Serenity Now: Peace as a Process rather than a Steady State.

Via on Apr 15, 2010

Buddha1

Why meditate? To escape, or to work with the chaos of the present moment?

“The more I struggle to be calm, the more frustrated I become. Only recently have I been forced to admit that life is all about being disturbed. Life is a series of interruptions—life is messy.”

Unlike the church that I grew up in, there are no written rules regarding children at my local Satsang. We are a community that varies in ages and practices.

Within this community there is one young mother that challenges me. Every week she interrupts the meditation practice. I can feel the energy shift each time she walks in with her three-year daughter and her newborn son. Her little girl has long brown tangled hair and her nose is in constant need of a tissue.  Usually her daughter dances her way to the back of the room clutching a wicker basket that contains crayons and books. She is determined to show everyone her current art project.

The baby makes loud sucking noises that seem to go on forever as he tries to re-attach his mouth to his mother’s breast. He screams when he isn’t successful. He is either nursing or demanding to nurse.

Even though I am a mother, I experience frustration each time this woman sits down beside me. I struggle to recognize that she has made the effort to organize herself, her children and actually make it to the temple.

I have worked very hard at cultivating an atmosphere at home and within myself that is peaceful and pleasant to be around, but yelling at my daughters for draping their dirty laundry on top of my Shiva statue is closer to reality.

The more I struggle to be calm, the more frustrated I become. Only recently have I been forced to admit that life is all about being disturbed. Life is a series of interruptions—life is messy.

Several summers ago in an attempt to quell some of my internal fire I signed up for a Buddhist psychotherapy course. A component of the course work was to attend various temples throughout Washington State.

One Thai temple in particular had a strong impact on me. This temple was not silent, peaceful or pleasant to be in. No one spoke in hushed tones. It was chaotic and messy, complete with unruly children, crying babies, and even a shabby looking black cat that would weave in and out of the clusters of people that were sitting in the lotus position.

I watched as the cat circled around several of the sitters trying to decide which one had a comfortable lap. He paused in front of my classmate and settled in, but only briefly. He continued to rotate laps during the dharma teaching.

My focus shifted back and forth between the cat to all the fathers and mothers taking turns at attempting to quiet boisterous children. Their actions drowned out the teacher.

Directly following the teaching and meditation several women served a buffet-style lunch. All the dishes were placed on the floor on large sheets in the main temple. Everyone ate together. The meal and community time were enjoyable, but the commotion around the teaching and meditation were not.

I wasn’t the only one who felt unsettled. On the way home one of the students asked the professor why cats were allowed to roam around in the temple.

“They live there.  Why shouldn’t they be in the temple?” He replied. “A lot can be learned from sharing time, food, family and all the messiness that comes with engaging life.” He went on to explain that many westerners only embraced meditation and ignored the rest. “The cultural aspect is very important,” he said nodding his head. “There is more to Buddhism then meditation and peace.”

I still wanted the peace.

I left with a sense of disappointment. I was looking to have something in me filled. I held to the idea that the temple experience should have been peaceful, which in-turn would have magically made me peaceful. As I write this I am reminded of the Seinfeld episode where George’s father is yelling, “Serenity Now.”

I was being challenged to look at why I mediate. Was it to escape? Or was it to assist me in being present?

Most weeks I still tense up when the woman with the two children walks through the heavy wooden doors into the temple. I know her daughter will continue to flash me a toothless grin as she drags her stained flat pillow across the floor and places it next to my lint free, oversized, royal blue cushion.

I am working on opening my heart and embracing this young mother that continually returns each week. Her efforts to organize herself, her children and gather with community are truly a statement of commitment. I recognize her as my teacher even though I experience resistance.

Whenever I get really frustrated by the chaos and the stress of day-to-day living, I try to remember my experience at the Thai temple. I try to re-call how peaceful the monks looked as they sat in a line up against a long wall waiting for their bowls to be filled with rice while all around them there was cooking, talking, laughing, praying, chanting, and cats looking for a comfortable spot to relax.

I wish it were as simple as prowling around looking for a comfortable lap to crawl into. But it’s not. It is about engaging, being present and making room for the messy and finding a way to contain all the dichotomies and complexities that make up the human condition.

This is an excerpt from a collection of essays.

Mahita Devi: Thoughtful Yogini. Reflective Writer. Blogger. I was first introduced to Yoga at the Kripalu Yoga Center in 1998. I continue to study Yogic philosophy. I will always be a student. My other love is Creative Writing. My manuscript is a hybrid—a blending of memoir, creative non-fiction and poetry. My spiritual practice is similar to my writing, a blending of all my studies. Goddess Devotee. Kali’s Daughter. Bhakti. Working on seeing the sacred in all things.

About Patricia Busbee

Thoughtful Yogini. Reflective Writer. Editor. Blogger. Artist. I was first introduced to Yoga at the Kripalu Yoga Center in 1998. I continue to study Yogic philosophy. I will always be a student. My other love is creative writing. I recently completed my MFA. My manuscript is a hybrid—a blending of memoir, creative non-fiction and poetry. My spiritual practice is similar to my writing, a blending of all my studies. Goddess Devotee. Kali’s Daughter. Bhakti. Working on seeing the sacred in all things.

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14 Responses to “Serenity Now: Peace as a Process rather than a Steady State.”

  1. Welcome Mahita ! So glad to see you here on Elephant where you belong.

    Love this story. That Seinfeld episode is one of my very favorites. Here are some YouTube reminders: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5513mXmQbw4 and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PlZvY_LXJco&fe

    Bob Weisenberg

  2. [...] One of my favorite writers, Mahita Devi, makes her debut on Elephant Journal with “Serenity Now“. [...]

  3. Elize says:

    fantastic post, thanks so much… lovely imagery!

  4. Rebecca says:

    Thank you very much for this post. It is so important to remember that we learn so much more from the messy than from the calm. We learn how to find our calm amidst the messy, and that is the real challenge. I long to spend some time on a meditation retreat, but a part of me is glad it has never happened. I get to find my peace in life when I can and be reminded that we all struggle with it when I cannot.

  5. Mahita Devi says:

    Yes! Very true. That is exactly how I experience it. Thank you. Being immersed in life truly is the practice.

  6. iamronen says:

    When I want to sleep I try go be at home, quietly, in my darkened bedroom, lying on my bed, covered by a blanket with a pillow underneath my head. These are conditions that support my sleep.

    When I want to practice (in my case Yoga practices) I try to create a quiet and peaceful environment with little disturbance (I bring enough of that with me & inside me to fuel a practice) so that I can focus on my practices. These practices are a playground for learning and practicing observation… the same observation I can take out into my engaged/disturbed life.

    Does your ability to observe and evolve through interacting with others make all those others teachers? This feels to me like a "spiritually-correct" attitude that I too have used as an escape… but no more. Why do we need an excuse to rationalize/spiritualize inner turmoil? Isn't that a dishonesty towards ourselves?

    I have been blessed with a (very) few teachers in my life – I feel I owe it to myseld and to them to recognize and be clear about their qualities and presence in my life: http://www.iamronen.com/2009/08/student-teacher/ http://www.iamronen.com/2009/09/how-to-recognize-

    • Mahita Devi says:

      I went to bed last night pondering “spiritual correctness.” I would enjoy discussing this more. I had not thought about it from that perspective, though you bring up an interesting point.

      This particular encounter with the woman took place over a period of time. Most weeks I had the same reaction. So, I started to examine why I was reacting with irritation.

      I hope that I did not come across as someone that can reduce every encounter into a teacher-student relationship. For me, it’s not that simple.

      On the other hand, how I interact with the external world is very telling of what is going on inside of me.

      Your last line, “ I have been blessed with a (very) few teachers in my life – I feel I owe it to myself and to them to recognize and be clear about their qualities and presence in my life,” is interesting to me as my experience has been very different. I feel that I have had a lot of teachers over the years.

      This thought pushes me to consider what is a true teacher?

      I agree with Bob. You have a very interesting WordPress site. Thank you for taking the time to comment.

      • iamronen says:

        This discussion would probably be very different if we were physically together … so I am hesitant about pursuing it too far in this format.

        As for the woman and the settings in your story … I wonder if there is alignment between your motivations & expectations of the place and it's inherent purpose? is it a place of meditation or communion in your mind? is it s place of meditation or communion in her mind? is it a place of meditation or communiion in your community?

        Some junctions in life call for action (Karma) and others call for Knowledge (Jnana). God knows I have confused the two in my life, especially when the action called for is not socially acceptable (for example, asking the woman to refrain from bringing her household into a place of meditation)…

        I too have asked myself what is a true teacher. Besided quoting my teachers teacher (see links above) I have come to believe that it is a journey of discovery rather then a name or definition. What I now perceive to be a true teacher has changed from what I perceived it to be 10 or 20 years ago. What I now perceive to be a true teacher is very much affected by the "true teachers" I have already experienced.

        For some people a true Yoga teacher is a slim, bendy, blue-eyed, tight-clothes wearing, blond, aerobics teacher who has 200 hours of Yoga training. Though it's been hard for me to come to terms with this – I have to admit this is great – it has to be! If these people were to meet what I consider to be a true Yoga teacher – the teachings may be lost upon them. The slim & bendy blond is something they can relate to – she plays a very important role (one that I, for one, have failed to fill) in the overall scheme of things Yoga.

        Thank you very much for taking the time to visit my website.

        • Mahita Devi says:

          Thank you for your in-depth response. The questions that you raised opened up an entire new train of thought.
          Personally, I continue to struggle with the slim, bendy, blue-eyed blond, 200 hours yoga teacher.

          I read your article about student-teacher relationships. It was very helpful.

          I am left thinking about spiritual correctness, Karma and Jana.
          .

  7. Hi, iamronen.

    Enjoyed reading your comment above, clicked on your blog link and have spent the last hour browsing through all the very interesting stuff on your WordPress site. I urge everyone els to do the same.

    Bob Weisenberg

  8. SEC says:

    Life is ever changing and often in chaos but in those moments of turmoil is where we gain our greatest wisdom. Recognizing when we are in the midst of a life's lesson allows us to receive the most knowledge. I greatly enjoyed your post!

  9. Mahita Devi says:

    Thank you very much for taking the time to comment. Glad you enjoyed the post.

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