This week, I walked around the front field of a school as I normally do during my lunch break. My workplace is connected with the school through the same organisation. I stopped to make a phone call. A lady in a suit came over within a close distance demanding that she speak to me. I was taken aback by her behaviour and told her to hold on as I was on the phone. When I finished my conversation on the phone, she abruptly wanted to know who I was. I told her my first name and the name of my workplace, and that I walk in the field every day. She then demanded me to tell her who my boss was.
I took a deep breath and said: “Who are you?”. She declared that she was the headmaster (I later found out she was lying). Again, I was taken aback by her aggressiveness and I expressed that I felt intimidated by her behaviour. She said sorry that I felt intimidated but continued to demand who my boss was. I didn’t give her my full name or my boss’s name as I continued to feel threatened by her. She demanded me to leave the premises and said that she would follow me out. In my powerlessness I began to walk out, and when I asked for her name she said she wouldn’t tell me.
I was deeply unhappy with this incident, as what normally is a pleasant walk and break turned into an interrogation. I was deeply shook by the lady’s aggressiveness and I felt her behaviour was totally out of order. I can understand if school staff want to ensure security of the premises, but the way she went about it was unacceptable. I put this complaint on record so that I don’t ever experience such intimidation again.
As I reflected on the experience which knocked me into a depression for a number of days, I realised that an opportunity presented itself – that I could grow in vigilance. While many of us are familiar with the mindfulness movement – accepting the present moment without judgement, it seems to me that we are not so knowledgeable of vigilance.
Referred to as ‘watchfulness’ or ‘wakefulness’, I am painfully aware that I was caught off guard by this aggressive woman this week. Her pushiness shook me to the core and she took advantage of my feeling of intimidation. I wish to be better prepared for any attack in the future, to ground myself and to respond with a greater sense of empowerment. And I wouldn’t want you, friends, to experience such nastiness either. So what can we learn about vigilance?
“Be sober and vigilant. Your opponent the devil is prowling around like a roaring lion looking for [someone] to devour. Resist him, steadfast in faith, knowing that your fellow believers throughout the world undergo the same sufferings” (1 Peter 5: 8-9).
Facing the roaring lion
Whether or not we believe in the ‘devil’ or ‘God’, I find the image of a lion prowling around looking for someone to devour to be very relevant to the concept of vigilance. We need to resist this roaring lion like the aggressive lady I encountered. We also need to be steadfast – strong, persevering and rooted like an anchor. And we have all undergone similar pain in our lives through emotional abuse, physical abuse and so on.
In The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius Loyola, we are cautioned to watch out for our enemies who can come at any moment. Saint Ignatius says: “The enemy acts like a military commander who is attempting to conquer and plunder his objective. The captain and leader of an army on campaign sets up his camp, studies the strength and structure of a fortress, and then attacks at its weakest point.”
The aggressive lady certainly seemed to have acted like a military commander. She caught me by surprise while on the phone. She probed me with questions and demands. When I disclosed my feeling of intimidation, she took this as a weakness and attacked me further. She prowled and probed me like a trained interrogator, and she got her way – I stumbled off the grounds like a wounded lamb. I would do better next time not to disclose my vulnerability – to reject her plundering with unyielding conviction, to assert my rights and to have zero tolerance for her bullying.
Keeping our lamps burning
It is also important to be vigilant and attentive when we are in good spirits. Trouble can occur if we keep our guard down to the extent that an aggressive enemy attacks us again. Our good feeling may lead us astray because we believe that nothing can bother us. It is not about being paranoid or suspicious. It is about being careful not to get distracted. It is about keeping our lamps burning in the midst of darkness.
Furthermore, it is vital to reach out to our support network if we are momentarily defeated by “a roaring lion”. Even though I reported the incident, I neglected to reach out to friends or family when I returned home that evening, and my loneliness turned into a depression the following day. I sighed with relief when I finally told my story to a friend. A problem shared is truly a problem halved.
Finally, we can ask ourselves questions to remain vigilant. If we feel vulnerable and about to collapse, let us stop for a moment, and ponder: What is going on for us now? Where is our heart now? What feeling is governing our heart now? What is robbing us of peace now? What can we be grateful for now?