A tall teenage boy looked at me from the street corner as I neared the intersection in my old VW bus. He had no crosswalk. I had no stop sign.
He looked hard at me and then plunged into the street, his body language dripping defiance. White earbuds filled his ears, muffled anger was written on his face.
He didn’t look my direction again, no matter how much the gap of street between us narrowed. As a driver, it was one of those moments when the conventionally acceptable response is clear: indignant, “how dare you” anger.
I slowed, letting him get out of the way, and drove on. No horn. No wild gestures or snipes out the window. Just thoughts.
I faced an immediate and unexpected moment of yogic truth. Which do I really want: to flare up in injured anger or to remain peaceful and let it go?
The grooves of habit are strong. Reacting with fire and blame is so easy to lean on. I’d be allowed that, right? “Any reasonable adult in the same situation would get angry at that.” Justification.
As I drove on with this conversation in my head, I thought of a line posted a few days prior by Arianna Schioldager. It ended with, “I am unwilling to chain my joy to your misery.”
That made me smile. It eased the discomfort of the internal fencepost I was sitting on.
Having decided peace was the path, I dug into it. Yogis practice self-inquiry. They look at what happens outside themselves and they turn inward to ask questions like, “Why is that making me feel like this?”
I asked: Why do I care that he crossed in front me?
I answered: It’s ego. It’s pride. It’s a sense of entitlement that I should get what I should get, which is perfection of respect at all times from all people, especially when the law says it’s my right of way.
I asked: And why didn’t he look at me again?
I answered: He was a teenage boy. He was walking alone. He wore an expression of … what? Anger, stress, pain, sadness?
I asked: Why did this seem to be an act of defiance? And why did he give the impression he was relying on the driver of the oncoming car to care more about his welfare than he did?
I answered: Maybe he just wanted a sense of control over something. Maybe he just wanted to be seen.
I drove on, the potential for reactionary anger dissolved. Yet, the question of entitlement — my own — remained.
What am I entitled to in this life? Nothing. Not even the next breath.
The only things we have actionable entitlement to, in any sense, are those manufactured with legal requirements. Even those are a matter of choice, and are debatable in terms of true entitlement.
A law granting me something doesn’t mean it truly is mine. My next breath coming into my body does not mean I was owed it.
This type of thinking — yogic inquiry — is practice. All of this — anger and peace — is practice. It’s all any of us are: practice, embodied.
What and how we practice is a choice. No entitlement needed — or granted.