March 25, 2016

6 Lessons from a Buddhist Teacher for When Things Fall Apart. {In Response to Belgium}

grief face

“Broken lines broken strings
Broken threads broken springs
Broken idols broken heads
People sleeping in broken beds
Ain’t no use jiving
Ain’t no use joking
Everything is broken.”
~ Bob Dylan


My husband left for the airport at four o’clock this morning for a one day business trip.

“Should be just a quick turn around,” he’d said, when he told me the other day that he’d be going.

But that other day was the day before the bombings at the Belgium airport. That other day was a day in which I wouldn’t have had the thought that I’m having now.

Am I going to be like a Belgian wife who kissed her husband goodbye that morning—never to see him again?

I felt a chill.

Into my heart came so many feelings—grief, confusion, fear—and then I felt a kind of dull, poisonous rage.

I tried to push it all down.

Recently I read an article which said that the aim of terrorism is not necessarily to kill people, so much as it is to manipulate the minds and reactions of the people who are left behind.

The people who are feeling what I was feeling and those who are feeling loss.

In his dharma talk at the Upaya Institute, Allan Senauke—Vice-Abbott of the Berkeley Zen Center in Northern California—began with words that addressed my thoughts exactly:

“…losses come afresh and strike us anew, it’s always the case. There is so much suffering and chaos in the world. There is so much brokenness…We look at a world that is broken by global warming, by drought, by widespread poverty, war and displacement.”

We look at the Belgium airport incident, and we are afraid when our husbands (or wives) must take an airplane for a one day business trip.

We are all affected by these losses—by these things falling apart, by this brokenness—both in our inner worlds and in our outer worlds.

I read articles, I try to learn as much as I can about terrorism, and I pay attention to the candidates in our current elections. And still things fall apart—and still it hurts.

We are confused, frustrated and angry—and we want to know why, who to blame and how to stop the falling apart from happening.

Worst of all, down deep inside, we are afraid.

In listening to Senauke, I learned several ways to respond to such situations—several ways to control my mind and to think new thoughts that are comforting to me.

As my husband left the house in the pre-dawn hours, and I waited for his text that he had landed safely, I thought these new thoughts and found them helpful:

1. “All compounded things are subject to vanish. ~ Buddha—which, as Senauke says, means “Everything falls apart and there is no such thing as permanence. There are only causes and conditions that are coming together and falling apart.” There is therefore no room for judgment or blame, which leads nowhere. Cultivate the recognition of reality.

2. Be like the bamboo. A bamboo is a stalk with no center. In fact, the center is emptiness—or space—and yet, it grows quickly, with entire forests sprouting from the runner of one bamboo. While it is incredibly strong, it is also incredibly flexible. Senauke says, “Bamboo bends in the wind one way and then the other and then comes back to center.” Cultivate emptiness.

3. There are many outcomes to all events. Getting caught in one outcome can cause us to miss what is in front of us. Sit with the whole catastrophe—see it, let it go, and do it over again. See it. Let it go, and do it over again. Cultivate flexibility.

4. Train your mind. Whether people hurt you and others—or help you and others—train your mind to see only their perfection. Senauke quotes a Buddhist teacher as saying, “If you train your mind to help in this way, you will help many, a hundred, a thousand, countless people.” Cultivate seeing only perfection.

5. Bear witness. Some of us are called to bear witness and sometimes that “witnessing is very hard to endure.” It’s painful and makes us ache. Remember too that bearing witness also means to “take forth,” and that can be done by sharing with others so that we are not holding it alone. Cultivate bearing witness.

6. Embrace impermanence: Don’t just believe in the concept of impermanence, but embrace it. Senauke tells the story of a forest meditation master:

One day some people came to the master and asked: “How can you be so happy in a world of such impermanence, when you cannot protect your loved ones from harm or illness or death?”

And the master held up a glass and said: “Someone gave me this glass. I really like this glass it holds my water admirably, and it glistens in the sunlight. I touch it, and it rings. One day the wind may blow it off the shelf or my elbow will knock it off the table. I know this glass is already broken, so I enjoy it incredibly.”


Author: Carmelene Siani

Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

Photo: Flickr/Dee Ashley

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