When I am feeling down and alone, I often feel soothed by listening to dharma talks by Jack Kornfield, one of the key teachers to introduce Buddhist mindfulness practice to the West. He moves me, often makes me laugh, and always gives me valuable perspective on the human condition. Listening to him, I invariably feel like my suffering is placed into a vaster context. It feels much less personal, creating a feeling of relief, peace and spaciousness.
He reminds me that we are all constantly in process, and that we cannot arrive, because we are nomads, just passing through. He emphasizes that all of the ordinary human experiences and emotions; pain and illness, grief and loss, disappointment and betrayal, separation and loneliness, fear of aging and death, are all just part of the nomad’s journey, and not a sign of failure or personal weakness. There is no perfecting ourselves or conducting ourselves in such a way that we will be immune. And that is just the way it is. Many years ago I had one of those little square newsprint calendars consisting of a Buddhist quote a day. I saved one of the 365 by Shunryu Suzuki, that is my office to this day. It reads “Each of you is perfect the way you are … and you can use a little improvement.”
But I also heard him say “the question is not the future of humanity, but the presence of eternity.” He was drawing attention to the Beauty and Mystery that is ever present in our daily lives, if we only are able to take it in. Much of our suffering arises out of this lack of sensibility to the magic that is constantly available to us.
This morning, I was transfixed listening to him quote a poem by Ellen Bass, “Gate 22”, published in her book Mules of Love. Bass transforms an ordinary moment in an airport, into an occasion for witnessing the transcendent.