sometimes in more subtle but equally toxic ways, such as being dismissed, disbelieved, minimized, negatively labelled for sharing our view or experience.
But we sat together and shared and listened for an hour. Then we parted ways. A little Lighter.
I am grateful for brave, open hearted men. And I thanked him for taking a risk.