It is complicated to maintain peace within while being overly active outside. The more I am active outside, the more I need to take time out to restore the balance within. If activism is peaceful and within fields of humanitarian help, charity or education, it is easier to remain calm. Some time ago I already wrote a blog post on that. More agitating is working actively against injustice and stepping into conflict situations in order to lessen someones suffering.
Expanding city and expanding greed
Lately I have become a passionate advocate for a green island that is a place for allotment gardens with over a century old history. As the greed, expansion and economy of the city grows, it is planned to introduce traffic, roads, bridges and skyscrapers there. It is the fate of many allotment gardens not only in this country, also elsewhere. I could regain my calm if only I let the whole idea that something like gardens need to exist in the center of the city, but I feel like we need some fresh air and peace that they provide.
I am always happy when something desired starts or something undesired stops. Yei! Same way I am unhappy when something desired ceases or something undesired starts. It is a very natural reaction to the impermanence of things. Thus, spring time is double dose of happiness because the cold winter months are luckily over. And something beautiful is about to happen. Later double unhappiness comes in the fall when warm days are over and cold days begin. So, yes, I can have double fun right now and then six months from now knock on the door of my therapist and cry in despair – where has all my happiness vanished. Instead, I can take a wiser approach and see the natural cycle of birth and death as unavoidable and beautiful.
When in doubt – remember the preliminaries: the four reminders. They will open your heart and awaken the urge to live to your fullest potential right now. Might sound counter-intuitive but this will make you more happy.
You are lucky to be born human, you do not
have much time, all you do has an effect, indulging in ego won’t make you
I never thought that an intercontinental marriage would teach me so much about power, empathy and boundaries that we invent. But here we are. Five years down the road – learning a lesson that love, inclusion and empathy is a choice. We have different cultural backgrounds and we are from societies that are governed by powerful structures. This situation opened my eyes and showed how small each of us is. I have seen the strength of traditions, history and bureaucracy. Despite that, this union helped me to see that we are interconnected through the web of love. And we can choose to be bigger within us and reach as many human beings as wide open our hearts become.
Some days it happens to me that I naively navigate into waters too deep. Or I open the wrong can, the can of worms. Or even worse – take that bite, just little too big. In all those cases nobody really dies, so did I. One morning while cross-legged on the cushion the thought of integrity came to my mind. Yeah, right! Where do thoughts like that come from at all?! I let it go as I do with any other thought. After that, a quick body scan and couple rounds of deep and satisfying breath. As I was done, I sat there and let the thought of integrity return. The meaning of the word was not clear to me at all. The more I thought about it, the further I drifted..
To sit or not to sit is not a question. I
wake up unnecessary early and sit still. Technically it is morning, but it
would be pitch black if the city lights went off. No bird chirping, only a
street sweeper chipping ice from sidewalks. Light snoring sounds from bedroom.
The dark and early mornings remind me of my
first silent retreat in a Thailand monastery. On the first morning the large
bell rang, I woke up and fell asleep again. 4:00 in the morning definitely is
unnecessary early especially if all you do is meditate all day long. A few
minutes later I jumped up again and started to talk in a panic attack to my
neighbour next door because I thought they are going to lock the gates before I
get out of the dorm. Short after that I remembered that this is a silent
retreat. Embarrassed I dressed up and hurried to my cushion.
It was a late July day and the clocks were striking noon again and again. That was the right time of summer – sun was high, waters deep and warm. Ripened wild raspberries and blueberries were abundant in the forests. The labyrinths of cemented sidewalks and melting asphalts of overcrowded cities were leading to suffering those who did not find a way out and flee. Therefore, I got a ride to a faraway town on countryside and settled down for few days with my friends.
I had no
expectations for my visit, so we just sat in the garden and talked for hours.
Made some lunch and talked more. In the summer the twilight dwells almost till
midnight and by the time it started to get dark, our stories got deeper and shadier
as well. Facing the statistics of trauma in everyday so-called normal lives we
had a lot of stories to get into. A lot
of my friends are fixing their anxieties, depressions and other conditions, and
going through various therapies as well as books.
Everyone can be traumatized
So, the remaining days I spent reading a book from my friend’s library – The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel A. van der Kolk. That was an antipode to the chill lounging around the garden; eating sour cherries from the trees and sipping the occasional bottle of beer. The opening passage of the book is inviting yet frightening: “Trauma happens to us, our friends, our families, and our neighbors. Research by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has shown that one in five Americans was sexually molested as a child; one in four was beaten by a parent to the point of a mark being left on their body; and one in three couples engages in physical violence. A quarter of us grew up with alcoholic relatives, and one out of eight witnessed their mother being beaten or hit.”
The statistics in our post-soviet corner is as gloomy as that. That is to say, if not worse. Both World Wars stomped back and forth over this tiny piece of land. All our grandparents were involved in war and our parents grew up under occupation. We were thrown in the beautiful capitalism and globalization as if nothing had happened. Indeed, a lot did happen but not enough was shared and understood.
Winter wonderland and elves are gone, icy cold winds still blowing. Nativity scenes disassembled, fireworks vanished, the urban bats sink back in deeper torpor. Champagne corks and glitter cleaned up, a promising year has started. Shopping malls sober up from the buying and selling peak moment of holiday season. Introvert cats regain feelings of solitude after the marathon of family’s and friends’ visits.
I am breathing in and letting go the bewilderment of past weeks, pausing quietly. Re-centering and tuning into contentment, getting out of the wilderness of sights, touches, smells and tastes. There is a part in me that does not want to settle down for the mundane everyday tasks. Who wants to wake up before the sun in the freezing winter mornings and follow routines? But luckily there is part in me that finds peace and possibility to focus on here and now through the simple things. The nothing special mood is warm and peaceful. I can recognize that I disconnect and do not totally control of my thoughts and actions in difficult times, in frustrating situations and sights of injustice. Moreover, I bewilder when overly excited and obsessed by other positive strong emotions and events.
Restless vs peaceful
It is the perception dominating me and pushing forward that bothers me in those situations. It happens also while reading books: the narrator takes the reader by hand and brings him places, makes him dive into feelings. Finally, he captures his whole being leaving him either inspired, wrecked or crying his eyes out.
I remember reading Jack London on school’s summer break, shivering under blankets while reading of huskies pulling the sled somewhere in Yukon. The novel “The Call of the Wild” just pulled me further into the suffering, exhaustion and rivalry of Buck, his fellow dogs and humans. The voices of my friends outside the window were inviting me to join. However, I did not respond. I was perplexed by the encounter of wilderness and civilization, by the interplay of ignorance, ego, loyalty and love in such harsh environment somewhere far away. It is extremely good prose and it enchants my perception.
Once one a forum thread there was a person asking a monastic whether he shouldn’t have read a book called The Art of Disappearing: Buddha’s Path to Lasting Joy written by Ajahn Brahm. The reader was looking for inspiration but now felt even more depressed and hopeless. The kind monk replied that Ajahn Brahm and also other masters have two kinds of talks and books – the ones that make you feel good and confident and the other ones – which are straight to the point and harder to digest. This book was of the second kind.
Interesting enough that it was a perfect sales pitch for me – a book that someone maybe should not have read. Surprising enough but it turned out it is an exciting book because it is so true, and it contradicts almost every aspect of average western consumerist life. I read the book as a tragicomedy, saving myself from immediate panic that happened to the guy in the forum. Applying aspects of comedy could be seen also as a kind and caring way, how to approach my own life, which for the most part has been driven 180 degree the opposite direction from what Ajahn Brahm describes as a way leading to happiness.
When I wake up, the sky is blue. The sky is blue like a rose is a rose is a rose. And on the grey days like this, when I wake up, I see clouds. I keep my mind joyful. Still – the sky is the sky. It is like a joke played upon me. And if I am at peace with myself, I laugh.
“Always maintain only a joyful mind” is part of 59 slogans in Lojong or mind training. That is a practice in Tibetan Buddhism. Studying the slogans is a method to transform mind. Although this slogan in the sequence of presentation is somewhere near the middle of this collection, I think it is very helpful even at the beginning of the training. I would even say it is a perfect starter for every new day, so that you can start with light-hearted attitude.