This afternoon when I came back to work from lunch, I started to notice my neck getting tight. I had a good night’s sleep last night, had eaten healthy food, etc. Luckily for me, but not for him, I found out that my colleague two doors down was “with a headache” as well. I can always tell when there is something in the air when he gets one too.
My plan was to stay quiet today since I had no meetings and there wasn’t a lot being expected of me. I had on some quiet music and opened the window to allow some of the odd Spring-like weather to flood my office. At lunch, I had thrown to books into my bag so that if I had time, I found find a reading for my blog.
In the one book, I quickly found the section I wanted to read but put it down. I picked up the other book and just let it open to any page. I fumbled to the beginning of the chapter and found myself utterly delighted in the reading before me.
I had purchased this book back in 2002 while in Queens, NY. I remember that time in my life. It was a good and strong time, where it seemed all things were possible. It was New Year’s Day and we went to Barnes & Noble just to get out of the apartment. There could be no better time for me, for it was winter and I was in a place that I loved, longing to be back home to the East Coast.
Today, it was sweet to connect to those memories and I appreciated them for just what they were –memories. I turned to the book and read this short chapter. I remember feeling a tug when I read it the first time. I was in love and it was so different from this experience described in the book and yet, I had a similar experience years before, when I was a child.
I knew that I was grieving a bit for a love like this; one that was so perfect that it was better to have let it touch your heart lightly and go than to have let it manifest fully. And maybe part of the perfection was in the exquisite now-ness because there was no other place to be. I hope Parallax Press forgives me being indulgent with the text as I am going to be as this is one of the most beautiful passages I’ve ever read.
“. . . In every temple, there is a special seat for the abbot, and I had to sit there, because the abbot was away for a few days and had asked me to serve in his stead. I invited her to sit in front of me, but she sat off to the side. Member of the community never sit in front of the abbot. It is just the form. To see each other’s faces, we had to turn our heads.
Her behavior as a nun was perfect – the way she moved, the way she looked, the way she spoke. She was quiet. She never said anything unless spoke to. She just looked down in front of her. I was shy, too. I never dared look at her for more than a second or two, and then I lowered my eyes again. After a few minutes, I said good-bye and went to my room. I didn’t know what had happened, but I knew my peace had been disturbed. I tried writing a poem, but I couldn’t compose even one line! So I began to read the poetry of others, hoping that would calm me down.
I read several poems by Nguyen Binh. He was longing for his mother and sister, and I felt the same way. When you become a monk at a young age, you miss your family. . . I remember that I had a few tears in my eyes when I chanted this classical Chinese:
Night is here.
The wind and the rain announce the news
That spring is coming.
Still I sleep alone, my dreams not yet realized.
Flower petals falling
Seem to understand my dreams and aspirations.
They touch the ground of spring in perfect silence.
. . . We had dinner together, and afterwards, I read her some of my poetry. Then I went to my room and read poetry along. Nothing had changed from the day before, but inside I understood. I knew that I loved her. I only wanted to be with her – to sit near her and contemplate her.”
We tend to think of grief as something we experience when we have lost something. But sometimes we grieve for what has eluded us. I don’t think that Thay really eluded love because he was genuine in his ability to admit that it was there.
What I find endearing about this chapter is that he does not have condemnation for being a young monk who is loving another person. He doesn’t flounder in what could never be. But rather, he allows himself to be moved by this love, to accept the bits of discomfort, longing, and sweetness that it brings for him. There is such a great acceptance of the moments. I think his story personifies what happens when mindfulness is transformed from a practice to a way of being for us. There is an unconditioned love and whole-heartedness when we can simply be with what is.
At the beginning of this chapter, Thich Nhat Hanh suggests that we use this as a meditation, to sit with the recalled experience of our first love. He equates it to the koan, “What was your face before your parents were born?” and that as we look deeply we find that our first love is “still present, always here, continuing to shape your life.”
My gift to you is to suggest that you use something similar for your meditation. . . perhaps allowing yourself to sit and be present to the relationship that you have lost – it might be a relationship to your younger self or a relationship that has “ended” because of death and loss. So much grief theory suggests that we “let go” of the relationship we have with the deceased.
I think what Thay suggests is what we are finally starting to realize with theories such as social constructivist views of grief – that relationship is always present and informing your life. The love is not gone nor is the relationship even though you cannot physically put your arms around the person whom you miss. That love is within the depths of you and accessible with every breath you take.
- Following the Breath – Thich Nhat Hanh (namasteconsultinginc.com)
- Thich Nhat Hanh 2012 Mini Calendar (7″ x 7″) e-book (nyndqbba.typepad.com)
- Thich Nhat Hanh: In Engaged Buddhism, Peace Begins with You (talesfromthelou.wordpress.com)
- Your Practice (namasteconsultinginc.com)
- Who is Thich Nhat Hanh? (sluggerotoole.com)
- “Welcome Everything, Push Away Nothing” (namasteconsultinginc.com)
- Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices e-book (eapaeyya.typepad.com)
- Happiness and the words of Thich Nhat Hanh (ministryofhappiness.wordpress.com)