April 3 , 2007

I have come to hate the drive to and from work. It's become a nightmare of bottled up traffic and frustrated motorists.  I routinely find myself thinking of going on a shooting rampage—and I'm one of those lefties who doesn't believe people should be allowed to own handguns. Because of people like me who, if I had a little less self-control or my brain chemistry was imbalanced, might go on shooting rampages.  

Then I had a wake up call last week, reminding me that I may still be living, but this world is at best a temporary home. The drive in was as horrid as it's been in the months before, but I took a deep breath that day. Several deep breaths. I let it go. I noticed the sunlight shining through the new leaves of the trees, an aqueous chartreuse, making an aura of crisp golden light around the older, thicker leaves. The patterns of life hold, no matter what happens or does not happen in our lives. The spring always returns. You can't hold onto the cold, churning darkness forever. 

As if to reinforce the lesson, on the radio that day NPR had a story on Thich Nhat Hahn, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk who has many followers in the West. I remembered going to see one of his lectures some years ago, and the charming way in which he conveyed his philosophy: staying in the moment, compassionate listening, mindfulness. All the things that have been missing from my commute.  

I'm not a Buddhist but I've adopted many of their tenets. I can't completely support any philosophy which abjures the body. We're given bodies, I think, for a reason, to learn from them—their failure as well as their strength. Our bodies are the only thing in this life that are ever truly ours. All the rest is ephemera. I believe in some greater spirit, but there is no incontrovertible proof that spirit exists, only faith. This world is all that we can truly know—while we yet live.  

So I remind myself every time the drive or anything else gets to be too much: "Sink your toes deep in the loamy earth and wiggle them. Stay in the moment, feeling the richness of life squeeze between those digits. Savor it while you can. Be mindful of our Mother and of yourself. Savor yourself while you can. Be good to yourself, so you can then make a better space in the world, so that you can be a compassionate listener to those around you who need help, so that they can be a compassionate listener to you when you need help. Remember your body is a creature of this world and no other. This is the first step in grounding yourself in the moment with your feet on the good, green earth."

Copyright © 2010 P.J. Thompson