"Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life.
During the MMM Circle* last week, one of the regulars wondered aloud if some of the difficulties she had been experiencing were related to the fact that for the past several weeks folks had been sharing a lot of the "darker stuff" during our Monday morning sessions. Although we didn't really address Stephanie's comment directly as the conversation unfolded, it certainly caught my attention. A cartoonist may have drawn me with a little light bulb over my head (or perhaps the word "duh!" written in a little thought balloon).
I think I, for one, perhaps had lost sight of that simple truth: Suffering is not enough!
|Grandson Demetri and Daughter Persephone Pappanikou|
One of my favorite spiritual teachers, Stephan Gaskin, taught that Attention = Energy. At a very fundamental level, what we choose to attend to, what we focus our attention on, we energize in our lives and in our world. The Practice enables us to see how that operates more clearly. We come to notice the impact that even the quality of attention has on ourselves and others. We see directly how cultivating our kindness and compassion and freeing ourselves from judgmental reactions dominated by subconscious grasping and aversion allows us to make healthier choices in the world that we are co-creating moment to moment.
Unlike some new age teachings that believe that giving any attention to "negative" feelings or thoughts is not helpful, the Practice invites us to open to "the places that scare us", to be willing and able to feel fear and sadness and anger and all the modes of experience that we have learned to repress and avoid. Unexplored and unaccepted, that stuff forms an armoring over our hearts that prevents us from deeper contact with the Sacred Reality that we are immersed in.
Yet, it is obvious that we can sometimes get stuck in the darker and denser mind states and allow them to dominate our awareness. They will, of course, eventually pass, (especially if we can successfully let go of the storylines), yet at times it can be quite helpful to make a conscious effort to "change the channel." We can, in that moment, decide that suffering is not enough and place our attention on the dance of clouds in a summer sky, or pause and look around at the beauty that we've created in our living space. At times just turning our attention to the sounds around us can recreate the sense of spaciousness that allows even the darker emotions to float like clouds within the clear blue sky rather than dominate our consciousness. The Practice, in developing our ability to point our attention gently and precisely where we choose, affords us that opportunity.
(If a shift doesn't happen immediately: take a walk, listen to your favorite music, do the dishes and actually feel the warm water on your skin and look for the rainbows in the soap bubbles, etc. You'll find what works for you.)
At other times when the emotional weather tends to be cloudy, I've found that it can also be quite helpful to take some time to contemplate the people and things and experiences in our lives that we are grateful for, to allow ourselves to actually feel the warmth of that gratitude in our hearts and minds. At times, focusing on that feeling of gratitude has been a valuable daily practice and I've spent some of my time on the zafu in a form of maitri (or metta) practice sending heartfelt aspirations for the well being of those in my life who I deeply appreciate. Perhaps, this could work for you, as well?
Although I am committed to not ignore the reality of suffering in this world, I hope that I can also continue to remember that suffering is not enough, to turn my gaze, to touch again the wonder and beauty of Life as it is.
* Each week after periods of silent sitting and walking meditation, the participants of MMM's Beginner's Mind and Beyond Intro Group converse about their experiences with the Practice during the week and discuss themes that I--or others--bring to the Circle.