Of Struggle, Love, Acceptance, and Communication.
by Moira Levant July 2017
“The source of suffering is a false belief in permanence and the existence of separate selves.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh, Old Path White Clouds: The Life Story of the Buddha
I like this quote by Thich Nhat Hanh, but even the Buddhists say that suffering is a part of life. Even from the time before existence, birth, there is struggle. Struggle is at its core as cells from the male and female of any species struggle to unit and create a new life. How we choose to suffer either makes for more suffering, or less. The truth is that suffering to some degree will always exist.
There is a story I read once about a new butterfly emerging from its cocoon. Someone helped it by opening the cocoon a bit. This ended up deforming the butterfly who then could not fly for its wings would not open. It needed the struggle of emerging from the cocoon to push the blood into its wings, so the wings would be able to open. The struggle is a part of the journey. In this way it is good, not bad.
My brother was almost 11 years older than me. He used to tease me when I was young. I hated being teased and cried often, but there is the silver lining. When I went to school, and the kids called me “shrimp” or “shorty”, it didn’t faze me. I was used to it and was like, “yeah, and?” By teasing me my brother had given me an outer armor that made the kids teasing ineffective to me. I was in a way immune to it.
I am glad I had my family. We were not perfect, there were fights and disagreements usually about unimportant things. Mom struggled to have a job when Dad lost his job. She became an accountant, a CPA and worked for an investment agency. She didn’t really like the work, but we needed housing and food, and so she worked. When I asked her about dad not working, why she allowed that, she simply said, “He kept me for 20 years, it’s my turn.” This is an interesting view, isn’t it. She didn’t see my father’s lack of employment as a diminishment of his worth to her. Let me say that again in a different way. My mother valued my father not because of his job, but because of who he was to her. Would you have a similar view if your significant other lost their job, or couldn’t work?
In truth my father did work, just not for money. He kept house and cooked while mom worked. He also paid the bills and kept track of the money. He helped to keep the family intact, and all of that is important and worth respect. In his spare time he wrote poetry which was always his first love, and his grounding. He was happy in his forced retirement. His self worth was not in the job, but in doing any job he had to do well. He used to say to me that multitasking doesn’t work. Keep your mind on one task and do that one well, then move on. That is how he did things. There is wisdom in those words.
We live in such a whirlwind society and if you aren’t busy doing 3 things at once, you are a no good slacker. Scientists have discovered that down time is needed for learning to happen, did you know that? Wasting time is helping your brain learn and needed to be healthy. That’s worth considering for ourselves and our loved ones.
It seems to me that in my adulthood every time I have become happy something has happened to take that happiness away, a change has happened whether it was having to leave a place of residence for another, or a workplace for another. Rarely have I been in charge of the change. Change is a part of life, its built in, being alive means changing in some way over time. When we resist the change we suffer more than if we accept it, though to me that feels like some kind of cop out.
I had quite a few students at a music store one school year. Life was good, I was happy. As summer came the students diminished in numbers. I talked to the owner who insisted I pay rent for the studio space for all the students, though they were not all taking. I ended up having to leave the store for I was paying for the privilege to teach there.
A friend of mine told me about another store and encouraged me to try teaching there. I didn’t want to and so did not. I did have students that I taught, some in their homes, some at the Lutheran Church. But changes happened and my student population declined once again. I had to try the other store, and so interviewed, was hired, and slowly became happier than I had ever been teaching in, or not in, a store. My students multiplied, my ideas were heard, I had group classes that were like Irish music sessions, my creativity was encouraged, life was good, really good!
And then things changed. The owner of the store had a life changing event, a good event, called expecting twins. She choose her family over the store and I support that decision. She sold the store. The new owners and I did not mesh well, and my happiness declined. I had to move on, and I did. I have been hired by another music store and we shall see for that part of the story has yet to unfold.
I was once walking on a road in Kentucky at Gethsemani Abby. On one side was a small field full of wild flowers. On the other a larger field with wildflowers. A small butterfly fluttered in the small field going from one flower to another. They are pollinators I believe. The butterfly didn’t seem unhappy to be doing this work, rather it seemed very happy to me. A breeze came up and pushed the butterfly across the road. It struggled against the wind, but when deposited in the bigger field continued it’s dance from flower to flower. The butterfly though disconnected from one field, found connection in the field it was left in. Such is often times life for us and our friends. I wonder if it and the flowers could communicate? One scientist discovered that there were chemical exchanges at the root level of trees and so there was some kind of communication going on.
What I stress in my teaching is communication and connection rather than notes and rhythms. I do want my students to play in tune and have good rhythm, but when communication and connection are emphasized, intonation and rhythm follow. It is what I learned in Ireland when I was there playing with the Irish in the pubs, for the fun of playing. The music session was not a performance, but a conversation between musicians not unlike people when they are talking to each other. When it happens for real with music, when we can be in harmony with the people around us and communicate with them, magic happens. I have had it happen at times with students. In Ireland it happened with more frequency for me. One friend who saw me in the pub in Ireland, we met there in fact, described it like this.
“I have watched you performing: When you soften and your face is in harmony with – what? The world? Whatever! It was what caught me first in Dublin: When you TURNED into music. The flow … Watching your face is the greatest thing when you DO the music. You transform. You turn into music.” Ursula Schwinn
When I played in Ireland I felt so connected, and the Irish musicians seemed to accept me more than any others had before, or since. I could sit down, have a conversation, play some music, have another conversation and be me, and be happy. But even that did not last. people change, and people die. The sessions are likely very different now as I haven’t been there since 2003. That time is passed now.
What I wish the world would do is stop a little and just let things be. Psalm 46, Be Still and know I am God, or from the Tao, do nothing and all is done. Plants grow with very little help, animals also, and we humans. Joy is brought from being true to your self and who you are, along with your own acceptance of yourself as you are. John “Halcyon” Styn puts it this way, “Be present, act with integrity, align with love.” If you can not love yourself, how can you love anyone else? I believe that is a Thich Nhat Hanh quote. Here is another,
“If you want your loved ones to be happy, you must learn to understand their sufferings and their aspirations. When you understand, you will know how to relieve their sufferings and how to help them fulfill their aspirations. That is true love. If you only want your loved ones to follow your own ideas and you remain ignorant of their needs, it is not truly love. It is only a desire to possess another and attempt to fulfill your own needs, which cannot be fulfilled in that way.”
― Thich Nhat Hanh, Old Path White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha
Do we really know one another? Do we know our likes and dislikes, our dreams, our fears? Do we accept people as they are, right now I mean, in this moment? When someone is upset do we pay attention, or are we ambivalent saying “no drama queens here”? Do we really communicate well? Do we listen to each other, listen beyond the words, but to inflection, body language, eyes? Man is so good at deceit I think he fools himself sometimes and thinks what is untrue is true. Is that true?
How can we be a community of any kind that isn’t merely superficial if we don’t know one another and accept who we are right now? Have we seen each other angry? If yes, have we made amends and reconciliation? That is also a part of the struggle in learning to get along, and to grow, to become who we are in this world, not to be of the world, but for the world, and to learn how to lessen suffering through love for ourselves, and for everyone else in the world, the good, the bad and the ugly. That to me is the light of Christ.
God gave me a beautiful family which nurtured me long into my adulthood. Then one by one that family died away and now I live alone. The world is a formidable place. There is much to be angry about, and so much that is beyond our control. My struggle now is to discover how to emerge on my own from the cocoon my family created, so I can learn to fly.