The Sweetness of Today

pooh

By Peggy Metta Sheehan

Good morning, friends. I thought I might continue the thread of Pooh and friends. The photo and caption really say it all, so feel free not to read anymore.

Feel free to simply enjoy the sweetness of today, the warmth and tenderness of connection. Whether you live alone or with family, roommates, pets, or plants, drop beneath the surface of interaction and truly enjoy connection to one another, to one’s self, to birds, trees and clouds.

Feel the support of your home and the earth as you gently and thoughtfully move within it. Tread lightly and carefully with all of the “things” that support you today – your toothbrush and dishes, your books and computers, your socks and shoes, your chairs and countertops. Be nourished not just by the food and drink that you take in, but also by each breath that you inhale and by each sight, sound, smell and touch that invites you again and again to this day.

A Good Day

By Karin Ryuku Kempe

Winnie the Pooh, a bear of little brain, had a friend who was a donkey. His name was Eeyore, and he was a confirmed pessimist. He used to say, “If it is a good day… which I doubt.” When I was a young girl, Eeyore was my nickname in my family. I was a serious little girl, sensitive to the negative; there was a sense of unspoken and dark suffering in the world which I absorbed from a young age. As the oldest child of a man who had fled the holocaust at age fifteen and carried significant survivor guilt, perhaps some of this was second generation trauma—I don’t know. But in this you will also easily recognize our old friend, the negativity bias, the way we are as human beings wired to look for potential problems and danger, and to prepare for them.

We all have this tendency, some more than others. Scientists at the University of Glasgow have identified four distinct basic expressions across cultures associated with primary emotions: fear/surprise, anger/disgust, sadness/grief and happiness/joy—a bit more developed on the negative side. This bias has evolutionary benefit, keeps us safe and prepared, but can undermine our natural sense of joy, confidence and satisfaction. All of us have different personalities and early conditioning, of course, but for those of us who tend to the negative, there are specific exercises to help us to stay in balance. I’ll just mention one: the Three Blessings, or Three Good Things. Within two hours before bedtime, bring to mind three things that went well, that gave you pleasure, that you enjoyed or are grateful for. Doing this regularly for a few weeks helps to reframe our negative bias, and the effects can be long lasting. And we sleep better too.

But at a deeper level, an optimist who imagines and counts on positive outcomes is just as deluded as a pessimist… because we actually don’t know the future; we can’t even fully know the present. Our practice is not to hold onto our ideas of the future or the past but to meet today. Our path is not concerned with cultivating a particular bias but is the absence of bias; it’s the discovery of our Not-knowing Mind, the mind that has not already decided. Our Beginner’s Mind, fresh and open and unlimited, is the antidote to despair and indifference; it is attentive, interested and awake in each moment our real life offers us, and it’s always available.

Master Yunmen said, “Every day is a good day.” This “good” is lived as we enter into this day today, as a mystery, as the unique day which it is—letting our judging, our hopes and our fears slip away by bringing our actual experience to the fore. Rachel Carson wrote: “One way to open your eyes to unnoticed beauty is to ask yourself, ‘What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?’” Because each day is a new day, we haven’t seen it before, and of course, we won’t see it again. It’s unique, a gift. A pale yellow tulip standing straight in a mound of snow, the dialogue of morning bird calls. Our glasses fogging up above our mask. Hopeful dreams and dreadful fears arise but float away in the crisp air. It’s a good day.

Stay Where You Are

By Peggy Metta Sheehan

Case 5 in the Wu-men kuan:

Hsiang-yen said, “It’s as though you were up in a tree, hanging from a branch by your teeth. Your hands can’t grasp a branch and your feet can’t touch one. Someone appears beneath the tree and asks, ‘What’s the meaning of Bodhidharma coming from the West?’ If you do not answer, you fail the questioner and evade your responsibility. If you do answer, you lose your life. What do you do?”

I suspect and hope that we can relate to this koan quite intimately right now. Many of our fellow beings are hanging by a breath to their lives. Many are without jobs, frightened for the future, and many are without enough food and supplies. All of us feel a deep concern, caring and grief. We are indeed together hanging from a branch by our teeth. We are united in a vast field of uncertainty and unknowing. Can you sense it, recognize it, and STAY right there?

“What’s the meaning of Bodhidharma coming from the West?” What’s the meaning of this virus? Of my life? Of love and loss? What is it? Where is it? What should I do? Where should I turn? STAY right where you are! And you will see. There is nothing hidden and nowhere to go. DO what is right in front of you and only that.

Make yourself available to the gentle recognition of what is True, always true: the clang of the dishes, the smell of rice, steam hitting your face, sore knuckles as you wash your hands again and again. Each time the only time, each time inviting you to let go of your life, your hopes and dreams. For if you do not, you fail the questioner and evade your responsibility! It is your responsibility to STAY. How wonderful. Hold your seat, look deeply and STAY. Please STAY for the benefit of all beings. And find right there an unfathomable mystery, a gift that opens and unfolds.

It is your responsibility to stay and to respond. In so doing you may lose your life. What do you do? What are your willing to give your life for or to? Health care workers are pretty clear about this. Sure, there may be times of doubt, of overwhelm and fear, even outrage and anger, but there is an unwavering dedication to something larger. This, too, we share.

Be still and listen. Do not fail the questioner. Step into your VERY life, as it IS. Call your neighbors, sew face masks, appreciate your morning tea and the hot water that comes out of the shower head, laugh as your dog rolls in the grass, let your breath be taken by colors of spring popping forth, carefully clean your home and tenderly place your hand on your own heart while listening to news. Give up your life in each and every moment and you will have no regrets whether hanging or falling.