Dear Still Water Friends,
In less than two weeks we will say a final goodbye to our house in Takoma Park, load our cat Gretl into the car, and set out on a 2,200-mile journey to our new home in Missoula, Montana. It’s impossible to put into words all the different feelings that this transition brings up: excitement for a new start, sadness at leaving behind friends and family, regrets for opportunities not taken, fear of the unknown.
In her life Ria has moved easily two dozen times, Andy only a few, but one thing our past transitions had in common was a certain numbness and unconscious quality – we weren’t really present to the changes going on inside and around us. We each have a long history of stuffing, numbing, rejecting, and judging our feelings and experience. When Andy moved to DC from Baltimore 13 years ago, after the initial excitement had worn off, he sank into a depression. He lacked a loving practice and a supportive community to help him.
This time it feels quite different. In the midst of all the challenging feelings this move brings up (and there are many!), we feel gratitude and surprise at how our mindfulness practice – and our Sangha community – is supporting us. The core of our practice is simply an intention to be present to what is going on in the moment – especially to acknowledge and accept all feelings that come up, and to treat ourselves and our experience with what Pema Chodron calls “unconditional friendliness.” So when we feel overwhelmed with all the details of moving, or a wave of sadness or fear, we’re more likely now to pause and take care of the moment, rather than forcing ourselves.
Also, for the first time in our lives, our spiritual practice and community was a pivotal part of our choice to move. Still Water helped us realize that wherever we relocated, a supportive Sangha, and the potential growth that it enables, was something we deeply wanted. And so a warm, vibrant Plum Village Sangha awaits us in Missoula, our new home.
Please join us this Thursday for sharing and discussion about how mindfulness can support us through life’s transitions, and how our Sangha enriches our lives.
We hope you can join us,
Ria de Neeve and Andy Laken
From "Cultivating Unconditional Friendliness to Oneself," by Pema Chodron, available here.
There was a story about the Zen master Suzuki Roshi. This was a situation where his students had been sitting and they were 3 or 4 hours into a very hard sitting period, a sesshin. The person who told the story said every bone in his body was hurting, his back, his ankles, his neck, his head, everything hurt. Not only that, his thoughts were totally obsessed with either “I can’t do this, I’m worthless. There’s something wrong with me. I’m not cut out to do this.” It was vacillating between those thoughts and “This whole thing is ridiculous. Why did I ever come here? These people are crazy. This place is like boot camp.” His mind and body were just aching. Probably everyone else in the room was going through something similar.
Suzuki Roshi came in to give the lecture for the day and he sat down. He started to talk very, very, very slowly and he said, “The difficulty that you are experiencing now…” And that man was thinking, “will go away.”
And he said, “This difficulty will be with you for the rest of your life.”
So that’s sort of Buddhist humor.
But it is also the essence of maitri. It seems to me in my experience and also in talking to other people that we come to a body of teachings like the Buddhist teachings or any spiritual path, to meditation in some way like little children looking for comfort, looking for understanding, looking for attention, looking somehow to be confirmed. Some kind of comfort will come out of this. And the truth is actually that the practice isn’t about that. The practice is more about somehow this little child this I, who wants and wants and wants to be confirmed in some way.
Practice is about that part of our being that, like that finally being able to open completely to the whole range of our experience, including all that wanting, including all that hurt, including the pain and the joy. Opening to the whole thing so that this little child-like part of us can finally, finally, finally, finally grow up.
Trungpa Rinpoche once said that was the most powerful mantra, Om Grow Up Svaha.
But this issue of growing up, it’s not all that easy because it requires a lot of courage. Particularly it takes a lot of courage to relate directly with your experience. By this I mean whatever is occurring in you, you use it. You seize the moment, moment after moment, you seize those moments and instead of letting life shut you down and make you more afraid, you use those very same moments of time to soften and to open and to become more kind. More kind to yourself for starters as the basis for becoming more kind to others.
One time when I was a child, I was feeling very upset and angry at one point. I think I was around seven or eight. And there was this old woman, who I later become very close to. But the first time I ever met her, I was walking down the street kicking stones with my head down, and I was feeling very lonely. I was basically feeling that nobody loved me very much and that people weren’t taking care of me. So I was walking along angry at the world, kicking stones. And this woman said, “Child, don’t let the world harden your heart.”
And I always remember that. It was the first real teaching I received, I think. It’s still a teaching I remember. And in terms of this teaching on maitri, this is really the key.