Seeing the divine in everyone…street peddlers included!

I began traveling with my family at a very young age, and from the beginning, my father taught me to ignore anyone on the street who tried to talk to us.  “Look down, or forward, or away, but whatever you do, don’t engage them!”

This advice has some merit, to be certain.  I’ve traveled in about 30 countries – some safer than others – and have never been the victim of any kind of street violence.  Lots of comments and catcalls, yes, but nothing to be afraid of.  I’m sure I can, in part, credit my safety to my father’s advice, as I use it anytime I get that intuitive hair-standing-up feeling that suggests to me that I should get the heck out of the place in which I have found myself.

The downside of this advice should be obvious, however.  It considers other human beings to be someones – or even somethings – to be ignored.  This completely opposes the view that we learn and espouse in Tantric philosophy, which is to see the good in everyone.  We yogis believe that everyone is a spark of divinity.  We believe that all human beings share so much and that our differences are so small.  We know that it took millions and millions of miraculous chemical reactions to create each and every person on the planet and that each and every person is capable of doing great good and being bright and radiant.

All that is easy enough to believe when you’re teaching a yoga workshop with like-minded people in a warm room in a part of town with great restaurants, like I was last week.  The question is, how does it hold up elsewhere?

In the last handful of years I decided to try a new strategy for dealing with the myriad guys (they’re usually men) hawking stuff in the streets in Spanish-speaking countries.  Because I speak the language, I decided that engaging wandering salesmen would be a great way to practice my Spanish – especially the slangy parts.  Why not, right?

It turns out that in addition to being a great linguistic exercise and a heck of a lot of fun, this is an incredible technique for seeing the divine in everyone.  It’s not always easy though, and it can be a bit scary too.

Today I got a heaping dose of street peddling action.  I am in Cartagena, Colombia, an amazingly vibrant city with an absurd quantity of folks wandering the street selling everything from sunglasses to ice cream to necklaces to raw fish.  They approach you while you’re eating dinner, while you’re sitting on the beach, even while you’re getting in a cab.  It can be a little overwhelming, and a little annoying – especially if you try the strategy of ignoring them.  They’ll just stand there and wait, and that awkward moment seems to last a lifetime.  All the more reason not to ignore them, so here we go…

Last night, a man tried to sell cigars to my mother and me.  Repeatedly.  I finally said something to the effect of “listen, I’m a yoga teacher, I don’t even drink, let alone smoke cigars!”  He laughed, and said, “maybe you need a gift for a friend,” to which I responded that I’d rather not give them something carcinogenic and we had a discussion about the chemicals that may or may not be present in cigars.  We both laughed, and he moved on.  Today, I went swimming in the sea, leaving my mother at a beachside stand with my stuff and a lemonade to hold down the fort. When I returned, there was a bright-eyed man selling coral necklaces sitting by her and talking her ear off in English.  She had a slightly panicked look, but it seemed like she was holding her own (although glad to be rescued for sure).  I sat down and started talking to him and before long learned that he commuted 4 hours by boat to get to this beach to sell his wares on weekend days.  He told me about his island, which was once overrun with narcotraffickers, but, in his opinion, had been saved by the US Marines.  He wanted to know why I looked so young and strong (ah, the yoga conversation starter!) and where I had traveled.  He gave me a hefty dose of relationship advice after he guessed that I was single (“of course you are soltera!  Because you are smiling and laughing and seem happy!”  Hmmm….), including a warning against Caribbean Colombian men like him who he said were too into dancing and singing and being in the moment for us American girls.  He gave my mother a lot of compliments about her youthfulness and strength as well as a few beads as talismans for her health and happiness.  Sure, he tried to sell us a necklace, but not for long.  He was genuinely interested in conversing with us.  And he had the brightest smile and energy.

My mother and I probably had 15 or 20 more interactions like this during the course of our stay, mostly because I greeted everyone with a “buenas tardes,” or even a “no, gracias, pero me gusta su camiseta” (“no thanks, but I like your t-shirt”)” or other comment.  At one point my mother turned to me and said, “I think they’re just thrown off  because they don’t expect you to respond to anything they have to say.”  Right.  They don’t.  And we don’t always take the risk of engaging.  Because they’re unfamiliar? Or unknown?  No one is unknown or unfamiliar for long if you try to connect with them. Because they’re different? Sure, different color skin or eyes or living situation or education.  But there are so many similarities too.  We’re all looking to make a living.  We all want to be amidst beauty.  We want to love and be loved.  And we’re all divine.

The 7 billionth person on the planet is being born somewhere as I write this.  Seven billion people.  It’s going to be a challenge for all of us to see the divine in every one of them.  I guess I had better keep practicing.

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~ by bridgetannlyons on October 31, 2011.

3 Responses to “Seeing the divine in everyone…street peddlers included!”

  1. Bridget, hello! I love your sentiments… I found your blog a few days ago during some very early morning computer surfing. It is wonderful to read about what you are doing. You have so much to offer your community… and now, with this blog, those of us who live far away can continue to admire your depth, courage, openness, and willingness to really experience life. I fondly recall our last visit here in Colorado and am so happy to know that you are living with such passion.
    Warmest wishes to you, Bridget,
    Lisa (your high school classmate)

  2. I agree with Lisa, always feel like looking at life a little more “half-full”, as the saying goes!!! I grew up with similiar advise and have been trying to find the middle ground ever since….yoga (a perfect place to start) has helped me find the divine in all around me too!!!
    Thanks for the inspiration,
    Shacone

  3. Great stories. You inspire me to offer ‘buenas tardes’ more often.

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