Today is April 26, 2017 -
Just as our dreams sometimes deliver solutions to problems we are facing, the universe sometimes delivers answers to questions we are grappling with. Although I know that this is a matter of our being receptive at a given moment, rather than the universe singling us out, it always feels like we’ve received a customized cosmic message.
Yesterday I was angry. Anger seems to be part of the national zeitgeist these days. I had the litany of Things I’m Angry About playing in the background, while in the foreground I was gnashing my teeth over a specific harm done to a dear friend of mine. At the same time I was trying to find the positivity to help this friend cope with a serious and frightening illness. As I drove to her house, I was listening to the worship service from Marsh Chapel at BU on NPR. As I turned on to her street, struggling with how to turn off my negative emotions so that I could be present for her in a meaningful way, the following song came on: “Don’t get down on your knees to pray until you have forgiven everyone.” Overwrought as I was, I just had to laugh. And although laughter can’t make anger just go away, it’s a good way to reset the loop playing in your head.
Obviously it is hard to do good when what we are feeling is fundamentally bad. Although there is undoubtedly such a thing as righteous anger, once most of us really get going, the righteousness quickly falls away and the anger takes on a life of its own. And anger can so easily become hatred—from which nothing good can come. But how do we let go of the anger? The song makes it sound simple: just forgive and then you’ll be able to pray. But for most of us, it takes a fair amount of prayer to be able to forgive.
This conundrum is precisely the one posed by the practice of mindfulness meditation. The goal of mindfulness is to be present in the moment. But the nature of life is such that being present in the moment is often the last thing we want to do. Why would we want to be present at moments of pain, stress, or suffering? The answer is that the practice of mindfulness teaches you to both be in the moment and to free yourself of the negativity of the moment. As the guru of mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn, says “Walden Pond is only a breath away”. Whatever the situation you find yourself in, through the practice of mindfulness, you can learn to control your reaction to the situation.
As I laughed about my expectation that I can bend the universe to my will while not being willing to unbend myself, I realized that I have been nowhere near Walden Pond lately. Although I hadn’t realized it, I haven’t been mindful in months. Mindfulness is like a muscle: if you don’t use it, it weakens. I have recommitted to meditation and to the other spiritual practices that keep me in balance. I know that meditation is not the way for everyone. But I encourage you to find something to laugh about and to reset your spiritual compass in order to navigate the challenging times we find ourselves living in.