Monday, November 29

Comfort and Joy

"You are the sky. Everything else - it's just the weather." Pema Chodron

"The Holidays", specifically Thanksgiving and Christmas, are filled with emotional landmines. I will remember challenges met and missed at this time, made more difficult by the unreasonable expectations of warm, fuzzy familyness. These memories are like loose threads in an old sweater, better left alone but irresistible. A memory thread that I always pull at Christmas time is my mother's illness and death from cancer. She died on December 21, 1999, just before the dawn of the new millennium.

I cope with this memory differently each year. Last year, I was a social butterfly - filling time with social events and my own, small family entertainments. The anniversary of my mother's death passed me by in a whirl of cooking, babysitting, baking, travelling and shopping. When I finally slowed down and realized that this dreaded date came and went unnoticed, I felt a twinge of guilt and a lot of relief that I did not have to "dwell" or reflect on my mother's life and how much I miss her. I now realize that instead of relieving my pain and loss, bypassing and avoiding the memory of her passing only adds other negative emotions to the mix. This year is different.

In the book, "The Places That Scare You" written by the Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, she explains that "..,flexibility and openness bring strength and that running from groundlessness weakens us and brings pain." She goes on to explain that being open requires us to find out about those tactics that cloak our fears. I avoid fear by locking onto externals such as compulsive overeating or excessive shopping. I avoid fear by immersing myself in solving the problems of "the world" and putting off dealing with sadness, loss, anxiety. I avoid fear by seeking only joyful, euphoric experiences and avoid the truth that life is hard and sometimes hurtful. There is relief in avoiding feeling sad about my mother's death. But, the relief is like walking alone in a dark alley without getting mugged or raped. I still have to walk through this alley again, and maybe next time, I'll suffer.

Chodron explains that one must examine each habitual tactic of avoidance, know it without attaching a goodness or badness to it, and by noticing what we think, feel and do, especially when fearful, we can allow the healing grace of openness to transform our crippling fears into courageous mindfulness. Maybe the next time I walk through the dark alley, I'll notice that there is light, there is a beginning and an end to it, and that I am connected to all creatures on this pathway. My irrational fears are still with me, but I am walking in the present, and noticing each moment as I experience it. I realize that noticing the present moment does not prevent unpleasant, uncomfortable things from happening. Being mindful of the now does allow me to be more creative, open and flexible in responding to others and finding the grace to survive.

So, on December 21, I will celebrate my mother's life and mourn her passing. No more running away. I will see her on the pathway and embrace her.

May all beings know comfort and joy!