Syrinda’s summer visits to the beach led to this thoughtful reflection on the relationship between our motivation, the state of our mind, and the resulting impact on others.

by Syrinda Sharpe

Over the past summer I had the opportunity to observe two people who were making huge bubbles at the beach. They were very different in their mindset, or so it appeared, and that difference came through in their bubbles.

Making Bubbles

The first, an older man, had a simple rope loop and a bucket of soapy water. He was very quiet and deliberate in his movements.  Since people recognized him—he was there often on evenings and weekends—they gathered.

He would dunk his loop, lift it out and create the bubble.  If it succeeded, he let it float away a bit before dunking again.  If it broke, he paused and then continued.  It really felt like a meditation.  The kids popped some below where he was standing on a wall.  He asked them occasionally to let some float down for the others.

Abbey nuns hold up the merit robe for all to see

A while later I did notice a tip can but the man never came around or asked. It sat on the rocks near him with a sign that said, “For soap.”

On the sidewalk, people gathered, pointed, oohed and ahh’d.  Sometimes they just watched, almost mesmerized.

It was very obvious he took joy in his actions but was non-judgmental about his “pops.” His calmness was contagious.

This one evening coincided with a pretty spectacular sunset, lending itself to the peace. I left reluctantly due to a prior commitment.

Abbey nuns hold up the merit robe for all to see

Making a scene

Later in the summer, at a different beach—bigger resort type town, more commercial—another person was setting up to do bubbles. He made a big deal about his tip can, shaking it at people, loudly placing it on the side wall near them. He had loud music playing. His rope was large and had more knots etc. in it.

He started making bubbles with some success. He worked faster and faster, almost frenetically. Some people stopped, but the more people walked on by, the more agitated he became. He got frustrated it seemed.

The man ran from his bucket to the music to the tip jar. He threw his loop erratically and when the bubbles broke, he got upset.

People had gathered but as he got louder and more bubbles broke, they wandered away. The louder he got, the fewer people stopped to watch. It felt uncomfortable.

We left.

For oneself or others?

I thought about these two experiences and saw how they showed me several things.

The man who was more interested in giving to others was calm and enjoyed what he was doing, as did the people watching him. He seemed in control of his mind, his craft (as much as the wind allowed), and he didn’t let the break of a bubble upset him or color how he went on creating the bubbles. He obviously enjoyed the children and their reactions, as well as the adults who gathered.

The other man seemed totally controlled by his afflictions. He needed the adulation of the crowd, money, successful big bubbles. He wasn’t having fun. And neither was his audience. He was not in control of his mind. He was doing this for gain, for himself, not to benefit any other being.

These two bubblemen have stayed with me well into the winter time.

Abbey nuns hold up the merit robe for all to see

I think a lot about how my afflictions not only manifest in my head and self-talk, but how they appear to others—a fist on the desk, a kicked trash bin. I am becoming more aware of them— particularly after they pass— but more so than before. Slowly, slowly.

I am starting to see that isn’t always overt loud bodhicitta that is needed. Sometimes (maybe a lot of the time), it can be very small and quiet.

I remember learning in one of the SAFE classes (I think on karma) that small virtues sometimes give rise to bigger good karma. Of course, it can go the other way with non-virtues too. I think trying sometimes, when things all seem to go wrong, to focus on the tiniest of tiny merits might be a place to start to get recentered.

For me, this can be as simple (or as hard as) not opening my mouth to respond without first taking a breath. Or two or three.

I am grateful for these two men and the lessons I am still learning from them.