Difficult Times: Wisdom from Our Readers
Over time my fear and pain as an older person with dwindling economic “fluidity” seems less a crisis than before. I have my health, my work, my practice, and I’m safe physically and emotionally. And you know what? I’m really getting it that none of this is solid, real. I have a growing sense that I’m exactly where I need to be in exactly the way I need to be, and I’m okay with that.
The nature of our world is transitory—always has been, always will be. Change occurs every second. Breathe it in, then breathe it out. But despite the interconnectedness of everything, we still have a say on how we handle the weave in the fabric. We can let the status quo confine us to a narrow thread, or we cut through that fabric to see its true nature. Our lessons cannot be learned if the sun is shining every day. And on rainy days, we might share our umbrella with another.
It’s been more than a year since I was declared free of the Big C. I continue building Habitat houses to give something back to my community. I collect my garden seeds and wait for the sun to warm Mother Earth. I bow and give thanks each morning as I see the sky begin to lighten in the east. I try to treat those around me with love and concern. I feel compassion for all who have to sit in those chemo rooms. I stand in awe and wonder at this precious gift of life. I sit in my meditation room. And I take out the garbage.
Often what I have perceived as a difficult time has turned out to be exactly what I needed at the time. This insight has led me to take a step back in challenging situations and understand that something in this situation is going to be very valuable to me, although I may not know what it is yet. Understanding that the things we fear most may actually be our greatest blessings can be a wonderful path through these difficult times.
The teachings of both the twelve steps and the Buddhist path have distilled for me into one idea: equanimity, accepting what is as what is. But that doesn’t mean I just roll over. Equanimity is not passivity. On the contrary, it creates a firm foundation for me to take action. For when I accept what is, I am not clinging to what used to be or wishing what might be, and I can step into doing what I can for myself and others, which helps bring me peace of mind, the antidote to despair.
My wife and I really began feeling the economic squeeze early last summer. It became an excellent opportunity for us to re-examine our tendency to clutch onto things around us when we’re stressed and the need to let go of that illusion. The financial pressure we are living through brought with it an unexpected clarity of vision.
I grit my teeth when I hear people saying, in some denial-masquerading-as-mindfulness tone, “Well, take a breath, everything is okay in the now.” It is life-alienating to pretend that we are not anxious, to deny the suffering involved in our attachments or to pretend we don’t have them. But it is life-affirming to recognize there is no present moment I need other than the one I am having, and other people are here with it too. We will navigate this best with our breath, together, generating honest peace however we can.
Many years ago I heard the Dalai Lama speak in Hawaii. At one point a young man asked, “The world is in such a terrible state. What should I do?” The Dalai Lama responded, “The world has taken thousands of years to become what it is today. It will take a very long time for things to get better. If you don’t know what to do, here are simple things that anyone can do. First, as you go about your day, smile a little bit more than you do now to the people you meet. And second, do not have any children unless you will truly love them. If we do these things, the world will get better.”
This wisdom shared has stayed with me for nearly thirty years now.
and uncertainty mark our lives as we face our own difficulties and
those of a troubled world. Yet in difficult times, says Norman Fischer,
we can also discover the love and vulnerability of the human heart, and
so much more.
her weekly meditation class, Sylvia Boorstein finds that sharing
stories of those we worry about and love leaves her feeling kinder and
Erring and Erring, We Walk the Unerring Path
we use them as opportunities to work with our mind, all our mistakes,
confusion, and difficulties become an unerring path of awakening. This,
says The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, is the essence of the Buddha’s
wisdom for challenging times.
Pema Chödrön on four ways that meditation helps us deal with difficulty.
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RELATED WEB EXCLUSIVE:
this sampling of writings from the pages of the Shambhala Sun,
you'll find practical and profound Buddhist guidance for transforming
difficulties into opportunities to live a more awakened life. Featured
contributors include Pema Chödrön, Thich Nhat Hanh, His Holiness the
Dalai Lama, Geshe Tenzin Wangyal, Cyndi Lee, Darlene Cohen, and more.
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