It has been a challenging week. Whether you and your loved ones experienced disruption from storms, or Covid or simply the slings and arrows of the human experience, we are regularly reminded that there is suffering. At the same time, we are aware that this suffering doesn’t touch everyone equally. We may be in the same storm, but we aren’t all in the same boat. Privilege, wealth and relationships might find us fortified and better able to withstand what is headed our way. What to do with that? Well, there’s guilt. But guilt rarely inspires us to act. Instead, we can ask “What would love have me do today?” and live in that way. Kornfield declares,
“If you feel guilty, if you feel ashamed somehow that you’re safe when others aren’t, that you have privilege when others don’t, that’s not the answer. The truth is that whatever birth you’ve taken in this life as a human being you’ve been given a particular assignment and if you have privilege that is your assignment to use it to treasure it to value it, to respect it, and then to use it in your way to make life beautiful for yourself and others.”
Many years ago, I attended a retreat taught by Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay). Over several days of mindful practice, we set aside many of our stories and draw attention to our experience. But we also create new stories, once again, stories of “How things are” or “How things should be.” We make new plans. There is a settling but there is also a call for action, a call for change. We might even become self-righteous.
On the final day, Thay offered a Q&A session. One participant took the microphone and explained how he was a senior executive at an energy company. He was tired of contributing to climate change and income inequality. It was time to quit his job and do something good for the world. The problem, he told Thay, was that he wasn’t sure what to do next. Should he start a non-profit? Should he become a teacher? Should he give away his wealth? Thay’s gentle smile flattened, his brow furrowed. “Don’t you dare!” he exclaimed. “Do not quit your job. Your job is to be a Buddhist energy company executive. We have lots of teachers and we certainly need more, but you can not give up the gifts that will allow you to build an energy company that acknowledges the suffering it creates but also seeks to end it.”
As part of this week’s MLUC Meditation Group I, we listened to the end of Jack’s talk, Suffering is Not the End of the Story. It is filled with stories and teachings that open the heart to the reality of our world. The practice of meditation and mindfulness is to cultivate the ability to choose, letting go of the outcome but relying of the beauty of the seeds we plant, what we bring to the table.
We closed with a beautiful poem, “The Fact That There’s a Snake Tunneling Through My Grass Doesn’t Make the Parting of the Blades Any Less Beautiful” by Tom C. Hunley. It includes the observation, “I’ve felt sorrow in the heart of beauty and beauty inside sorrow. Beauty and sorrow have rubbed together like two sticks, blazed up, and burned me.” Listen to it below,