Finding Calm within the Storms

Finding Calm within the Storms

Discussion date: Thu, Feb 18, 2021 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Silver Spring, Maryland, Community Online on Thursday Evening
February 18, 2021, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Open to all Online on Friday Evening
February 19, 2021, 7:00 to 8:45 pm

Dear Still Water Friends,

For most of us, it has been a difficult year. Because of the pandemic, so many activities we took for granted are not possible today. Even if we ourselves are healthy, safe, and secure in our daily lives, the world around us is full of turbulence, including urgently pressing political, environmental, social justice issues. We and the people we care about are experiencing an inordinate array of economic, social, and psychological stressors.

It is in times like these that I find mindfulness practice and the teachings of Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) so essential to my well-being. When people ask what it was that brought me to mindfulness practice, I most often answer “suffering.” There were many aspects to my suffering, but it was especially a variant of anxiety in which my mind was constantly working to fix things that I considered to be “not right” in my life. That was, unfortunately, an endless and hopeless task. I could not see or understand the underlying issues, and every day I thought  and acted in ways that perpetuated my disorder.

Thay often teaches that anxiety is the illness of our time. He says that we can calm ourselves and nourish our inner awareness, then our thinking and acting will become wiser.

Recently, in a morning sitting group, we read an excerpt from Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Sun My Heart: From Mindfulness to Insight Contemplation that eloquently addresses how we might meditate when we feel especially stressed and overwhelmed.

Darkness Becomes Light

Observe the changes that take place in your mind under the light of awareness. Even your breathing has changed and become “not-two” (I don’t want to say “one”) with your observing self. This is also true of your thoughts and feelings, which, together with their effects, are suddenly transformed. When you do not try to judge or suppress them, they become intertwined with the observing mind.

From time to time you may become restless, and the restlessness will not go away. At such times, just sit quietly, follow your breathing, smile a half-smile, and shine your awareness on the restlessness. Don’t judge it or try to destroy it, because this restlessness is you yourself. It is born, has some period of existence, and fades away, quite naturally. Don’t be in too big a hurry to find its source. Don’t try too hard to make it disappear. Just illuminate it. You will see that little by little it will change, merge, become connected with you, the observer. Any psychological state that you subject to this illumination will eventually soften and acquire the same nature as the observing mind.

Throughout your meditation, keep the sun of your awareness shining. Like the physical sun, which lights every leaf and every blade of grass, our awareness lights our every thought and feeling, allowing us to recognize them, be aware of their birth, duration, and dissolution, without judging or evaluating, welcoming or banishing them. It is important that you do not consider awareness to be your “ally,” called on to suppress the “enemies” that are your unruly thoughts. Do not turn your mind into a battlefield. Do not have a war there; for all your feelings—joy, sorrow, anger, hatred—are part of yourself. Awareness is like an elder brother or sister, gentle and attentive, who is there to guide and enlighten. It is a tolerant and lucid presence, never violent or discriminating. It is there to recognize and identify thoughts and feelings, not to judge them as good or bad, or place them into opposing camps in order to fight with each other. Opposition between good and bad is often compared to light and dark, but if we look at it in a different way, we will see that when light shines, darkness does not disappear. It doesn’t leave; it merges with the light. It becomes the light. To meditate does not mean to fight with a problem. To meditate means to observe. Your smile proves it. It proves that you are being gentle with yourself, that the sun of awareness is shining in you, that you have control of your situation. You are yourself, and you have acquired some peace. It is this peace that makes a child love to be near you.

This Thursday and Friday evenings, after our meditation period, we will the read the excerpt from Thay and reflect during our Dharma sharing on how we are finding calm within the storms of our lives.

You are invited to join us.

A brief announcement: Two new Still Water groups will begin online in March:

  • Mindful Artmaking, Noon to 1:15 pm on the first Saturday of each month, beginning on March 6.
  • Sacred Forest Sangha, a Howard County, Maryland, weekly practice group, 7:00 to 8:30 pm, beginning on March 17.

Information about Still Water’s many other regularly meeting groups is below.

Gratefully yours,

Mitchell Ratner

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Feb 18, 2021


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