You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn how to surf.
In Mindfulness Based Programs, students (and teachers) learn very quickly that taking the class does not “make your stressors go away”, life keeps happening, even during the course of the eight week program. A student may have enrolled to learn how to cope better with anxiety, cancer, migraine headaches, divorce or other great losses. Then during the class their mother falls ill, their child has a crisis, or they themselves are diagnosed with something they never expected. Although we clearly can’t “make the stress go away”, we find we can develop a greater capacity to respond in more thoughtful and effective ways. We see choices we may not have seen before, in part because the part of the brain shown to strengthen from meditation is the part that sees more clearly and makes better decisions.
Many Eastern teachings use the expression “the 10,000 joys and the 10,000 sorrows to capture the fundamental truth about life; it contains both –sometimes at the same time. This has been very alive and poignant for me this summer. I have the good fortune to have one of the best friends in the world (I know you feel that way about your friends too). I have known her for 40 years and we have truly shared life’s 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows. She is a recently retired public school teacher who gave her whole heart to every child and to her school, and in fact to every one she knows.. Walking through the city she lives in is like being with a movie star as people of all ages rush up to her –arms outspread calling “Mrs. T!!” And then they report the details of their lives as well as inquiring after hers. I am also blessed to be God Mother to her three amazing grown children. This summer we were looking forward to several momentous occasions, her youngest son graduating from UC Berkeley in Math, and her daughter giving birth to her first grand child. Three days before the graduation Mrs. T was diagnosed with an unknown type of cancer found in a lymph node. I went to her first appointment with her, and her husband (when we checked in for the appointment, the receptionist reported to Mrs. T about what all of her children-former students –were doing. We then we traveled up to Berkeley to attend the graduation where we rejoiced and cried, laughed, and played and feasted- every moment seeming more precious in the light of her diagnosis and the uncertainty we faced.
Upon our return, she underwent a series of tests that clarified the diagnosis. The day of her first meeting with the oncologist, her grandson was born. (Healthy wonderful boy!) Just before chemo began she spent the weekend holding the new baby and seeing her daughter and son in law as enraptured new parents. (I am sure this did wonders for her immune system!)
Everyday, I find myself experiencing the bitter sweetness of life. I cry and get angry, I meditate and I talk with friends. I make simple foods for my friend as she begins chemo,
and I gaze endlessly at photos of the new baby in our lives . I definitely feel like we are all surfing the waves, and as always, my friend is leading the way in showing us how to love and laugh in the face that all is unknown in our lives. What is it exactly that is unknown? Everything! It is so helpful to have a daily meditation practice, not because it makes the pain go away, but it gives us a bigger container in which we may hold it. May you practice well for the benefit of all beings.