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The Path to Mindfulness

Last Saturday night we celebrated our Christmas party at the center. During the latter part of the evening, I received an SMS from my husband, informing me that our beloved kitten Caramel had been killed by the neighbor’s dogs. The news came like a thunderbolt, and I had to come to grips with the reality of my hosting my guests and attending to the tragic event that had just befallen my house and family. One of my guests asked for some sage sticks which happened to be at home so I found that excuse to run there. Fortunately, my house is located right behind the center and in a few minutes, I was there, while the reality of Caramel’s fresh demise slowly crystalized in my living room.

This event, now one week old, generated a host of emotions within me, contributing to a week of grieving, reflection, suffering, lots of releasing and finally gratitude. A year ago I would have easily fallen into anger, perhaps hate and resentment. The guards said that they tried to stop the owners of the dogs, saying that the cat belonged to me, and that after the carnage, Caramel was tossed in the garbage. Just the thought of this violent death provoked a wave a nausea, but somehow I was able to shift to a higher vibration, more loving thought without too much difficulty. Each time the sadness would arise, I would just be with it mindfully, acknowledging it without judgement, not pushing it away and not getting attached to it either.

Mindfulness practice is not about numbing ourselves to pain or the outside world. On the contrary, it is being one with the emotion, whether pain, fear or joy. This is the secret to fully living in the present, in our bodies, acknowledging the paradox of frailty and power that makes us both unique and human.

I would like to share with you a poem I read at our Serene Weekend retreat last month, by the master of mindfulness himself, the venerable Thich Nhat Han.

Do not say that I'll depart tomorrow because even today I still arrive. Look deeply: I arrive in every second to be a bud on a spring branch, to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile, learning to sing in my new nest, to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower, to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone. I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry, in order to fear and to hope. The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river, and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time to eat the mayfly. I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond, and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence, feeds itself on the frog. I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones, my legs as thin as bamboo sticks, and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda. I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat, who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate, and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving. I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands, and I am the man who has to pay his "debt of blood" to, my people, dying slowly in a forced labor camp.

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life. My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans. Please call me by my true names, so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once, so I can see that my joy and pain are one. Please call me by my true names, so I can wake up, and so the door of my heart can be left open, the door of compassion.

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