At any given moment, we can transform our relationship to life. How? Pay attention. Pay really, really, really close attention. I know. We’ve all heard this a million times, but really, try it! It’s transformative! I glimpsed this last week, choosing to try to be mindful inside and outside while I was on a retreat in the high desert in Joshua Tree, California. Since a theme of the retreat I was on is diversity and finding a true voice for what is usually suppressed and oppressed, a lot of pain was getting expressed. I decided to be very quiet and watch and listen, allowing everything to arise and unfold without rushing in to label what was happening or insert my opinion or reaction. What would Jane Austen or Tolstoy make of this? What would any great-hearted, spacious-minded person do in this situation? Let alone Buddha or Jesus. I decided to be voluntarily passive and attend, attendez, really practicing the patient waiting that comes with real attention. As Trungpa once said (I’m paraphrasing), patience is really being. I practised being with what was happening (naturally, I don’t mean all the time, just when I wasn’t distracted by the usual self-centered preoccupations with dinner, etc.) I discovered that reality has a way of unfolding all by itself, without any coaching from the stands. A reality that is far richer and more subtle than can be reduced to words can enter and bring light when we are prepared to receive it. Even painful events are transformed by the alchemy of really seeing.
Early every morning last week, I prepared for the tumultuous day ahead by taking a walk alone in the high desert. Below is a passage from a journal entry by Thoreau, sent by a friend, that perfectly describes the way life can unfold and enter when we are willing to receive:
When I detect a beauty in any of the recesses of nature,
I am reminded by the serene and retired spirit in which it requires to be contemplated, of the inexpressible privacy of life – how silent and unambitious it is.The beauty there is in mosses will have to be considered from the holiest, quietest nook.
My truest, serenest moments are too still for emotion; they have woolen feet.
In all our lives we live under the hill, and if we are not gone we live there still.
To be calm, to be serene!
There is the calmness of the lake when there is not a breath of wind;
there is the calmness of a stagnant ditch. So is it with us.
Sometimes we are clarified and calmed healthily, as we never were before in our lives, not by an opiate, but by some unconscious obedience to the all-just laws,
so that we become like a still lake of purest crystal
and without an effort our depths are revealed to ourselves.
I awoke into a music which no one by me heard.
Whom shall I thank for it? I feel my Maker blessing me.
To the sane man the world is a musical instrument.
The very touch affords an exquisite pleasure.
~ Henry David Thoreau, taken from a journal entry, June 22,1851.