Toilets as Teachers

Recently I caught a clip of a friend of the Dali Lama speaking about His Holiness being reunited with a monk who was a childhood teacher.  This monk had stayed in Tibet and subsequently was imprisoned by the Chinese for 39 years.  Finally released and visiting now in India, the Dali Lama had asked his teacher what the most challenging thing about his long years of imprisonment had been.   The monk had answered that a few times he had experienced a fear that had rocked him to his core.  In giving details for what this fear was concerning, the monk as teacher said that there were a few times he was afraid that he would loose his ability to have compassion for his captors and that if this had happened, he then would have no longer been free.


The only real prisons
on this planet are the ones
we create by our thinking
about what is happening.


I have no life experience that can compare to 39 years held in China, but I have been gifted the fingers of experience pointing at that monk’s same wise moon.  One story from the life of M that ever so much helped me to begin to understand what it is to live from this deeper level of truth that CAN actually set us free on this planet, came from the teaching of the toilets on the airplanes where I work.

– – – – –

Early on in my days as a flight attendant, if one were to ask me for one of the most challenging things about my work, I would have said it was dealing with restrooms on airplanes.  Yes, the glamor of being an international flight attendant! United Airlines Highlights A 787 Dreamliner

In reality, long haul flight attendants regularly spend 14 hours a day sitting inches away from what equates to a public toilet.  It is a restroom that while in the the air (by default) they are responsible for keeping tidy.

Now, airplanes are not truly prisons, but one is confined to this space for a period of time outside of their control to leave.  No one is getting off that plane early, unless they are dying or being arrested.  So from time to time, because of this our control issues and prisoner mentalities can easily surface.

As a new a flight attendant when I would encounter a restroom on the plane at 39,000ft left in such a state of dirty mess and disarray, immediately I would often find my heckles going up. I would open the restroom door and upon seeing a dirty disaster area left behind, experience the feeling of overwhelming irritation (often tipping into anger) and then mellowing into disappointment at how inconsiderate some other human beings can be.  (OK, and I will also confess to back in those early days, a little lingering egoic voice which also would add to the emotional mix with the attempt to hijack the life lived by whispering: “you got a masters degree so you could now choose to do work involving the occasional need for cleaning what….????”  lol)

Come on now people of earth, how hard is it to clean up after yourselves in our shared space as you pee in the sky?!  (And are you remembering that my hands that now must clean up this toilet after you, are the same hands that must also serve you your food?!)  For some of our traveling brothers and sisters out there, apparently it is beyond their ability to make these connections.

Now, at a basic level of contemplation, I as the flight attendant M, cannot control what I find when I open the restroom door when I am working on the airplane.  I open the door and the state of the restroom is what it is.  It will be what it will be, and on this level, I cannot change what I will find.  HOWEVER, what I can control is how what I find is assigned in meaning and then how I allow that meaning to create what I feel.  From there, we move on to how what I feel causes me to re/act.

In my paradigm of reality back as a new flight attendant, a clean bathroom meant all was well with the world and that humanity was behaving and being loving and caring for each other as we traveled along together.


Who says that the restroom has to be clean for this to be so?


When I was attached to assigning the meaning of clean restrooms in this way, finding a dirty external toilet all of a sudden was also making a “dirty” internal space inside myself, too.  All the physical chemistry was allowed to come on line associated with stress hormones, immuno-suppression  with cancer causing free radicals from anger, etc.  In those moments, I was the one allowing that inner experiential/emotional space of mine to match what I found in the outer.  In this, I become completely responsible for this dirty restroom and how I allowed it to impact me on every level!  Not only was there a dirty restroom, but now there was a “dirty”, upset flight attendant going back outside herself and still needing to interact with her fellow travelers on that plane.

Well, my fellow flying friends, there are masters degrees and there is the mastery of Masters.  The more I live, the more I am interested in focusing on the learning and living from and as the second type 🙂 .

So what is the enlightened flight attendant focused on growing to do?

I began to practice feeling gratitude each time I opened the door on the airplane and found a dirty restroom and in doing so, this completely changed my experience of reality.

Huh?  That simple?  Yes.

I consciously changed the meaning I assigned to what finding a dirty bathroom represented.  A dirty restroom left by a fellow flyer became an exceptional reminder of how grateful I am to live as a conscientious human being on this planet.  A dirty restroom became a gifted reminder of how I have never been and I how I will never be.  I would never leave my mess for someone else to have to deal with.  I am one human who always leaves any external place I visit better and more beautiful than I find them…AND in doing that, what happened to my internal space where the experience of gratitude for the dirty restroom is being processed, assigned meaning and felt?

In the mirror, in the moment in those dirty restrooms, I looked myself squarely in the eyes as I was cleaning and loved what I saw reflected back.  I smiled a knowing smile of how beautiful it is and feels to care enough for myself and my fellow travelers on this earth adventure to make servicing our shared toilet areas into a joyful activity.  Doing this, what then automatically was gifted back into the world, walking out of a restroom at 39,000 feet after cleaning a shared space?

Out into the cabin walked a happy flight attendant.  This was a flight attendant experiencing the healthy chemistry of joy and peace with herself and the world.  This was done not by ignoring the dirt or burying my head in the sand, but changing what the dirtiness meant when it was found.

When you look out at the world and see the all the equivalent “dirty toilet” problems humans are creating on our shared planet what do you allow them to mean to you?

How does the choice of the meaning you assign make you feel?

What do you then gift back out into that world in return with your life and it’s living and emotions and re/actions in return from your sight?

On seeingM, here is to celebrating toilets as teachers and how they can help us set each other free.  I say a heart felt thank you to those other humans out there, who through their dirt in my early days working as a flight attendant, helped me remember what it is to be a sky goddess.

I am in no way saying that I have living gratitude and joy nailed today in perfection, but slowly, the more I allow that to be what I see, toilets everywhere are turning into the true thrones that they can be.


This entry was published on March 4, 2014 at 9:11 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

12 thoughts on “Toilets as Teachers

  1. Just as an additional juicy aside, the more I have gratitude in my moments, the less and less often I open restroom doors on airplanes and ever find them dirty. This is a whole other post and level of toilet as teacher to contemplate.

    Poop… no, I mean POP goes the magic! lol -x.M

  2. I’ll have to work on this M. I may be grateful for some adversity in my life, but dirty public bathrooms are not one of them 🙂

  3. This is hilarious! I am reminded of a time when my little N removed his own diaper, full of poo (unbeknownst to me), and ugh…played with the diaper. Luckily the rest of the mess was in a solid state inches away. When I found this ‘disaster’, oh how I clapped and cheered! Of course, he should have been walking and talking by now, at the ripe old age of 2, but I was delighted that he had somehow mustered the fine motor skills to remove a diaper. It is truly amazing what a shift in perception can do for a person.

    This post will be very helpful for me, practically, in my world, as I live with several mmm…passengers. ;0

    Love you M!

  4. Mr K on said:

    This is the best thing I’ve read for bloody ages. Absolutely brilliant. x

  5. How twisted you are. As I read, I start getting excited again to find the things that set me off, just a bit (or a lot)! The shedding provided by the WC 😉 can also be found in what is “nails on a chalkboard” for each one of us – Now, This mindset makes me happy to be around the bend about the exploded messes in E’s room, the chronically late and distracted ex, the essays tapping their collective feet demanding to be graded. If my ires up, if the hair on the back of my neck has that uncomfortable rising sensation, I am getting close to a beautifully wrapped present, If I dare to do the work – or so it seems from my spacious place today. Thank you for the lesson wrapped in humor, twisted sister 🙂 xo!

    • You are so incredibly perfect in your gifting of segues… it takes a twisted sister to know another one!

      I have had Dee Snider on my flights twice and am happy to report that he is a lovely man in person 🙂 . -x.M

  6. Great story! I think we all have these places where we learned the power of choice, and the changeable nature of the meanings we assign to the world around us, and it doesn’t matter if they are 39-yr imprisonments, our duties as a flight attendant, or anything else. We find a place where we resist, and realize we have the power to stop resisting even if this doesn’t mean the circumstances immediately change, and that this changes everything.

    When I was in college I worked on an assembly line at a Briggs & Stratton plant, building engines. It became a goal of mine to transform those night shifts into meditations and see if I could walk out of there with complete ease and peace of mind. I won’t say it was effortless, but a couple shifts a week of just breathing while operating pneumatic tools and rotating engine blocks around on their carrier pallets as they drifted down the assembly line, as fast as you can to keep up with the river of oncoming engines, can be a wonderful practice.


    • Fabulous share as the engine teaches the fueling of life!

      I was once in the presence of a master teacher and upon asking what one could do to arrive at the level and place of remembering as completely as they had, the student was told: allow allow allow. I am having a Borg moment however… with the reminder that resistance is futile, but it is also remembering the wisdom of knowing allowance without the doormat of unaware attachment. Assimilation vs novel creation… nice balance point to learn to inhabit. -x.M

      • Yes this is such a paradox for me, allowing vs reaching for new creation. I sometimes think of it like this: I must allow myself to experience the effects of my creative past, that they may flow through, without allowing them to define the limits or boundaries of the future. So we allow, but not in a way that precludes a new choice should we so desire it.


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