Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Power Of Now

Sometime in the recent past a stranger emailed me and recommended that I read some of the books of Eckhart Tolle. This past weekend I was at Target and I saw one of his books on sale. It's called "The Power of Now". The title alone explains to me why this stranger recommended the book to me. Many times in my thoughts I have written about mindfulness and living in the Now. I have only read a few pages but I think I will enjoy this book. Early in the book the author speaks of enlightenment. He quotes the Buddha as saying "Enlightenment is the absence of suffering". A great deal of Buddhist practice is designed to eliminate suffering in our lives. I am speaking of the suffering we bring on ourselves through the way we think and react to what happens to us. Some suffering I believe is beyond our control and in some situations we truly are victims. Much suffering, however, is created within our own minds. After reading this chapter I tried to imagine a life without suffering. If we eliminated suffering from our lives, what would be left? Last week at the concert I attended, Tom Petty was speaking to the audience and he said, "Wouldn't it be great if everything was alright just for a moment"? I think he was talking about a moment without suffering. What would people talk about if they didn't have suffering in their lives? It's hard to imagine riding the elevators at work and finding them full of people talking about how great their lives were! Another curious statement of the Buddha is "All of life is suffering". If true, the absence or elimination of suffering would give us great capacity for joy. In the Christian tradition, certainly in the Catholic Christian tradition, this "suffering" that we experience in life is believed to be the effect of the "original sin" committed when mankind, as represented by Adam and Eve, ate the fruit from the one tree forbidden by God. Christians believe that act was the beginning of all human suffering. I have rarely truly suffered. I have experienced intense physical pain. My heart has been broken a few times. On a rare occasion I am down in the dumps. I guess to some extent the demands and challenges of daily living are a form of suffering. I do sometimes feel like I am suffering in the mornings when the alarm clock goes off. So, if I could eliminate physical pain and emotional heartache along with work, would I end up with the enlightenment to be found in the absence of suffering? The closest I believe I have ever come to "Enlightenment" in my life are rare moments of pure joy that I have experienced without any warning. I did not see them coming but I was in the right space when they arrived. It's difficult to describe such moments. They were full of peacefulness. Everything, if only for a moment, seemed to make sense. My vision was no longer blurred and I felt a sense of clarity. In addition, and pardon the cliche, I felt one with the universe. I've had these experiences within a religious context, during moments of enjoyment such as listening to music, in the midst of life's big events, in the silence of my own back yard or in the solitude of my room. I guess for a moment I was relieved of suffering and joy filled the vacuum. In life as we know it, such moments seem to be a gift. Perhaps the final Enlightenment, what some call Heaven, will be a kind of living in the eternal Now of such moments.

I went to visit my father last night. Every time I visit him I cry on the way home. It's not just my Dad. It's the whole nursing home scene. My Dad is not suffering in the sense that he's in a great deal of pain. He seems to be relatively free of physical pain. His suffering is more mental because of the deterioration of his mind and the reality of being physically helpless. He was asleep when I got there but a visit from a caretender awakened him. We talked a little but he kept apologizing for having nothing to tell me. "Everyday is the same here. I don't think I am ever going to get out of here", he quietly said with a hint of resignation. He did ask about my family so I gave him an update on all of them. On the way home I thought about my father in law. He passed away a little over four years ago. We didn't know it then but at the time of his death, Chloe was in the womb. The last week of his life I helped nurse him with other family members. During a quiet moment between the two of us, I gently told that it was alright to let go. I assured him that my mother in law would be taken care of and that he didn't need to worry about anything. I wonder if I should have such a conversation with my father. Should I tell him it is alright to let go? He is dealing with this time of his life as best he can but I know he is tired in every sense of the word. As I was leaving the nursing home some of the patients looked at me like the sick must have looked at Jesus. One woman wanted me to touch her so I did. Another gave me a handful of bread crusts and asked me to feed her dog. I told her I would take care of it. It's all very sad to me and when I leave there I am emotionally drained. I am very grateful for the overworked and underpaid caretenders who look after my father and all the other elderly patients.

I've come to realize that just about everything is none of my business.
-Brother Cassian of Gethsemani

1 comment:

Eric Putkonen said...

I really enjoyed the Power of Now...if you finish and found you liked it; read New Earth (a more recent book by Eckhart Tolle).

The mind is what creates all the problems and suffering...it is a figment of our imagination. No mind, no suffering. When the mind is still, the joy and peace of our being (who/what we really are) shines through.

Best wishes.