“No Mud, No Lotus.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
“May you be able to receive the fruits of suffering.” ~ John O’Donohue
“Mindfulness is the willingness and capacity to be equally present with all events and experience with discernment, curiosity, and kindness.” ~ Christina Feldman
There’s a misperception about mindfulness I bumped into this week. A new acquaintance commented she was surprised I still encountered difficulty with equanimity and attachment to outcome, even though I have been practicing mindfulness for some time. I often think it would be wonderful if by practicing mindfulness and meditation we could eradicate these unpleasant states of mind. We would never get angry, feel anxious, worry about what others think about us, and generally avoid all the painful feelings in our lives. In cases of big E enlightenment, when we become fully enlightened Buddhas, the causes of suffering are uprooted. The fetters or defilements are destroyed, “removed it from its soil like a palmyra tree, brought it to utter extinction, incapable of arising again” (The discourse on the Snake Simile, MN 22). For most of us, full Buddhahood is a work in progress and our habits of mind transform slowly, and sometimes, very slowly. Transformation is evident when we become aware of our irritation before it becomes full blown anger and we offer kindness and support to ourselves. We may check in with our stomach and emotions before we finish off the whole quart of Ben and Jerry’s, or we might notice that a friend hasn’t returned our text and wonder what’s going on, without taking it as a personal affront. These subtle shifts in our perception are enlightenment. We have a choice about the way we respond to the stimuli in our lives.
The practice of mindful awareness includes the non-judgmental acceptance of our unique life experience. We can go further and call it kindness or friendliness towards our thoughts, sensations, and feelings. Our practice invites us to examine the amount of kindness or aversion we allow ourselves with unpleasant states. Can we be OK, not being OK? If we are looking for a life with only happiness, joy, and comfort, we will be disappointed, big-time, because life is not like that. The entirety of living encompasses the full range of our experience. Bringing compassionate awareness and care to all our states is our practice. As the Irish poet John O’Donohue wrote, “May you have the wisdom to enter generously into your own unease.” When we are able to be with our discomfort without making it bad or wrong, without pushing it away, we open the door for a new relationship to our suffering.
Thich Nhat Hanh writes about the happiness we experience after a toothache, when the pain is gone. He calls this the happiness of a non-toothache. “You know deeply at that point that not having a toothache is happiness. Yet later, when you don’t have a toothache, you forget and do not treasure your non-toothache” (Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life). When we are pain free, we think that’s the way it should be—keep it coming. It is only when we are in touch with this suffering that we can experience joy when the suffering abates. This is the practice that I encourage you to try on this week. Ask, when am I free from suffering? Is there a moment of OK even in the turbulence of anxiety or insecurity? Can we be happy that our teeth, our knees, our … (fill in body part) are pain free? Where is there ease in the midst of my pain? It might be a very small moment, seeing dogs play, or the comfort of cool air after the heat of the sun, something so small, it gets overlooked. I hope you will find your lotus that is waiting for you. Trust that it’s there, even if your path is full of mud.
May we all trust our light,