Over the weekend I watched a documentary on Auschwitz Concentration Camp. It reminded me to go back to the book of Jacques Lusseyran, who was blinded in a school accident at the age of 8, and who became a French Resistance fighter once war broke out. In 1943, Lusseyran was arrested and sent to Buchenwald. There he helped keep a spirit of resistance and hope within the camp, nourished by a strength which he discovered within himself. In this passage he describes the approach he adopted towards life:
We had to live in the present; each moment had to be absorbed for all that was in it…. When a ray of sunshine comes, open out, absorb it to the depths of your being. Never think that an hour earlier you were cold and that an hour later you will be cold again. Just enjoy…. The amazing thing is that no anguish held out against this treatment for very long. Take away from suffering its double drumbeat of resonance, memory and fear. Suffering may persist, but already it is relieved by half.
Happiness is the cessation of suffering. It is well-being. For instance, when I practice this exercise of breathing in, I’m aware of my eyes; breathing out, I smile to my eyes and realize that they are still in good condition. There is a paradise of form and colors in the world. And because you have eyes still in good condition, you can get in touch with the paradise. So when I become aware of my eyes, I touch one of the conditions of happiness. And when I touch it, happiness comes.
Thich Nhat Hahn
Felt meanings are volatile: they move our hearts and affect how we act. Yet real as it all these feelings seem, they do change; and if I follow them, then who I seem to be changes in accordance with them. When I am being ‘me, the harassed, overworked’ my manner will have a different flavour than when I’m ‘me, welcoming you to my home.’ Actually, I have quite a few selves, or subsidiary personalities, which take centre stage dependent on the situation, pressures and natural conditions like health. My world-view and motivation may change between one of these personae (these selves that we have within us) and the next – sometimes I can hardly believe it when someone reports back to me what I said when I was in a difficult mood. In fact, I might comment that ‘I wasn’t quite myself then.’ These ranging personae, of which any one can be occupying the ‘me’ space at a given time, are based on felt meanings that arise around one’s role, function, and relationship – as well as on physical health and current attitude. The most residual ones, the ones that really feel like me, are the ones carried in the heart: ‘I am the one who has to do all the work (and receives no recognition)’; ‘I am the one who can’t manage and needs others to make decisions for me…’ and so on. They direct us through event after event, and yet we might not even recognize them as such because the mind will imagine that the feeling is being created not from some internal bias, but from the situation that’s occurring around us.
Ajahn Succitto, Kamma, Self and Liberation
In life we spend a lot of time waiting. In the morning we might be waiting for the toast to cook or the tea to brew. In the afternoon we may be waiting for some photocopies to print. In the evening we might wait for a bus or a taxi…Often we get impatient. We try to distract ourselves while waiting, or anxiously ruminate about why it takes so long, but essentially in doing so we reject what is happening in the present moment. We become less aware of our surroundings, make more judgments about the unacceptibility of what’s happening and strive to have something else, other than what is. We react negatively to the fact that things aren’t as we want them to be. Given that waiting is a reality of our existence, we have little choice but to find a way to be in these moments. When things are poised to be the way we want them, but they’re not quite there, what kind of attitude is healthiest or most effective?
Notice how your body reacts to waiting. Do you keep looking down the street for the bus? Do you keep hitting the elevator’s “close the door” button? Whenever the urge to reject your waiting time surfaces, see if you can bring attention to the moment before taking action. Resist the urge, and instead bring your attention to the experience of not acting. How does this feel?
When waiting, bring your attention to your breathing. Notice each breath going in and out of your body. Consider this time as a precious opportunity to practice mindfulness and integrate awareness into your daily life.
Jonathan Kaplan, Urban Mindfulness
Listen to the stones of the wall.
Be silent, they try
To speak your
Name. . . .
Think of what you are
Still less of
What you may one day be.
Be what you are (but who?) be
The unthinkable one
You do not know. . . .
Thomas Merton, In Silence
See if you can bring a soft, curious, and even friendly awareness to feelings of liking and disliking. Notice any qualities of liking or disliking, of moving toward some experiences and away from others. You can even do this with any thoughts or emotions that may be coming and going in the mind and body from moment to moment, whether these thoughts and emotions are pleasant or unpleasant. Do your best to be fully present to your experience of the moment, of whatever is here in terms of sensations, thoughts, and emotions. Notice especially the strong or subtle sense of wanting things to be different than the way they are. You may notice feelings of grief, irritation, or amusement arise as you watch this play of judgments and opinions about what is happening inside and outside you. Continue to stay present to whatever is here.