The Dalai Lama, it is said, enjoys problems because the form and texture of our problems show us with unyielding clarity exactly where we are or, perhaps more accurately, who we are. I can't go that far. I have learnt slowly and painfully, with the same patterns repeating over and over. In fact, one of the most helpful things has been to look at our soap operas and see what we continue to create.
But Buddhism has, loosely (I am not a disciplined practitioner), underlined the open, empty peace of mindfulness. I have wended my way along a bumpy path, tripping over buried roots of old habits and emotions, but gradually the mists have cleared and I dwell more of the time in a sunlit calm place.
Masters taught me. Jill Bolte Taylor's book Stroke of Insight showed me that I have a space above and beyond my thoughts. That I am bigger than my neurons and that I can say “Shut up!” to my overbearing, critical left brain. Dr. Rick Hansen explained how to turn on my parasympathetic (calming) nervous system, not quite at will, but more easily. Sharon Salzberg pened my mind to the generosity of Buddhism and her personal survival story gave me courage (and quashed self-pity) in my lower moments.
The world has become a place of “we” not “I”. A place where I am awed by individual courage and decency – and these humbling acts are not great flashy gestures, but usually quiet grit and endurance, small people by small acts building an affirmation of humanity's possible greatness. I warm my hands at their goodness and weep with their efforts at grace. And last night, for the first time, I was able to say wholeheartedly, involuntarily, “Thank you, life, for giving me the opportunity to learn.”
PS. I have also learned that every time one thinks one has got somewhere in personal growth, life throws another curve ball. The plateau never lasts long. So be it!
Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist's Personal Journey by Jill Bolte Taylor.
Buddha's Brain: The Practical Neoroscience of Love, Happiness and Wisdom by Rick Hansen and Richard Mendius.
Lovingkindness: the Revolutionary Art of Happiness (Shambhala Classics) by Sharon Salzberg.
The Misleading Mind: How we Create Our Own Problems and How Buddhist Psychology Can Help Us Solve Them by Karuna Cayton.