This weekend, to celebrate our budding relationship, my new partner gave me a red rose at a rainy Renaissance Festival and a fat capped acorn we found on our walk. We were traveling together in Pennsylvania for the first time. I was enjoying the trip, but noticed my anxiety was often as active as my excitement in exploring unknown places with my partner. I was aware of my tendency to catastrophize—as we checked into a hotel, I found myself scanning for signs of bedbugs and becoming nervous about losing room key cards. When I noticed my rising anxiety, I took a moment to sit and breathe, feeling my clenched stomach just as it was in that moment. Then, after a pause, I gently reassured myself, releasing my tension while exhaling.
Like everyone, I’m aware of the challenges in the world right now: flooding in Texas and Asia, the nuclear threats from North Korea, and the potential danger to the U.S. of Hurricane Irma, to name only a few. To me, awareness of impermanence and the fragility of life sometimes feel like a weight that engender guilt instead of true enjoyment of happy moments. It’s hard not to question whether I should be enjoying such freedom while others suffer.
In reading the many examples of bravery and resilience in the last week as the Houston area cleans up after hurricane Harvey, I resonated with a story about a man who checked on his flooded house. CNN ran a video of this man playing his piano amidst several feet of water—his way of slowing down and integrating both the beauty and suffering around him.
Jack Kornfield writes in his book, No Time Like the Present: Finding Freedom, Love, and Joy Right Where You Are:
Freedom of spirit is mysterious, magnificent, and simple. We are free and able to love in this life—no matter what. Deep down we know this is true. We know it whenever we feel a part of something greater—listening to music, making love, walking in the mountains or swimming in the sea, sitting at the mystery of a dying loved one as her spirit leaves her body silently as a falling star, or witnessing the miraculous birth of a child. At times like these, a joyful openness swells through our body and our heart is surrounded by peace.
When I was 8-years-old, on an especially bitter windy winter day, my brothers and I dressed in jackets and scarves and gloves and went out to play in the snow. I was skinny as a rail and shivering with cold. My twin brother, Irv, stronger, wilder, and more robust, looked at me, contracted and fearful, and laughed. Then he began to remove layers of clothing, first the gloves, his coat, then a sweater, his shirt, undershirt, all the while laughing. He danced and paraded around half-naked in the snow, the icy wind whipping around us. We were all wide-eyed, laughing hysterically.
In that moment, my brother taught me about choosing freedom, manifesting a spirit that to this day I still remember. Whether we’re in a wildly blowing snowstorm or feeling the cold wind of loss, blame, or of our collective insecurity, we want to be free. We want to be released from fear and worry, not confined by judgments. We want to allow ourselves to trust, love, express ourselves, and be happy.
This Thursday at our regular sitting at Crossings, we will explore how we stay present with ourselves and others in times of happiness as well as times of suffering. We will also host our monthly newcomers’ orientation to mindfulness meditation and Still Water at 6:30. You are warmly invited to join us!
Thich Nhat Hanh from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching:
Yes, there is tremendous suffering all over the world, but knowing this need not paralyze us. If we practice mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindful sitting, and working in mindfulness, we try our best to help and we can have peace in our heart. Worrying does not accomplish anything. Even if you worry twenty times more, it will not change the situation of the world. In fact, your anxiety will only make things worse. Even though things are not as we would like, we can still be content, knowing we are trying our best and will continue to do so. If we don’t know how to breathe, smile, and live every moment of our life deeply, we will never be able to help anyone. I am happy in the present moment. I do not ask for anything else. I do not expect any additional happiness or conditions that will bring about more happiness. The most important practice is aimlessness, not running after things, not grasping.
We who have been fortunate enough to encounter the practice of mindfulness have a responsibility to bring peace and joy into our own lives, even though not everything in our body, mind, or environment is exactly as we would like. Without happiness, we cannot be a refuge for others. Ask yourself, what am I waiting for to make me happy? Why am I not happy right now?