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.
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.
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.
As horizontal sun beams exposed the veins of leaves and turned them into miniature translucent maps full of tiny forking paths that invited to the unknown yet welcoming and warm world of yellow shades, it was already weeks past the autumn equinox far up in North. Illusory warmth of the Indian-summer was about to leave us unprepared for the dead, cold months ahead.
Our steps softly sunk into fallen foliage. The medieval castle up the hill was unreachable and covered in shallow mist. Moments ago, we ashed a joint under a majestic ash tree, the axis mundi of our kin, where my grandfather’s ashes scattered years ago and now perhaps soaked up by the roots of this giant tree of trees or woven into humble petals of purple anemones growing in its generous shade. We were lost in our own thoughts as we walked, and the only sounds were rustling leaves and murmuring river.
I thought about my grandmother who had died years before my grandfather and had chosen the more traditional burial mode according to local trends in this century and was resting in peace at an unambitious rural graveyard among agricultural fields some three kilometers North East from the ash tree. It happened to be an area of most fertile soil and a body without a coffin buried six feet deep would have decomposed fairly soon, there might have been only a skeleton left by now. But we had a long history of burials in coffins that adds both veneration and time to our last rite of passage. So the molecules and the star-dust might still be trapped inside a neatly carved coffin as I was raking the leaves six feet above it some ten years later. Continue reading “Autumn retreat: on ancestry, death and love”
I have thought about my page for some time. What seemed to stop me was the willingness to ship a brilliant finished product, a site that is well organised and categorized. A blog that is clear, to the point, inspiring, beautiful and painfully truthful. Pop out a mesmerizing monarch butterfly. Continue reading “How do you overcome uncertainty? You don’t.”