Our sangha will meet this coming Easter Sunday, at the usual time. One of you has asked if we can have an Easter egg hunt, which sadly does not seem feasible. Still, it seems an auspicious time to be like a child, especially since this week will also includ Passover, celebrating liberation from bondage. Practicing mindfulness is a way of practicing what the poet Rilke called the “solitude of childhood,” which is a way of throwing off the yoke and blinders of our adult conditioning.
It seems such a small thing, coming back to the sensation of the body and breath. But it really is the key to awakening to a greater life. This is worth repeating: In Pali, the language of the earliest Buddhist texts, “sati,” a word used for mindfulness literally means to remember the present moment. Remembering the present moment can be something very small, noticing the warmth of our hands around the coffee mug (or the lusciousness of a bite of dark chocolate, since Easter is coming). But remembering the present can also be profound, suddenly remembering that we are alive on the earth and under the sun, and that our being here at all is miraculous.
Our usual state is forgetfulness with pangs of longing for something we can’t name. A great teacher of mine once called it “nostalgia for being.” In our usual state, we long for the outer things: achievement, money, to lose five or ten pounds. We may long to be somewhere else, to have different and better conditions so that we can finally relax. But sometimes, right in the thick of the messiest conditions, we long just to be. For a moment or two, we realize that life really is fleeting. Jobs, homes, relationships, disappear. Deep inside, there is a longing to know how it feels to be here, not just be swept along passively.
Meditation is way of practicing being here, which is what the poet Rilke called the solitude of childhood. Here is a fragment of a letter he wrote to a young poet, urging him not to strive to become a busy, successful adult:
“And when you realize that [the adults] activities are shabby, that their vocations are petrified and no longer connected with life, why not then continue to look upon it all as a child would, as if you were looking at something unfamiliar, out of the depths of your own solitude, which is itself work and status and vocation? Why should you want to give up a child’s wise not-understanding in exchange for defensiveness and scorn….”
It can take a long time to trust that this wise not- understanding or being-like-a-child can be a way out of torment and conflict and all kinds of suffering. But it is. Coming back to the breath and the sensation of being in a body is a way of becoming free of the punishing repetition of our thinking and the complexes that come with the thinking. Jesus taught his followers to be like children. The Buddha based his enlightenment on a memory from childhood: sitting under a rose apple tree, open and at peace with the world around him. Jesus and Buddha were not telling us to regress. They were teaching us to surrender the barren known world for a new life. We can practice this one moment at a time.
“When it’s over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.” – Mary Oliver