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Five Things

  1. I’m grateful for a newfound mindfulness. I tend to make little rules and expectations for myself like “no eating after 7 PM” or “finish everything on today’s task list”. I start having a nagging sense of dissatisfaction when I break the rules, the rules I set for myself. When I get dissatisfied, I become discouraged and tend to fall even shorter of my expectations. Recently, I’ve become more aware of this self-inflicted cycle. Self-forgiving awareness has allowed me to notice the dissatisfaction, let it wash over me, and see it dissipate in the light of my conscious awareness.
  2. I’m grateful to be feeling healthy again.
  3. The weather is bright and sunny. It might as well be spring. I feel a little silly wearing my sweater.
  4. I am thankful that I’ve found renewed motivation in my job. I hate feeling like I’m slacking off, and yet I still do it when a task is so big or ill-defined that I don’t know where to start. Really, I should thank Thich Nhat Hanh. He said “Smile, breathe, and go slowly.” I’ve been trying to practice this at work, and I’m much more productive (despite going slowly).
  5. I am grateful for the class that I was able to attend today. I am realizing that I need to brush up on some math, but I enjoy this kind of challenge.

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The Beauty of Suffering

I just listened to a wonderful interview of Thich Nhat Hanh, a spiritual teacher for people of many faiths around the world. This audio program also includes an interview with a policewoman who uses mindfulness to find compassion for the people she meets while on duty, and another interview with a former Baptist minister who finds hope for healing the world through self transformation. I highly recommend listening to the entire podcast.

I would like to touch on just one aspect of this interview: how mindfulness brings us compassion. It seems to be a human impulse to escape from the distasteful things of life. Our religions often reflect this impulse. We dream of a far off heaven where all troubles cease and we live in comfort away from the tragedies and horrors of mortality. We long for cleanliness and purity. We long to be more than human.

There is a competing impulse in religion which seeks to explain why we are here, to give this existence meaning. If God loves us, why did He send us to this awful place? Religion offers many explanations to this question, but Thich Nhat Hanh gave an explanation which made me think. He said that suffering is necessary for us to develop understanding and compassion. This part wasn’t new to me. Adam and Eve were sent into this world to learn to discern between good and evil. (Genesis 2:9, 17) Jesus condescended to become mortal so that he could know how to succor his people. (Alma 7:10—12) So even Jesus needed to come here in order to learn mercy, according to Mormonism.

Where Thich Nhat Hanh went from there was new to me. He said that the kingdom of God is a place of compassion, therefore suffering is necessary. He wouldn’t want his children to be in a place without suffering, because they could not learn to be understanding. He compared the impulse to eradicate all suffering to trying to grow a lotus flower on a marble floor—it can’t be done. One needs mud to grow a lotus flower.

This can be seen within a Christian framework by imagining this life as the dirt blooming in the eternities. But for me, coming from another perspective, it said something different. His statement said to me that the kingdom of God is here where we suffer. This is the place of suffering and therefore compassion and understanding. Here is the place of love which springs up in the wake of misery and suffering.

If I spend my time fantasizing about a better place, I am not being mindful of my current situation. The suffering of my neighbor doesn’t soften my heart and steel my resolve like it could because I imagine that they are bound for a better place. “Their suffering will end when their life is over,” I might say. “My suffering—and theirs—will be but a short moment.” By taking my eyes off of life, I increase suffering. I must be mindful of my brothers and sisters. (Genesis 4:9) Suffering is like the knock on the door inviting us to open our hearts to each other.

I don’t want to escape this place where love can thrive. If our destiny is to live in a place where we do not suffer (Doesn’t God suffer because of our sins? Isn’t heaven therefore a place of suffering?), I hope that we are continually reminded of our own suffering with a bright recollection (Alma 11:43) so that will never forget compassion.

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