Happy New Year, dear friends. It is with a sense of joy and anticipation of surprise that I greet you and the new year on this first day of 2006.
The desire to write and connect with you has been gurgling inside me. This afternoon, walking through the Parc La Fontaine in Montréal I was reflecting on the joys of those moments when I am graced with the ability to live without resistance. I was reminded of a quote I love by Chuang Tsu, and though it was written some 2000 years ago, it is no less apropos today: “Mysteriously, wonderfully, I bid farewell to what goes, I greet what comes; for what comes cannot be denied, what goes cannot be detained.”
Seems kind of obvious in a way, but not so easy to practice when in the throes of avoiding certain things or trying to make other certain things happen. Those that have known me over the years know that I am someone with a somewhat busy mind. Now a busy mind can be a curse or a blessing, all depending on whether one is caught in the grip of obsessive thinking or hitching a ride on the wings of curiosity and exploration. But even in the midst of the worst obsessive loops, one of the blessings of a busy mind in a person that has caught the freedom bug is that the busy mind can be gently harnessed and redirected to the business of exploration and discovery of the wonders of what lies within and without itself.
Walking around the park, alone, watching the ice skaters, stopping to dance a few steps in the snow under the speakers broadcasting jazz tunes to the skaters, I was delighted to notice a subtle transformation that has occurred in spite of myself and the busy-ness of my at-times obsessive mind. The best word for this transformation is gift, for certainly it is not something I ever could have made happen. But happen it has.
I was reminded of other holidays in this same lovely city, among the same lovely people, holidays in which my insides were at war, resisting what was—either by forcing something to happen the way I thought it should or resisting what was happening; holidays in which I made my happiness dependent on what others said or didn’t say, did or didn’t do; holidays in which I thought “if only ___ were walking with me I’d be happy…” or some such related thought.
But today, happy as a clam, I walked the park alone in one sense, but not at all alone more vitally: I was kept company by the loveliest of thoughts, sights, and reflections, not resisting but simply noticing what transpired inside and around me.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not always like this. At all. But, it feels important to mark this in some way and writing is my way. The gift I’ve been given is to notice when I am not like this and at those times, simply watch, simply notice, simply inquire into the truth of what I am thinking and believing. I can tell you that if you do—simply notice, pay attention and inquire—that freedom is bound to come along sooner or later.
Another gift I am experiencing is the freedom of not believing “I need to figure this out,” a long-time favorite old belief of mine. Of course when the things happening around me weren’t to my liking and the results weren’t in my control there were always plenty of things to figure out and, by extension then, fix. But there is another way and it is much more fun: this other way involves doing what comes to me to do, usually something that gives me joy, feels expansive inside, or something that I feel curious about. Even at times when I am confused and uncertain in the bigger sense, I can just go ahead and do something and watch what goes on in the mind and body. Along the way clues are sure to come along, even if in the grand scheme the situation is unclear. And, I’ve noticed, if I keep checking in and paying attention and following the expansive way, there are plenty of small joy-filled delights in the midst of otherwise ambivalent situations.
(I am not nay-saying all forms of figuring out. Certainly the problem-solving mind can yield wonderful results when put to use in creative kinds of ways. But, when used in the throes of obsessive thinking and attachment to wanting things in a certain way, well, then figuring it out becomes, in my experience, one of the worst kinds of torture chambers).
There is another quote I am taking with me into the new year, this one by the ancient poet and mystic, Jelaluddin Rumi: “Awe is the salve that will heal our eyes.”
This past year for me has been filled with awe. In the midst of grief and uncertainty, in a year that felt like a constant lesson in letting go of things I always thought I wanted, I have been granted the gift of amazing sights in amazing places among amazing people, many of them strangers. When I embarked upon my 50-day journey last September, I really didn’t know what to expect. Sure, I had a plane ticket and a loose plan for the first few weeks, but after that it was a big question mark and I had no idea, really, what lay in store. And now seems no different going into 2006: lots of question marks, some of which feel quite frightening at times. But when I give myself the gift of looking for surprises, of being open to seeing through awe-filled eyes, well, in those moments even the most common of passersby in the park can feel like a sister or brother or lover or friend. And I can see myself approaching life like that bundled up three-year-old I observed joyfully learning to skate by pushing a big orange rubber cone across the ice, his mother patiently skating along behind him.
So, Happy New Year, my friends. I’d love to hear from you, especially about what has made you feel awe today.
Love and blessings,