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Lions Roar : September 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN SepteMBer 2009 49 husband just lost his job and their insurance.” “...my husband’s mother, ruby, who has alzheimer’s disease.” at some point the room becomes quiet again, and we sit a while longer. i say a blessing for all the people we’ve mentioned, and for all people suffering everywhere, and i ring the bell. usu- ally, we all just sit there and look at each other for a while. of- ten, i find myself feeling speechless, stunned both by the array of pains that body and mind are heir to, and humbled by our communal courage to carry on in spite of challenges in our lives and our willingness to share them with each other. What more compelling evidence could there be of the inevitable difficulties of life? every week, as we listen to each other and hear about sicknesses of young people and old people, about disappoint- ments and losses at all ages, we directly confirm that it is impossible to be a human being connected by affection to others and not be vulnerable to pains beyond our own. My sense is that hearing the implicit message that most of us carry on despite of our difficulties builds strength and courage. i’m sure that’s true for me, and i think it is for others as well. at the end of each Wednesday i feel remarkably freed of any grievances or ill will i might have had before class. i feel kinder and more connected, through sharing sorrow and joy with the people in the room and, past them, with people everywhere. life is difficult, the buddha said, for everyone. suffering, he taught, is the demand that experience be different from what it is. of course we do what we can to address pain. sometimes ill- nesses are cured. sometimes relationships are mended. some- times losses are recouped. sometimes, though, nothing can be done. the buddha’s teaching of liberation was that peace of mind is possible, no matter what the circumstances. i recall the first time i heard the story of the young mother rushing with her dead son in her arms to plead with the buddha, who was known to have miraculous powers to restore life. i knew at once, as you will too if you are new to this story, that when the buddha responded, “i will do it if you bring me a mustard seed from a household in which no one has ever died,” the boy would not live. the mother, disconsolate, returned from her quest knowing that everyone dies and that the heart can survive grief. to me, the instruction “bring me a mustard seed” means: “look around you. you are supported by everyone else in the world.” i understand the end of the legend, the mother bowing to the buddha and becoming his disciple, as her miraculous healing. i feel myself supported by the awareness that everyone strug- gles. at spirit rock on Wednesday mornings, when i hear some- one whose voice i don’t recognize say, “My aunt Claire, who has parkinson’s disease...” i remember my friend Claire, who doesn’t have parkinson’s disease but has something else, and phyllis, who does have parkinson’s disease, and my aunt Miriam who, until her recent death, was the only person left in my family older than i am. a woman’s voice saying, “i’m thinking of my son Jacob on his second tour of duty in iraq,” reminds me of my cousin, whose son Jonathan is back in iraq for his third tour, and i think about everyone with sons and daughters in wars all over the world. When i say, in the final dedication of merit at the end of the class, “May all beings be peaceful and happy and come to the end of suffering,” i mean it with all my heart. on one particular Wednesday morning, when the list of spe- cial circumstances had been especially diverse and the kinship connections unusually wide-ranging, someone said, “everything happens to everybody.” i thought, at the time, that the remark was a response to the vast numbers of complex situations, sor- rows, and joys that happen to people. What feels more true to me now is that when i am paying enough attention i realize that everything is happening to everyone collectively, and i feel ap- preciation and compassion for us all. ♦