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'No Mud, No Lotus': An opportunity

It was to our evolutionary benefit that our species was programmed to move toward pleasure and away from pain. It kept us alive, and even now it seems normal that we continue to operate this way. 

But let’s take another look: Is this really the best, most fulfilling strategy for living? Is our response of trying to avoid pain at any costs, through distraction, denial and sometimes addiction, an effective way to live?

In a recent class teaching mindfulness, one participant said she had come because she was having some challenges and the distractions weren’t working. I could relate! At the first sign of trouble, our long-held habit of avoiding pain turns us to the enormous banquet of distractions our society has created. This may work for a while, but at what sacrifice?

Can you remember an experience when an adversity became a gift, when something you could no longer avoid turned into a deeper experience of life, perhaps a new way of connecting with yourself, with another or with the world? When I had cancer treatment four years ago, I found myself part of a tribe of people who were quite ill and were bravely doing what they could to stay alive.

Until that point I had always been well, and I held a subtle identification of a healthy person. I had an aversion to hanging out with those who were sick and possibly dying: that was my evolutionary avoidance response kicking in. But when I joined these ranks and let go to the reality that I, like everyone, am subject to old age, sickness and death, there was a whole new group of people that I felt affinity, kindness and love for, people I had previously discounted and avoided. A filter of judgment released and a place in my heart opened, a place I hadn’t even realized was closed to love.

We all know that difficulties and pain are part of life. And if we want to live a whole life, fulfilled and open to love in all its dimensions, we need to learn how to choose welcoming this part of life too. It is often through the doorway of difficulty that we find the sweetest moments of life.

My teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, reminds us that happiness and suffering are not separate: it’s because you are thirsty that the water tastes so sweet. In trying to ignore or avoid one part of life, we lose all of it. Our ability to be intimate with the way things are in each moment will bring the happiness and love we all seek.

If you meditate or if you are curious about what mindfulness meditation can do for you, you are invited to a non-residential weekend of practice exploring the benefits of mindfulness at the Kagyu Sukha Choling Tibetan Center in Ashland on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 and 2. The theme of this weekend's non-residential retreat on mindfulness meditation is “No Mud, No Lotus.” The beautiful lotus blossom only grows in the mud. Just as this lovely flower uses compost to produce its blossom, we need to learn to use the compost of our experiences to expand our ability to love.

The theme also addresses how we are in a process of conscious evolution every time we make a choice not to turn away from what is happening in the present moment, even if it’s not what we prefer.

Held on the auspicious weekend of Hallowe’en and Day of the Dead, we will sit and walk in the rest of silence, listen to teachings and honor our ancestors. Together we will create a refuge of safety to face inevitable challenges with equanimity, openness and the simple joy of being fully alive in each moment.

All are welcome; no experience necessary. For more information, contact: www.peacefulrefugesangha.org, or contact Beth via email at Beth.Murphy@oit.edu. Pre-registration is required and scholarships are available.

Barbara Casey was ordained a teacher by Thich Nhat Hanh five years ago and offers classes and consultations in mindfulness meditation. Send 600- to 700-word articles on all aspects of inner peace to Sally McKirgan at innerpeaceforyou@live.com.