Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Peace is Every Step

I have been experiencing a teensy bit of stress lately and asked a friend that seems to have it together to recommend a good source for chilling out. She recommended two books - Peace is Every Step, by Thich Nhat Hanh and Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living by Pema Chodron.

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and apparently very well respected in the Buddhist community, as far as I could tell from the approving comments of my few Buddhist friends. Peace is Every Step was very helpful in reducing my stress level. Nhat Hanh's all about breathing deeply and repeating meditative phrases to stay in the moment, like:
Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out.

and, if you're more stressed out or angry, you might say:
Breathing in, I know that anger is here.
Breathing out, I know that the anger is me.
Breathing in, I know that anger is unpleasant.
Breathing out, I know this feeling will pass.
Breathing in, I am calm.
Breathing out, I am strong enough to take care of this anger.

That became frequently helpful, alas to say, many times recently. Repeatedly.

There are some Buddhist practices that I really identify with, and others I wish I could identify with more (but it doesn't seem to be in my nature!) Nhat Hanh, for example, encourages readers to try to understand why "people that cause suffering" might be suffering themselves. I think that's all well and good to a certain point, but I think I'm not a big enough person to do that consistently. He compares anger to a compost pile out of which beautiful things might grow: "When anger is born in us, we can be aware that anger is an energy in us, and we can accept that energy in order to transform it into another kind of energy." OK, but how about cursing and crying and slamming doors and watching tv until all our troubles seem to disappear?

I kid. Sort of. Actually, this book really inspired me (to be a better person!) and I think I should read it a few times more. Although, the jerk in me thinks it's very nice for a monk to propose these things because he's surrounded by a bunch of other monks who are super nice and always practicing mindfulness and whatnot, while the rest of us are mostly surrounded by complete A-holes. Amirite?

I most mention, however, when this book helped me deal with something that was really upsetting me - I had just gone to a funeral of a beloved family friend, and someone in that family had also just had a baby. Grieving and celebrating, welcoming life and saying goodbye all at once was causing me some overload. I couldn't process my emotions. Then, on the way home, I was reading this book and he ends with a poem called Call Me by My True Names, which goes, in part:
My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all
walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.

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