Weekend in Nirvana

Why wait until you die to go to Heaven? It just might be all around you right now.  Many people claim to have gone to places of wholeness, love, and safety, where there is no fear, no separation from the rest of the universe, no birth, no death and no sense of time. Some claim they go frequently. They come back happier and more at peace.

Too good to be true?  Let’s hear what they have to say.

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Little Teachers

Can you walk into a room and have everyone there light up with smiles?  Do you make most people feel better just by your presence? Can you get them to meet your needs without telling them what those needs are?

If you can’t, what’s wrong with you? Those are basic skills most one-year old children have mastered.  That means that at one time, you and I had those skills too.

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Life and Death are Relative

As we do about once a year, Aisha and I were watching ducks in a small lake in Golden Gate Park, across the road from a stand of redwood trees. The mallards with their gorgeous green heads, the black and white buffles, and the coots with their silver feet were peacefully swimming on a beautiful Indian summer afternoon, nibbling at plants and bugs.

A strange question occurred to me. “Are these the same ducks we saw last year?” I asked. Aisha thought for a minute. “Well, they look the same,” she said. “They act the same. But I don’t know.”

You could say it was a silly question. But one person’s silly question is another person’s Zen koan. This one opened up some challenging topics about life and death.

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The Value of Being an Outsider

My friends Rose and Jeffrey are outsiders. They were born to poor but striving Chinese immigrant families. They met in college, where Jeffrey was learning engineering, and have been married for 40 years.

Sounds like a common story, but there isn’t much else typical about them…

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Compost that Bucket List

When my cousins Ron and Joan suggested my 88 year old mother June create a “bucket list,” she reluctantly agreed. She had seen the movie with Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman and knew the term meant a list of what she’d do if she only had a year to live.

She only came up with two items, both revisiting places she had lived in and loved, upstate New York in the fall and Washington DC in the spring. Ron and Joan, lifelong world travelers, told her she didn’t get the concept.  “You’re supposed to put down new places, new experiences, things you’d really like to do but never got around to.” June stayed firm. “I’ve done lots of interesting things,” she said. “Now I’m only interested in things that have meaning for me.”

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The Soft Survive

Lao-Tzu wrote:

Living people are soft and tender
Corpses are hard and stiff
The living grass, the trees, are soft and pliant
Dead they’re dry and brittle

So hardness and stiffness go with death
Tenderness, softness go with life

And the hard sword fails
The stiff tree is felled
The hard and great go under
The soft and weak stay up.

-Tao Te Ching Chapter 76

Is this strange idea the way the world really works? Though it’s a comforting thought for those of us who aren’t “hard and great,” it often seems the hardest of people are ruling, while the soft are ground underfoot. But lately I’ve seen that people who seem beaten down and hopeless can indeed prevail, if they are flexible and resilient.  They may suffer for years or generations, but they stay up, even triumph.

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Is Heaven Just a Thought Away?

Ten years ago, my brother bought a bumper sticker: “Don’t believe everything you think.” I thought that was amusing. How can you not believe what you think?  Later on, I saw it as a reminder to lighten up. Admit you can be wrong sometimes.

But lately I’m seeing that this may be the most important advice I’ll ever receive. Happiness and peace seem to depend on stepping back from our thoughts, realizing they are just one view of the world, and frequently a wrong one, so not taking them too seriously. Without attaching to my thoughts, the world  seems a much friendlier place. Apparently, other people have even more healing experiences. Here are a few of them…

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Even Nightmares Can Heal

Lady Li was daughter of the border officer at Ai.  When captured by the Duke of Jin for a concubine, she cried so hard and long she completely soaked her robes.  But when she reached the Duke’s palace and experienced the comforts there, and tasted the delicious foods, she felt foolish for her tears.  – Chuang Tzu, Chapter 2

At first I didn’t like this story.  Is it about how shallow women can be, how easily they can forget their families if given a warm bed and good food? But I missed the point. Now I see it’s a parable about how the things we fear most can turn into positives.  Even our worst nightmares can redeem us.

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Animals Enjoy Life – Do We?

“I saw a chimpanzee gaze at a particularly beautiful sunset for a full 15 minutes, watching the changing colors, until it became so dark that he had to retire to the forest without stopping to pick a pawpaw for his evening meal.”  – Adriaan Kortlandt, wildlife researcher in Congo

So how come this chimp, threatened by leopards, searching for food in an endless “struggle for survival,” can stop to appreciate nature’s beauty, and we don’t? Well, according to a great book I just finished, Pleasurable Kingdom by Jonathan Balcombe, that’s what animals do. They play; they relax; they may even love. They enjoy life.   The endless struggle for survival is real, but it’s far from their whole story.

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The Ocean of Time

Do you ever have the feeling of “too much to do; too little time”?  Really takes a bite out of the pleasure of life, doesn’t it?  If the stress of time ever weighs on you, here’s a reading that might relax you for years to come.   It’s a different way of perceiving time. It gives me peace; I hope it does the same for you.

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