The Most Important Thing

Death is certain.  The time of death is uncertain.  Knowing this, what is the most important thing?

~~Buddhist wisdom

I’ve thought about that question a lot lately.  My mom spent several days in the hospital recently, which means I’ve spent a lot of time at a hospital as well.   She is home now, sleeping soundly, and I write this from their house. Today was more doctors, more tests, more of walking the path that comes at this stage of the disease she is living with and dying from.  It is an interesting path and an interesting time.

While that is a personal thing, I also have been reflecting on how universal it is as well.  There has been recent tragedy in our country with the situation in Arizona, but there were also many people who risked their own lives to help others that day.   I talked to several folks this week who have lost friends or family members recently to some form of illness or calamity…deaths, fires, suicides, disease…lots of  broken glass,  broke and hungry,  broken hearts,  broken dreams, broken bones.  Yet nearly everyone I spoke with has already found some good that arose from the hardship.   I think of that question from Buddhism a lot in times like these.  But the truth is, it’s always times like these.  Mostly good, some pain, always something noble and beautiful to find in the ashes.  I was thinking that in all of life, pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.   It’s very much about what we deem “the most important thing.”

As usual, thinking about that led me to thinking about something else and then down the path of convoluted thoughts my mind goes.  And lucky you, Dear Reader, to stop by this blog and get sucked into that wacky mess, so here we go together 😉

My mother is very sick and someday, probably sooner rather than later,  she will die.  I am not  sick, but someday I too will die.  Now, while my personality and activity level are  geared more toward the likelihood of being eaten by a bear in some remote woods than towards getting cancer, the truth is that someday I will leave this body.  I feel very okay with that knowing in this moment.  I suppose if I was gasping for air in an ER I might feel differently about it.  But when thinking about it in the abstract, it feels very much okay in this moment.

So, following the convuluted thoughts of the mind, this led me to thinking about Ram Das and his wisdom.  He has often said,

Our journey is about being more deeply involved in life and yet less attached to it.

As usual, that thought led me to thinking about my attachments and aversions, about the places I want to be more deeply involved but less attached, to love more but cling less.  I watch my mother sleep, watch the sands of time pass through this particular hourglass, watch her breath rise and fall and know someday that will cease.  I have a deep desire to be deeply involved in this process and a deep desire to be less attached to it.  I have a deep desire to be very mindful of my own process in this time, to always be mindful that being self-conscious is not the same thing as attaining self-knowledge.

I find a practice of striving for self-knowledge is more fruitful when I look for the good in any experience or situation, when I look for the most important things in complex situations.  What I often find is that the most important things are usually simple… relationships, love, gratitude, curiosity and a sense of humor.  This does not mean denying there is pain, but it does mean acknowledging great gifts often come  from painful experiences.  When I find the good in a situation, I find it often comes from good people, which leads me to believe the Divine and the Universe are good as well.  Because All is One, that means I am good as well, and all shall be well.  Granted, sometimes that process takes a minute.  But in knowing all shall be well, I can relax and again rest into the most important things.  Thomas Merton said that the more we try to avoid suffering, the more we suffer, and I think he was right. A Chinese proverb says,

Tension is who you think you should be.  Relaxation is who you are.

So, in this time of watching, waiting, living and being with all that is, I think the most important thing is to relax, take some deep breaths, try to let go of the tension that comes from painful experiences and just be. This led me to thinking about Chapter 4 of Philippians, one of my favorite verses in the Bible…

Rejoice  always…Let your gentleness be evident to all. God is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Peace.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things…And the God of peace will be with you.

So tonight, I’m sitting with knowing that just being here, present to this moment,  is the most important thing.   I’m sitting with remembering that this very moment is the best teacher, and she is always with us.  I’m sitting with knowing that the most important thing is to just be here now, to focus on what is lovely and joyful.  The most important thing is to love well, to live fully and openly, peacefully and with thanksgiving.

So tonight, may you find whatever is noble, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable and praiseworthy.  In that and in all things, may you find a peace which passes all understanding, and may you find rest and joy in the most important things.

Night moon 😉


Merton & the Path

This morning I am thinking about Thomas Merton.

For the uninitiated,  Thomas Merton was one of the great mystics of our time.  A Trappist monk and  a prolific writer, in his later years he connected with Buddhist teachers and declared them brothers in contemplation.   His autobiography, Seven Storey Mountain,  is a road map, his own experience with starting off as an atheist and becoming a monk.   Merton spent 13 years of silent meditation at the Abbey of Gethsemani, praying for God’s will.  He came out and wrote this:

My God, I have no idea where I am going.  I do not see the road ahead of me.   I cannot know for certain where it will end.  Nor do i really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.  But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please You.  And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing.  I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.  And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it at the time.  Therefore I will trust you always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.  I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone….

That prayer is found in his book Thoughts in Solitude.

Today I am contemplating Merton.  I have been thinking a lot about him and this path of late…watching myself and others on it, sometimes feeling my own sense of inadequacy, elation, giggles or frustration, my own attachment to outcomes, my own humanness coming in many disguises.

It’s funny– I don’t think most of us have an emotion that has a shelf life of more than about 20 minutes.  Even in the depths of grief or loss, of joy or elation, you cannot hold onto that for more than a few hours…things are always changing.  You can choose to stay angry or as a victim, and that can become habitual as well.  But mostly emotions  ebb and flow, like waves coming and going, rising and falling on the shores of our souls.

Our thoughts and emotional states come and go like clouds in the sky.  And when we recognize this and let them float on by, without getting caught in the stickiness of trying to hold onto a cloud, it all seems to flow pretty well…  Yet when we are experiencing one we label as “negative, ” aka “uncomfortable,” we want that one to end.  I have had long periods of meditation where there is a sense of One, of elation, of the bliss of knowing there is no separation.   It is a practice not to cling to any of it, to let them all come and go, like clouds moving across the blue sky.

This morning I felt my frustration rise over what now seems fairly trivial, at least my part of it.  But it rose nonetheless.  I felt my chest tighten, my breath grow more shallow,  felt myself try to get back to my practice of openness…to breathe it away…ventilate it, give it some space and air, let it pass gently.  If that same person had called to tell me we just won the lotto, those same places in me would have expanded instead of contracted.   Most spiritual traditions teach that the more we hold onto anything, the more it holds onto us.   So this morning, I am letting go, letting my heart space expand and fill with the Light and air that is always available to me.

Separation is illusion.  Divine peace dwell in and around all of us, and we can all trust the process of life.  But isn’t it funny that we only want to trust the things we label as “good?”  So much of our experience is based in the stories we tell ourselves about life and our experiences.   Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional, and I think a lot of the suffering in the world is the result of the stories we tell ourselves about the pain, about clinging, grasping and being afraid to let go.

So this morning, I think of Merton.  Because if Thomas Merton– mystic, teacher, writer and fellow traveler on the path– doesn’t know God’s will after 13 years of silent meditation in a monastery, then I probably won’t figure it out today either.  But I’ll keep on the path, and keep asking, keep showing up, keep contemplating.   On that note, I’m going to meditate, letting myself become one of the clouds in this ever moving sky.

I’m curious– what do you do to stay on the path and let it all pass through?

Have a great day.  🙂

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