Thanks to my friend Diane for posting this tonight. It’s beautiful – and, as always, if something touches me I delight in sharing it :-)
“Sorrow prepares you for joy. It violently sweeps everything out of your house, so that new joy can find space to enter. It shakes the yellow leaves from the bough of your heart, so that fresh, green leaves can grow in their place. It pulls up the rotten roots, so that new roots hidden beneath have room to grow. Whatever sorrow shakes from your heart, far better things will take their place.”
I have found myself turning back to read and re-read the paragraph below a number of times over the past few days. There is something in it that offers profound value, but I feel I need to mull it over and over gently, letting it sink in a little deeper each time.
“Embracing the contents of consciousness in any moment is a very powerful way of training yourself to respond differently to adversity. However, it is important to distinguish between accepting unpleasant sensations and emotions as a strategy – while covertly hoping that they will go away – and truly accepting them as transitory appearances in consciousness. Only the latter gesture opens the door to wisdom and lasting change. The paradox is that we can become wiser and more compassionate and live more fulfilling lives by refusing to be who we have tended to be in the past. But we must also relax, accepting things as they are in the present, as we strive to change ourselves.” – Sam Harris in ‘Waking Up’
“We spend our lives lost in thought. The question is, what should we make of this fact? In the West, the answer has been “Not much.” In the East, especially in contemplative traditions like those of Buddhism, being distracted by thought in understood to be the very wellspring of human suffering.
From the contemplative point of view, being lost in thoughts of any kind, pleasant or unpleasant, is analogous to being asleep and dreaming. It’s a mode of not knowing what is actually happening in the present moment. Thoughts themselves are not a problem, but being identified with thought is.
…The practice of meditaton is a method of breaking the spell of thought. However, in the beginning, you are unlikely to understand just how transformative this shift in attention can be. You will spend most of your time trying to meditate or imaging that you are meditating (whether by focusing on your breathing or anything else) and failing for minutes or hours at a stretch. The first sign of progress will be noticing how distracted you are. But if you persist in your practice, you will eventually get a taste of real concentration and begin to see thoughts themselves as mere appearances arising in a wider field of consciousness.” – Sam Harris, “Waking Up”
I found it extremely reassuring to read the paragraph above. I have almost always, in my forays into meditation, been painful conscious of how distracted I get, and how busy my thoughts are. There have been brief moments, particularly during many hours of meditation at the Buddhist Retreat Centre, when I could almost begin to sense the edges of letting thought drop away… but they felt like mere glimpses. It is encouraging to know that I – who has often pandered to my ego’s demand that I achieve highly at everything I choose to put my hand to – am neither failing more achieving, but am merely at the early stages of a life-long journey; and that doesn’t need to be anything other than exactly as it is.
Words about words, shared in the place to come to use words to express myself… But every now and then I stumble across words that articulate something I have concerns about but have not put focus thought into, for which I am always grateful.
So the question for us all, it seems to me, is what actions are we willing and able to take in our lives; our world? How creative can we be in find concrete ways to shifts things, and how willing are we to step outside our comfort zones, and look at how we can have a meaningful impact in the world, rather than admiring others who do so or berrating those who we perceive to have the power to change things but do not?
For me personally at the moment my comfort zones are my work – where we make a practical difference in the lives of many people impacted by poverty and HIV/AIDS – and my volunteering with the More To Life programme, where we touch many people’s lives and provide them with tools for empathy, love and transformation. The biggest challenge for me at the moment feels as if it is around my bitterness at the destruction man-kind wreaks upon nature and other animals, and I feel the need to identify some practical steps to make even a small impact in this area. I shall put more focused thought into it, but in the meantime any ideas and suggestions are welcome!
Originally posted on Calling Through The Fog:
A guy walks into a bar and orders a drink. The barkeep pours it, and the guy picks up the glass — and then splashes the booze all over his face. “Geez, buddy,” says the surprised barkeep, “why‘d you do that?” The man, genuinely perplexed, says, “I wish I knew. I‘ve been doing it for years. Every time I pick up a drink — bam! All over my face.” The barkeep nods wisely and tells the guy he should see a psychologist about it. And so he does.
Week after week, month after month, year after year, the guy delves into his psyche, his childhood, his parents, his dreams, his sex life, his hopes and his fears. And at last, after ten years of therapy, he returns to the bar and triumphantly orders a drink.
The barkeep pours him a shot and stands back…
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Tonight, as I was reading a Mail & Guardian article about some of the depressing responses to Michelle Obama’s recent speech at Tuskegee University’s commencement ceremony, something was triggered within me that provided some clarity on a feeling that has been bothering me subliminally for a number of weeks.
The internet backlash from Michelle’s speech reminded me of the sinking heart with which I read many of the comments following the recent Afrophobic attacks in South Africa, when brave people stepped forward to share their own stories of dealing with the prejudice of South Africans against immigrants from other African countries. The comments on these articles were littered with white South Africans complaining that these stories didn’t mention all the murders of white South Africans that happen so frequently in South Africa, with particular emphasis on the murder of white farmers.
Now, I’m not saying that the killing of white South Africans isn’t imporant, or shouldn’t be rallied against. I do not believe that we should peaceably accept the taking of ANY human life, regardless of their skin colour or country of origin. But my impulse on reading those comments was to say, “This isn’t your platform. Right now, please, can you put down your bitterness and resentment and listen, just for a few moments, to someone else’s struggles and pain, without needing them to acknowledge – in this particular moment – your own.”
So often, when people dare to speak up regarding their experience of prejudice – whether it be based on gender, ethnicity, class, sexual orientation or a vast array of other societal categorisations – the outpouring of criticism is painfully predictable.
I find myself wanting to gently whisper into every well-protected heart behind each bitter voice that is shouting to be heard, “Listen; listen. Put down your opinions and prejudices and fears and anger. Put down your need to be right and your need to control other people’s expression. Put it all aside, just for a few deep breaths, and try instead to feel the reality that is being expressed.”
This powerful talk from Brené Brown led me through some deep introspection which I feel a desire to mull over and come back to.
For now, thought, it feels important to share it with those I love, those I am grateful for, and even those I don’t know (or don’t yet know) – because I believe we can all learn an enormous amount from reflecting on these words.