Dear Sangha Members,

In my job as an education consultant, I was scheduled to lead a full-day professional development session on a recent Saturday for one of the schools I support. The training started at 8:30, and I showed up an hour early to have some extra time to set up the space we’d be using. When I arrived, I went up to the door to ring the bell and wait for someone to buzz me into the building. The bell chimed a few times, but no voice came on the speaker to ask me who I was, and no one came to the door to let me in. Since I had actually arrived about five minutes earlier than I had planned to, I assumed that the school leaders just hadn’t arrived in the building yet. I waited patiently under an awning while enjoying the rain falling on the newly blooming flowers in the school courtyard. After about five minutes, I rang the bell again. And, again, no answer. I waited five more minutes and repeated the process. And then another five minutes. At this point I was becoming a bit unsettled. I had confirmed days beforehand that someone would be in the building to let me in at 7:30. It was now 7:45. Just as I was wondering whether I should text someone to find out what was going on, a custodian drove through the school parking lot right past me and then backed up and parked nearby. He walked up from his truck, looking confused about me standing there, and asked me, “Isn’t the door unlocked still?” 

“Unlocked?” I asked him, my brain not quite catching up with what he had said. “The door is unlocked?”

“It should be unlocked,” he affirmed. “I came by early to make sure it was ready.” 

After 15 minutes of waiting for someone to answer the bell and buzz me into the building, I grabbed the door handle and pulled. Yes. It opened right up.

With increased security measures over the past several years, school buildings have been keeping all of their doors locked at all times. When arriving at a school, it is standard procedure to ring a bell, announce your name while the school staff looks at you through the camera, and then wait to be buzzed into the building. Because this has been such a standard procedure, I have built the habit of always ringing the bell first. I never try just pulling on a door any more. It’s always locked. Or, at least that’s what my conditioning has shaped me to believe. 

On that Saturday morning, once I recognized this particular door was unlocked, and had, in fact, been unlocked all along, I had quite a laugh. It was only my wrong perception that had kept me waiting outside of a door that I could have opened and walked right through.

I believe my story can be seen as a parable about the nature of reality. It is easy to mistake relative truth, the truth that is my version of reality, created by the causes and conditions that have given rise to the version of me existing in a particular moment, for the only truth. We can think of the school custodian in my story as the enlightened teacher who managed to wake me up to the fact that my relative truth was not the only version of reality.

All of us have various ways we have been conditioned to experience the world that seem absolutely true for us but are actually relative. Buddhist practice can help us move beyond those stories, to catch a glimpse of a version of reality that is outside of our conditioning. Meditation practice can help us stay grounded when small pieces of our version of reality start to unravel. Meditation helps us sustain equanimity in the midst of that discomfort. Through our regular practice we can develop the insight to be able to open all sorts of doors that seem to be locked. Doors that are actually just waiting for us to walk through them.