One day some people came to the master and asked “How can you be happy in a world of such impermanence, where you cannot protect your loved ones from harm, illness, and death?”
The master held up a glass and said, “Someone gave me this glass, and I really like it. It holds my water admirably and it glistens in the sunlight. I touch it, and it rings! One day the wind may blow it off the shelf, or my elbow may knock it from the table. I know this glass is already broken, so I enjoy it incredibly.”
To love what is precious and perishable: one of the most poignant experiences of human existence. I must admit, it was easy for me when I volunteered with hospice: no choice but to stay open to the heartbreaking sequence of loving and losing.
Now I am startled sometimes by the reminders of impermanence and tempted to protect myself by dulling the impact. Less grief that way, but also less joy (a package deal, for sure). So I train in opening on purpose, using a two part practice.
Part One I learned at Spirit Rock: Hello, Goodbye. A little like, hello Costa Rica, goodbye England – you are watching the World Cup, aren’t you? – but not exactly. Here, I say both hello and goodbye to every person I meet, every experience, event, state, recognizing the fleeting nature of each earthly thing.
I’m not talking detachment, oh no (… I enjoy this glass incredibly…) but a willingness to remember that everything is disappearing in front of my eyes and, in my heart, to let go of what I hold most dear in this moment, knowing that no thing here is mine.
Okay but that hurts like hell sometimes, no? Here’s where Part Two comes in: a version of Tibetan Tonglen with Hawaiian spice sprinkled in. This I’ve studied with Chris Price of Gestalt Awareness Practice; really helpful when what I meet is difficult, tense, or painful. It goes like this:
Soo… What in your life could use some aloha? What are you having a hard time being with? Bring this practice to the place in you where you’re hurting.
Of course, what we are trained to do (a big thank you to ten thousand years of so called civilization) is exactly the opposite: Run. Find some sugar, tv, sex, retail therapy, __________ (fill in the blank), pronto! Or try to “let go” so you don’t have to deal.
Something else I learned with hospice: There’s no real letting go before letting in. So be a revolutionary. Try this other way: of awareness and awakening, of showing up with what is in the spirit of aloha. Hello, goodbye.
To know more, read Ajahn Chah and Pema Chödrön or come practice with us.
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