Thursday, April 24, 2008

A Walk in the Snow

We had a surprise snowstorm on the island this past weekend, and yesterday a dear friend told me she'd been out walking her dogs, escaping a rather stormy home environment, when the snow had begun to fall.

As she walked along, hot chocolate in hand, catching snowflakes on her tongue and reveling in that stillness a snowfall can bring, she found a sense of peace within herself that had long been missing. And though the storms at home continue to rage, the peace she found in the snow has stayed with her and made them easier to bear. "It's almost as if I had to go through the hard stuff, be willing to stay with it and be honest about it, to find the peace that lies beneath," she said.

This morning I read this passage from Bahauddin, The Drowned Book:

"Basically people are donkeys concerned only with the straw and barley they're eating until the presence of grace makes them otherwise. With faith, a grandeur embellishes humanity, as when with a little work by you, God enters a dry seed and makes a fresh living plant. Every action becomes a part of this gift...Watch the sky moving, and see how every motion in creation connects with the creator..."

"Grief is better than happiness,"
he goes on to say, "because in grief a person draws close to God. Your wings open. A tent is set up in the desert where God can visit you. Wealth that arrives in grief is what we spend in joy. The soul is greater than anything you ever lost."

Life isn't always easy, and sometimes it can be incredibly difficult to keep moving through the emotional storms that can swirl around and within us. But I believe that if we choose to stay with it, to step into it if necessary; if we remain conscious, pay attention, and do not anesthetize ourselves with any of the distractions we humans use to keep from facing our deepest anxieties and fears, there is a peace that lies within that will buoy us up and give us strength to face whatever lies ahead.

Staying with it may not be easy, and often takes more courage than we think we have. For some of us, that courage never seems to be handy if we are thinking only of ourselves, but emerges only as a compassionate response to the trials of others: often we are willing to take risks on behalf of others that we could never justify if it were only our own concerns at stake. Which is one reason why the practice of tonglen can be so helpful: Breathing in, think not just of your own pain, but of the others experiencing similar pain. Breathing out, find whatever nuggets of peace or joy that continue to thrive within you, and imagine sharing them with your fellow sufferers.

As Pema Chodron says:

"Breathing in, breathing out, feeling resentful, feeling happy, being able to drop it, not being able to drop it, eating our food, brushing our teeth, walking, sitting -- whatever we're doing could be done with one intention. That intention is that we want to wake up, we want to ripen our compassion, and we want to ripen our ability to let go, we want to realize our connection with all beings. Everything in our lives has the potential to wake us up or to put us to sleep. Allowing it to awaken us is up to us."

And awakened to the moment, we have the chance to breathe in that amazing silence, to taste the hot chocolate and the snow on our tongues; to know the sweet stillness that is God within.

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