The Heartbeats of the Present

The rain is here, and its being chased by its cousin, lightning.  The house I’m dog-sitting at has a deep backyard, flanked with forest, and the light’s flashes highlight the contours of trees and grounds in a way that is eerily beautiful.  But I digress.

I started writing this post this morning as I drove the 45 minutes to a mechanic.  “Life is hard,” I penned mentally, “It’s always hard but it is especially today.”  It was going to be a post about struggling to do my best, feeling as though my best is disappointing and “not good enough,” and trying to remember to massage my heart.  It was going to be about disappointment, fatigue, and surprises.  But now I find myself writing about rain because of two things that are deeper than the words signifying them: Thich Nhat Hanh and teaching.

I find that Thich Nhat Hanh is like a gentle brother, walking alongside me and prodding me sweetly to remember practices of compassion – for myself as well as for others.  He whispers in my ear when I say something poorly; he holds my hand when I’m nervous or scared or tired; he reminds me to stop, pause, and try to be present.  I have amazing loved ones who similarly remind me, who comfort me or offer me hugs when I ask, and who listen and offer advice.  But, Thay, is something like my own friendly ghost, at least this week.  And I think that, though reading him is somewhat a fluke (I had two books to choose from for my lunchtime reading), his presence is timely.  I need him as much as I need those physically and emotionally present folks, if only because I continually need to be reminded to be present.  Sister Annabel Leity, writing of Thich Nhat Hanh, tells us:

“You have every right to suffer, but you do not have the right not to practice when you suffer.”  If we do not practice mindful breathing and walking when we suffer, we shall drown in our suffering and it will not be converted into that compost on which the flowers of understanding can grow.”

So true, so true.

But as calming as Thich Nhat Hanh is, he wasn’t enough to get me out of my own head.  Hence: teaching.  Thank heavens for teaching.  As I drove there, I thought: “How wonderful it will be to actually get out of myself today.”  Suffering, perhaps, leads too easily to  self-absorption, something I tired of today.  But teaching – being present with some amazing, giving students today – uplifted my spirits in a way that so few things can.  (I can think of some others but will refrain.)  I stepped into the studio, chatted with my students, watched the corners of their lips curl when they enjoyed a personal moment and noticed how strongly present they were, and then saw them rest, so peacefully, in savasana.  It was freeing – this is not about me.  It was exactly what I needed.

I think it is compassion’s ability to liberate us that makes it so healthy.  And, if we heed Thich Nhat Hanh’s words, then it also drops us down into the present.  It is hard to linger in the past or the future when the present demands our attention and then offers such amazing gifts.  And, perhaps, this when Thich Nhat Hanh ceases to be a ghost but instead is manifested in the heartbeat of the person with whom we share this remarkable moment – the present.


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