Rest in Peace, Thich Nhat Hanh

Note: I am republishing this post, as for some <cosmic> reason, some folks could access it, and some could not. Apologies to those who may receive it a second time. May it bear a review.

I mourn the passing of a venerable Vietnamese monk. Impermanence. As mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been studying his thought-provoking call to save the planet, via Zen, kindness, patience, and better communication skills than I and many of us have employed of late. Yes, he took the problem “by their smooth handle,” how Thomas Jefferson recommended we respond to tricky issues. As usual, easier said than done. The French philosopher Blaise Pascal once warned, “L’homme n’est ni ange ni bête, et le malheur veut que qui veut faire l’ange, fait la bête,” or, man is neither angel nor beast, and the misfortune remains, whosoever strives to be angelic winds up behaving beastly. My close translation, and sadly true. The more we try to practice our good manners, the more we notice how painfully shy we arrive at them. Said another way, what you pay attention to grows. . . but it could boomerang.

If we wait for perfection, we’ll never arrive to appreciate it, or so we’re told. Case in point: I’d just settled on my black cushion to meditate, when I noticed the top of the guest bed I was sitting beside was littered with clothing to be ironed, several pieces sorted for a donation bag, or a stack to be put away. It was not a peaceful scene in other words, not conducive to a proper Zen session. Yet I persisted and was able to sink below those waves of dissonance. Three days I managed to ignore the mess on the bed. When it came to actually do something about it, I did, and felt the small satisfaction of checking off another task from my list. But I first had to try not to let it derail my intent.

So, are we doomed?

If we pore over the news and opinion pieces, it would seem so. Yet, we cannot ignore the science, nor the political scientists, nor the populace. And lest I contribute my particular brand of rant here, I’ll pause and take a breath, another, and another, and seek my center. This practice places me smack dab in the middle of the known and unknown universe(s)—it’s the only solution and premise I have to go on. At this moment in Time.

Some of you, as readers (deep bows) know that my Riven Country novels suggest a theory of time, and therein I play with ramifications of such. Not to repeat my premise here, but to propose we ponder at least one of the notions, that of regarding all that happens, has happened, and will happen, as occurring in a singular moment, the now, and that being humans—with a contracted sense of organization and consciousness—our psychology must separate our living into past, present, and future. Else we’d implode with too much information. The angels are so equipped, I wager, but not us. Perhaps the beasts as well.

But think for a small moment: hold in your mind, if you will, the knowledge of discrimination, the evidence of abuses (all abuse), the reckless treatment of man against man, and layer on top of that, as though a swirling spiral had magically appeared to do the very thing, every moving effort we’ve made through the decades and ages (think democracy, civil rights, justice meted, mercy granted, truth and reconciliation), and then, observe the recent tumults (take your pick) appearing as an opposite force, a spiral moving, circling, the other way (forgive the convoluted image) and you may be able to apprehend the roiling state of what I think constitutes Time.

It’s time to take things by their smooth handle and calm down. It’s time to remember to practice our manners, while being gentle with ourselves. It’s time to remember that time is a construct, and that we truly don’t have that much of whatever it is, given our propensity for harsh, reactionary responses. Cutting off our noses to spite our faces is where we are today. Let us please consider our inward mirrors, while sitting on a cushion, on an ailing planet, spiraling in a 13.6-billion-year-old galaxy (one of the elders, I hear, in league with the spirit of a most courageous Zen Buddhist monk), through this mystery called space. Just consider.

New Year, New Mantras

Happy New Year! The phrase rings hopeful in our souls, at least I hope so. I offer it to those I meet, or when picking up the telephone, when writing a note. I express it, however, with secret intention, that I may hear it myself, resonating on a deep soul level. Happy New Year, love.

This last hiatus from blogging surprised me by its length. I have lived a whirlwind since early September. I won’t bore with details; suffice it to say, I offer no excuses—save “busy.” But a daughter’s wedding initiated the passage, and I smile with the knowledge, for her, for her husband, for their exquisite joy, and for finally reuniting with family and friends (outdoors!) after so long an absence.  

Seeing grandson dressed impeccably as ring bearer, and granddaughters treating their duties with perfection, I am indeed hopeful for the future, where children respect time-honored traditions with grace and care.

I am reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s beautiful book, Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet, with commentary by Sister True Dedication. The strongest lesson (in my view) seems to be in learning to listen. How we fail, continually, to realize how “inter-being” we all are, that yin/yang does exist as an energy principle; that we can’t have left without right; that dialogue requires both listening (deeply, no interrupting or correcting—how often I miss the mark on this one!) and, careful communication. But to notice, at last, and intend to improve is considered half the battle. Evidently and simply, the intention goes a long way toward expanding hearts, by opening those of both, if invisibly. It slows the zero to sixty-mile-an-hour round of insult and injury peppering our public discourse these turbulent days. So, “slow down,” as a mantra, might serve. One technique I hope to remember, is to practice breathing slowly while listening to someone—yes, in effect, meditating.

Another mantra for my new year comes from scripture: 1 Thessalonians 5:16—Rejoice always. It may be true that much hardship accompanies our days, that much suffering has ensued during the pandemic, that we Americans are demonstrating massive growing pains in realizing our purpose, and while I may harbor a definition of that purpose, would shouting it from rooftops truly accomplish anything? No, not really. Again, breathing calmly while quietly rejoicing—read: practicing gratitude—may help. Nay, it will help. Anodynes abound, if we would but consider the possibility. And last (but never least), a smile, both inward and offered to those we happen to meet, even through a mask, the kind intent shines through. Happy New Year.