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  • Parisa Rose

Lessons from a cranky nun

I used to do meditation retreats at a centre on a tiny island off the coast of British Columbia. There was a nun who stayed at the centre and would help out in the kitchen and do odd jobs during retreats. She had trained in the Buddhist tradition, but was originally from a small Canadian town in the prairies. She was this skinny, pale woman in her early 30’s, with a shaved head and maroon robes. She was usually cranky, irritable, and her poor interpersonal skills made her sound curt and even rude.

One night, I ran into her while I was on kitchen duty. She was obviously frustrated and suddenly starting venting to me. Someone had apparently criticized her and she was upset. “You know,” she said, shaking her head, eyes welling up with tears, “people just look at you and judge the way you are, but they have no idea. They have no idea how I was before. They don’t know how far I’ve come.”

That brief encounter left such a strong impression on me. This person had obviously done her share of inner work. She was even devoting her life to doing more. She wasn’t perfect, but she was doing her best.

Even if we’re not nuns or monks, I believe we all are doing our best. We are a product of nature and nurture. We are working with what resources we have (whether genetic or environmental). Yet, we continue to judge when someone’s lifestyle or behaviour isn’t up to our standards. I still catch myself judging others.

I love this quote that reminds me of the lesson of compassion that nun taught me:

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle (that you know nothing about).