Dear Still Water Friends,
I am grateful that I was able to visit my family living in coastal Maine last week. The last day of my visit, my sister and I waited till late afternoon, after the heat peaked, to take my mother to a point of land looking over the bay. Mom was excited to be out of her Memory Care facility, but she kept worrying about what would happen when she returned. My sister finally said to her, “Mom, let’s think about your worries later. Right now we can be together and enjoy the breeze on our faces and air that smells like sea.”
Mom brightened up and looked around eagerly. I was proud of my sister for her skillful redirection. Her words helped me stop and notice my own state of mind. I asked myself, “How open am I right now to the present moment?” I was worrying about my plane flight the next day and my uneasiness about traveling was coming between me and being present. The insight was subtle but profound. I looked again carefully at my fragile mother who was once so hardy. I felt a bittersweet mix of sadness and happiness as I recognized her frailty and, also, her enjoyment of being outside with us. The wind lifted my cotton sun hat off my head and I grabbed it. As my sister pushed my mother’s wheelchair beside me, I felt her deep grief about our mom. Turning, I caught my sister’s eye. We both smiled. Peace filled me.
Thich Nhat Hanh opens his book Being Peace saying:
Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, such as the blue sky, the sunshine, and the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough, we must also be in touch with the wonders of life. They are within us and all around us, everywhere, anytime.
If we are not happy, if we are not peaceful, we can’t share happiness and peace with others, even those we love, those who live under the same roof. If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace. Do we need to make a special effort to enjoy the beauty of the blue sky? Do we have to practice to be able to enjoy it? No, we just enjoy it. Each second, each minute of our lives can be like this. Wherever we are, anytime, we have the capacity to enjoy the sunshine, the presence of each other, even the sensation of our breathing. We don’t need to go to China to enjoy the blue sky. We don’t have to travel into the future to enjoy our breathing. We can be in touch with these things right now. It would be a pity if we were only aware of suffering.
So often we notice suffering first. I know my mother will not recover from dementia. I know that moving to a small town to be near my mother has caused my sister suffering, even while it has been a self-aware, heartfelt choice. That afternoon, I was aware of my own anxiety around traveling. When I expanded my focus beyond the suffering, I opened to a deeper awareness of the beauty around us, and felt the joy of my family members. In our afternoon together, the three of us let go some of our suffering, creating moments of connection and shared peace.
This Thursday night, we’ll sit and be together. Afterward, in our Dharma sharing, we’ll begin with these questions:
- What qualities do you associate with being peaceful or being at peace?
- What prevents or inhibits your being at peace?
- How do you cultivate the quality of peace in your life?You are warmly invited to be with us!
The paragraphs that follow the quotation from Being Peace are below.
From Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh
We are so busy we hardly have time to look at the people we love, even in our own household, and to look at ourselves. Society is organized in a way that even when we have some leisure time, we don’t know how to use it to get back in touch with ourselves. We have millions of ways to lose this precious time—we turn on the TV, or pick up the telephone, or start the car and go somewhere. We are not used to being with ourselves, and we act as if we don’t like ourselves and are trying to escape from ourselves.
Meditation is to be aware of what is going on-in our bodies, in our feelings, in our minds, and in the world. Each day 40,000 children die of hunger. The superpowers now have more than 80,000 nuclear warheads, enough to destroy our planet many times. Yet the sunrise is beautiful, and the rose that bloomed this morning along the wall is a miracle. Life is both dreadful and wonderful. To practice meditation is to be in touch with both aspects. Please do not think we must be solemn in order to meditate. In fact, to meditate well, we have to smile a lot.