I was parking the car the other day as I returned from a meeting and my flu was beginning to kick in. I was preoccupied with it and its effects. As I got out of the car I noticed the snow had gone from the rockery. And there they were, peeking up through the soil, the first signs of snowdrops and crocus planted to greet the Spring. I noticed also the willow beginning to bud. And seeing these little unexpected gifts my heart was warmed, I felt joy, and realized how life and love can break though our most selfish considerations and the times we would like to close our hearts.
At times nature gives us teachings which we can need in our daily lives. Open up to new life and hope for the future. A lot is going on that we do not know about. Trust growth to take its own path in its own mysterious way.
I like to garden and have a plan for its development over the next years. However sometimes nature has its own plans. This winter a mole has come to take up residence in the field next door and from time to time he decides to visit the garden, messing up my neat lawn with his untidy hills. It ruins the order but surely is as much a part of nature as the formal beds I have put down. Who I am to say that my plans are best? Every week we get examples of how the natural world doesn’t behave in a predictable way, so we shouldn’t be surprised that natural upheavals occur in both our gardens and in our private lives. Maybe the small wild flowers that grow along the fence have as much right to be part of the garden as the ordered planting in beds? We often think we know what is best and in doing so often do not recognize what is. Sometimes, out of fear, we prefer to impose our order on things when in fact nature, and life, proceeds with its own mysterious lack of order. In doing so we risk losing the small and beautiful gifts which give joy to the heart. There is so much in life that is unexpected and unplanned for, but often these are the things that make all the difference.
The splendour of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent nor the daisy of its simple charm. If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness.
Theresa of Lisieux
We erect a barrier called blame that keeps us from communicating with others, and we fortify it with our concepts of who’s right and who’s wrong. We do that with the people who are closest to us. It is a very common, well-perfected device for making us feel better. Blame others. Blaming is a way to protect your heart, trying to protect what is soft and open and tender in yourself.
Pema Chodron, In the Gap Between Right and Wrong.
When things go wrong we have a natural tendency to protect ourselves, even when it is our own fault. One way to do this is to look to blame. Sometimes we blame ourselves; more often we blame others. However, whenever I blame others I notice that it tends to harden my heart and makes me focus on myself. Remaining in that frame of mind tends to lock me in a state of victimhood, making me almost dependent on the perpetrator. It too easily simplifies the complexity which marks relationships in this world. In other words, it does not allow that things in this world can simply go wrong and that it does not always have to be someone’s fault.
Real relationships challenge us to stay open to the soft centre of the heart. How often do we form an opinion of another only to meet them and realise that our opinion was based on defending ourselves rather than what the person was really feeling. Fear makes us close down. At the end of the day it costs us precious energy. I find increasingly I ask myself: “Am I willing to waste my energy further on this matter?” and that helps me to move on.
All blame is a waste of time. No matter how much fault you find with another, and regardless of how much you blame him or her, it will not change you. The only thing blame does is to keep the focus off you when you are looking for external reasons to explain your unhappiness or frustration. You may succeed in making another feel guilty about something by blaming them, but you won’t succeed in changing whatever it is about you that is making you unhappy.
We like to think that we have a substantial core to ourselves, some type of identity which lasts. However, it is proabably better to see ourselves as continually defining ourselves, each day and each week, by the choices which we make. And as I said in a post yesterday, even a week can open up a completely different reality, in a world which changes like our one does.
Each day we are faced with a multitude of choices. And as St Thomas Aquinas reminded us, every choice is a renunciation. In fact it’s a thousand renunciations. Simply put: If you choose to take one path, you give up on another path, if you choose to spend your time and energies in one direction, you can’t spend them somewhere else. We can’t have it all. Each choice serves to eliminate some possibilities. Thus, in a real sense, we become the being we are, by choosing certain directions, and communicating that choice to others. Often the choice made by us or by others allows a path to open which otherwise would not have been possible. Life is indeed rare and unique, and not a rehearsal, but lived moment by moment, this breath arises and passes away, this chance comes and goes away.
“Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness” – Seneca
It is easy to be kind when the recipient is someone we like.
But to be kind when someone is difficult or has hurt us takes a lot of strength and compassion.
Struggling with a flu these last few days. Yesterday had a temperature most of the day, and I noticed the mind adding impatience and fear to the body’s experience of illness. Today started brightly, but the early promise faded and I find it still here, with its aches and pains and tiredness.
A lot of things can change in a week, and this one has shown me how fragile and unpredictable this world can be. Some certainties which I felt I could rely on are not there. It reaffirms the wisdom of the First Noble Truth found in Buddhist teaching, which states that the essential reality of life is that it is challenging. Our physical bodies, our health, our relationships, all of the elements in our lives, are fragile and subject to change. However – as we were reflecting on in the MBSR class this week- these difficulties, and these changes, are inevitable, but suffering is not.
In other words, as the Second Noble Truth goes on to say, suffering is caused when we find our mind resisting or contending in response to life. We have a choice: we can struggle with life or we can accept it. Acceptance does not mean passivity, but accomodating to what is beyond our control. Being sick is useful because it means I see that there is not much I can do and am forced to let go. For someone with a character like mine that is not always easy to learn, as my preferred way of dealing with the uncertainties of this world is to do things, especially for others. Sometimes, one has to be weak, and there can learn much about the changing nature of life and of people, of care for oneself as well as insight into what really matters.
There was never a dawn, regardless how beautiful or promising, that did not grow into a noontime. There was never a noon that did not fall into afternoon. There was never an afternoon that did not fade toward evening. There never was a day yet that did not get buried in the graveyard of the night.
In this way transience makes a ghost out of everything that happens to us.
Clear water in a brilliant bowl,
Pink and white carnations.
The light In the room more like a snowy air,
Reflecting snow. A newly-fallen snow
At the end of winter when afternoons return.
Pink and white carnations – one desires
So much more than that. The day itself
Is simplified: a bowl of white,
Cold, a cold porcelain, low and round,
With nothing more than the carnations there.
Say even that this complete simplicity
Stripped one of all one’s torments, concealed
The evilly compounded, vital I
And made it fresh in a world of white,
A world of clear water, brilliant-edged,
Still one would want more, one would need more,
More than a world of white and snowy scents.
There would still remain the never-resting mind,
So that one would want to escape, come back
To what had been so long composed.
The imperfect is our paradise.
Note that, in this bitterness, delight,
Since the imperfect is so hot in us,
Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds.