April 15, 2010

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

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.

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