[I said to Suzuki Roshi,] “I could listen to you for a thousand years and still not get it. Could you just please put it in a nutshell? Can you reduce Buddhism to one phrase?”…He was not a man you could pin down, and he didn’t like to give his students something definite to cling to. He had often said not to have “some idea” of what Buddhism was. But Suzuki did answer. He looked at me and said, “Everything changes.”
For the past 24-hours, here in Pittsburgh we have been bathed in the light of the sun through clear blue skies. I feel the sun in the fluids of my body and, all of a sudden, my dreams seem possible. When you live in a place that offers shades of gray (and not in the exciting way) for most days of the year, the light of the sun brings profound shifts in conciousness. This shift is welcomed because it is warm, light and inspiring. As much as this change in season from cold and dark to warm and light is welcomed, the truth is that at the end of last summer I welcomed the cooler air. The abundance of heat had become stifling and I desired a shift towards cooler breezes and an internal retreat. Therefore, it is neither cool or warm that is desired in and of itself, but rather the energetic shifts that come with those changes.
It is curious to me that I can see how these shifts in temperature and light and energies related to the seasons are important to my well-being, creativity and mind-body, but I hold on so tightly to so many things. I worry about losing things. I am terrified to lose people, either through death or natural shifts in relationships of all kinds. My dog is very old. She is such a sweet and loving soul and sometimes I feel my heart breaking just a little, tiny bit, even while she is still alive and well because I know this can’t go on forever. My clients are terrified by global warming, their mortality, their mental and physical health concerns. I feel my own suffering and that of others so deeply. All of these sufferings and fears are rooted in my inability to embody the wisdom presented by Suzuki Roshi, “everything changes”. When things are “good”, I am already suffering because I know that they will change and I wish I could hold onto that “good”. When things are “bad”, I forget that they won’t walways be that way and I identify with that darkness as if it will go on forever.
A few days ago, I was standing outside of a building and a woman appeared who was searching for a medical office, but it seemed like she was at the wrong address. I had my phone with me and offered to use Google maps to search for the address and see where it was in relationship to where we were and as I searched, she told me a little bit about her story. You see, she was going to have her second open heart surgery in the next week and she needed to see a dentist before the surgery. Somehow, she used to have dental insurance, but her health plan was switched without her knowing it and she no longer had insurance. She was rushing around and trying to get the pre-surgical care she needed and she was upset and scared. On top of her concerns about her health and having to recover from having her “chest cut open again”, she didn’t know how she was going to pay for the dentist and now she couldn’t even find the dentist that had agreed to see her without insurance. This is not healing. This woman needed to be cared for, nourished and soothed. I wanted to sit with her in a calm and beautiful place and help her visualize a healing surgery followed by an uncomplicated recovery. I wanted to sit with her around lush greenery and nature so that the color of the heart chakra, green, was surrounding her and she could breathe it in. I didn’t want her to worry about the dentist or how she would pay for it or the pain. It’s so easy for us to become completely absorbed by our own story and our own suffering that we forget that everyone is also experiencing these cycles of suffering. Everyone. No matter how much money you have, resources, education, or fancy shoes that match your suits……..it simply doesn’t prevent change.
My students know that I have been working with a gatha (meditative poem) by Thich Nhat Hanh for the past year and I believe it is the perfect way to work with this energy of suffering around change or to release attachment to change that is perceived as beneficial. This poem brings a sense of equanimity.
Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment. ~Thich Nhat Hanh
In his book of guided meditations, The Blooming of a Lotus (1993), Thich Nhat Hanh provides this same gatha with breathing instructions for each part of the poem:
- Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
- Breathing in, I dwell in the present moment.
Breathing out, I know this is a wonderful moment.
Breathing in: CALM
Breathing out: SMILE
Breathing in: PRESENT MOMENT
Breathing out: WONDERFUL MOMENT
I hope you will find this simple poem and breathing practice as helpful as I do in bringing peace and equanimity into this moment regardless of our circumstances. It is in this state of equanimity that we can also be compassionate to all other living beings as they navigate their changes.
Written by Sharon Fennimore, a yoga and meditation instructor and women’s health coach based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Please join my online community MAKE ROOM and learn how to meditate for clarity and peace. I’d so very much be delighted to have you join us!