For a while, I handed Peace Is Every Step and (simultaneously) bibles out to random people and friends. I am unsure what people have made of me to this point in my life; such a contradiction of terms. It takes a sturdy person to befriend me. The point is, I felt strongly connected to both books, I have studied both closely, and beyond studying, I have kind of clung to each of them a little stronger or lesser so over the years.
Today, I sat on the runway in Seattle for 59 minutes and 14 seconds before the fog lifted enough to take off. Then I sat through another 4 hours aflight. Further, I could not dial into any of the meetings my boss asked me to listen in on (who knew you could listen in on meetings while suspended at 30,000 feet, but you can). The wifi was again, dead, and so I was left alone with my thoughts, and Plants vs. Zombies + a few Netflix downloads. These are the times when I go to Peace Is Every Step.
In Peace Is Every Step, on page 41, in the chapter entitled Hope as an Obstacle, I have the first sentence underlined: Hope is important, because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. Suffice it to say this book follows a similar theme about being in the present moment. And in this chapter, the emphasis of having hope and still being in the present moment. Because, to hope at all, as a verb, is to exist in some other space and time, not in the present.
“When I think deeply about the nature of hope, I see something tragic. Since we cling to our hope in the future, we do not focus our energies and capabilities on the present moment. We use hope to believe something better will happen in the future, that we will arrive at peace, or the Kingdom of God. Hope becomes a kind of obstacle.
If you can refrain from hoping, you can bring yourself entirely into the present moment and discover the joy that is already here. Enlightenment, peace, and joy will not be granted by someone else. The well is within us, and if we dig deeply in the present moment, the water will spring forth.
We must go back to the present moment in order to be really alive. When we practice conscious breathing, we practice going back to the present moment where everything is happening.”
I jotted something in the margin further down the page near the bottom. You can have hope and be in the present moment. Not to yearn is the key. Judging by the pen, it was written in 2002 – the year I graduated from college, age 30. I went to grad school 8 years later and did a masters in business and, whoa, a hamster could have done that degree. Alternatively, the religious studies degree challenged every part of my critical thinking. It made me wonder, more than anything else, and I haven’t wondered as often since. Thay (Thich has a nickname, which means teacher, and I don’t know how to pronounce it, but it’s probably “Tay” if I had to guess) has a chapter about losing the cookie of childhood – which is essentially losing your sense of wonder because everything else has crept in to spoil your most innocent enjoyment.
And this is where I stood for a long time. I felt the cookie of childhood contained an element of hope. Like a kernel that kept you going. Except hope can become an obstacle if you are not living in the present, if it is a carrot out before you, distracting you from the many-pesterings of the present. The present will demand its own attention. It is only when we decide to face it that we can tackle it properly.
At times, hope seemed like all I had.
I hoped for better health. I hoped I had the strength to go through another day, to make it home, to rest. I did not hope I kept my job, I just did my job the best I could and knew if I had it taken from me, it was not because of me.
I did not apply this same theory when I hoped for other extraneous things like better relationships. Relationships are better when everyone is doing their part; hope is not necessary because the rubber is meeting with the road. I don’t know why I lived in suspension for so many years hoping and hoping for changes to my life when hope was not a factor. It was an obstacle.
Now think of it for a moment, where is hope an obstacle to you, and where is it an inspiration?
Thich Nhat Hanh is no stranger to pain and suffering. That’s why, to me, he has credibility. He has not lived a life of luxury. He hasn’t been living in a little box, unaware of the world’s happenings. He has purposely engaged in non-violent peace efforts in scary points in time.
Lion’s Roar posts a lot of great Buddhist articles, and I like them because they are straightforward, and doable. These things can be put into regular life right away. Anyway, he knew about suffering because he lived in Vietnam when it was under colonial French rule, and during a war between the French and the Vietnamese. When Thich Nhat Hanh Met A French Soldier is a great essay, and I know you will go read it, because you have forced yourself to read all the way down the page this far, so you’re ready to go over the waterfall and finish off your cookies and milk with this fine article.
I still see hope as a big part of every day, but I do not hope for the future as long as I used to. It is a practice as much as anything else to reappoint yourself as the holder of your own happiness, which is right here, right now. Practicing takes a lot of repeated attempts and that is why people meditate upon the simplest things even half a century into their meditation practices – it is a practice that you do all the time knowing you are not going to reach perfection. It is not in our nature.
Away from the philosophy is the reality. The change of pen shows I wrote the following in August, 2010:
My family is dysfunctional
Each of them cause me great pain.
I must learn how to forgive and love them
Despite this mess,
Despite my continuous resistance.
I need to live on in peace.
This is the only way.
Living categorically is also something I do not believe in anymore. I enjoy the gray in life, not the black and whiteness. I do not think there is an only way anymore. My family still causes me great pain, and I still do not know how to both forgive and love them yet. My continuously hard head continues to provide resistance to change, too.
In the very back of the book, in yet another pen, undated, I wrote down 9 walking meditations. I was big into walking meditations for a while, and now and then, I will pause where I am and do one. Thich would remind us to use something to bring us to consciousness – like a church bell, or some periodic sound at work – that when we hear it, we pause for a moment and breathe in and out, mindful of our own breathing, returning to ourselves.
My favorite of his walking mediations is this one, and I’ll close with it.
This wonderful sound brings me back to my true self.