Bill Cosby was found guilty last week of three counts of aggravated indecent assault after more than 50 women came forward and accused him of sexual abuse. I am thrilled to see justice done. But I also wanted to watch him suffer. I discovered this desire the other day during a moment of distraction. And I learned how short the distance is between my enemy and myself.
Here’s what happened. I was at my laptop, gathering documents for a new project. In the upper righthand corner of my screen, a CNN alert read, “Breaking News.” I clicked on it. The headline said, “Watch Cosby Accusers React to Verdict.” I misread it, thinking it said, “Watch Cosby React to Verdict.” I clicked. There was an ad from the furniture store Raymour & Flanigan, then the promised video clip. It was of the accusers exiting the courtroom, crying, hugging each other. I felt hoodwinked. I didn’t want to see that. I wanted to watch Bill Cosby react to the verdict. I wanted to watch him suffer.
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This is not how I had imagined I would behave when I started practicing meditation in 1999. But since then, I’ve learned that meditation is not about sitting in a spare Japanese garden with a flute playing in the distance, eyes closed, mind still. It’s about sitting in your own skin right in the middle of chaos. Eyes open, you observe the maelstrom of your mind without rewriting it or running away. It’s about knowing what you’re doing as you’re doing it. And it’s about coming back to the present with compassion once you realize your mind has drifted away.
So here’s my story again—this time in slow-motion:
- I was at work, doing a job that required concentration and focus.
- The “breaking news” notification slid into the upper righthand corner of my screen. Back in the day, if you saw those words, it meant, “Something Really Important Has Just Happened.” A major disaster or political revolution. Now “breaking news” is just a five-second video of President Trump flicking dandruff off French President Emmanuel Macron’s shoulder. So old habits led me to click on the “breaking news.”
- I misread the headline as saying, “Watch Cosby React to Verdict.” I imagined that he had blown up and yelled at the prosecutor. I wanted to see that. I wanted to see Bill Cosby squirm. He’s the enemy, after all. And that’s part of how I locate myself in the world—better than Cosby, worse than the Dalai Lama.
- Now I had to watch an ad for Raymour & Flanigan. It wasn’t even one the ads that I could skip after four seconds; I had to watch the whole thing to get to my revenge fix. (It wasn’t lost on me—even in my frenzied state—that a business was capitalizing on my greed for suffering, to sell me an easy chair.) Like a dog barely able to contain herself in the presence of a treat, I kept my eyes on the screen. For a split second, I registered what I was doing and considered going back to work. I thought, Do you need to see this right now? Do you need to see it at all? Ever? But then the video started playing, and my emerging consciousness flamed out.
- The women came out of the courtroom sobbing, hugging one another. I kept watching, thinking that the part I wanted part was coming (Cosby yelling at the prosecutor). I waited. Yadayada, whatever, women crying, OK. And then it was over. Wait, what? Thinking I must’ve clicked on the wrong headline, I went over to YouTube to search for the clip. Nothing.
- Finally, I slowed down and reread the headline. Upon a moment of reflection, I could see more clearly what had just happened, and I was disappointed in myself. I let myself get distracted, didn’t read carefully, tried to feed my craving for schadenfreude, and then looked past the suffering of others for the sake of satisfying that desire. I felt helpless in the face of the addictive nature of it all.
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Sitting at my laptop, I just wanted what I wanted, and I didn’t care about anything else. I didn’t care about my work. I didn’t care about the sobbing victims. I just wanted one thing, and I was pissed when I didn’t get it. But here’s the thing. Bill Cosby wanted what he wanted. He didn’t care about anything else. He certainly didn’t care about his victims. He was a version of me out there. I recognized him. I recognized myself in him. And in doing so, I was jolted awake.
I have no control over him, or what the rest of the country does with him. But I do have some agency around my own choices. And for me, meditation is a pathway to awakening. When I meditate, I watch the circus play out in my head. I catch myself giving rise to all the negativity that keeps showing up in my life. I stay in the room with everything I see. I practice not running away from my indifference toward the victims. I practice not grasping at the schadenfreude. I see it, but I don’t run toward or away from it. I get familiar with how the mind works. I hold hands with my worst impulses and keep them where I can see them.
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Every day, my intent is to look inward without flinching. Lately, I’ve had to smile at the lengths to which I go to look good to myself. But when I decide to just be with myself instead, a different gateway opens. I see how the circus of rage, superiority, and judgment is just another invitation to come back home and breathe. And every time I do that, I stand on firmer ground for when I go to take action. Make no mistake—action is needed. Desperately. But without first recognizing what’s happening in the moment, I’m prone to becoming the very thing I’m trying to stop.
This time, I stopped myself at the end of my distraction and reflected on my desire to watch Cosby suffer. I can’t promise I won’t feel that way again. But maybe next time, I can stop myself a little bit earlier.
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