Learning to Stay

Central Park at Dusk, November 2015

Central Park at Dusk, November 2015

We all felt devastated after the attacks in Paris this past month. As practitioners of yoga and meditation, perhaps we asked ourselves: "what can we do that will help?" Pema Chodron suggests "Learning to Stay."

Understandably, our first reaction to such devastation would be to want to find those killers and seek revenge immediately. Certainly, they should be found and be prevented from doing any more harm.

And, we can also look within and ask ourselves: "where exactly do the root causes of evil lie?" Pema Chodron writes:

"To honestly face the pain in our lives and the problems in the world, let's start by looking compassionately and honestly at our own minds. We can become intimate with the mind of hatred, the mind that polarizes, the mind that makes somebody 'other' and bad and wrong. We come to know, unflinchingly, and with great kindness, the angry, unforgiving hostile wolf [that lives within our very own heart]. Over time, that part of ourselves becomes very familiar but we no longer feed it. Instead, we can make the choice to nurture openness, intelligence, and warmth. This choice, and the attitudes and actions that follow from it, are like a medicine that has the potential to cure all suffering."

At this moment in the world, there are so many people who don't have the capacity and the ability to even consider examining their own minds. Many, quite understandably, have minds that are filled with anger and vengeance, at this time. For us who do have a little more space to step back from the chaos, we are reminded, as Pema writes here, that:

"... for each and every one of us, intelligence, warmth, and openness are always accessible. If we can be conscious enough to realize what's happening [in any given moment], we can pause and uncover these basic human qualities. ... we can make the choice to nurture openness, intelligence, and warmth. This choice, and the attitudes and actions that follow from it, are like the medicine that has the potential to cure all suffering."

Pema continues:

"What I've noticed about the people I consider to be awake is this: They're fully conscious of whatever is happening. They're minds don't go off anywhere. They just stay right her with chaos, with silence, with a carnival, in an emergency room, on a mountainside; they're completely receptive and open to what's happening. ..."

We can help the world by seeing the root causes of suffering -- the hating mind, the vengeful mind, the closed mind -- within our very own beings. In practicing yoga and meditation, we clean the lens of our mind by purifying our body first so that ultimately we have space to examine our own minds more closely and honestly. An important part of this practice involves learning to stay with whatever arises and not letting things trigger us so that we commit unwise actions.

An important reminder from the Buddha -- especially at this time -- is this one:

"The Buddha taught that every human birth is precious and worthy of gratitude. In one of his well-known analogies, he said that receiving a human birth is more rare than the chance that a blind turtle floating in the ocean would stick its head through a small hoop. He would often instruct a monk to take his ground cloth into the forest, sit at the base of a tree, and begin 'gladdening his heart' by reflecting on the series of fortunate circumstances that had given the monk the motivation and ability to seek freedom through understanding the dharma."

Whether or not you believe in reincarnation, it is good to be reminded of just how lucky we are to have this opportunity to experience life as a human being. It's not that life will never cease to be unfair or not always be fun nor pleasant. But it is indeed our luck that we can, as the Buddha said we could, "live joyfully amidst that sorrows of the world." We are so lucky that we can learn to stay and sit with sadness, with evil, with life's inherent appearance of unfairness and ultimately use these experiences to deepen our ability to know and express compassion, tenderness, and love.

During this season of giving thanks for all that we have, if we can't think of any reasons to be thankful, at the very least we can practice simply staying. In doing so, undoubtedly over time, we will come back home to remembering the preciousness of our lives and the lives of all beings. So many people in the world seem to have forgotten this at the moment. Will you help the world by practicing for them?  

May you reclaim natural openness, intelligence, and warmth, ...
May you look closer at your own mind, ...
May your heart experience gladdening, ...
May you remember the preciousness of your human life, ...
May you learn to stay, ...
... for the benefit of all beings.