I’ve been reading a beautiful little book by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, called “True Love“, because it was recommended to me by my 18 year old nephew. He’s been on a little journey of his own for the last few years and has been seeking healing and strength.
After reading this book, and practicing some of the meditations in it, he had one of his first meaningful spiritual break-throughs. He and I had many conversations before, and though he often understood the theory of the principle we were discussing and was even able to successfully apply those principles and feel a difference in his life, I remember when he called me and with great excitement told me that he’d just meditated for the first time, and something amazing had happened to him.
He said it’s the best book he’s ever read.
Well, ever since then, I’ve had it on my list of things to read. It’s a short little book, it is very simple to understand, and Thich Nhat Hanh is a master teacher. It didn’t take me long to understand why my nephew enjoyed it so much. I’ll probably be posting a few things related to this book, as I find some of the things he shares quite relevant in helping to further explain things we try to talk about on this blog.
(Mara snapped this photo of me in line at the Ecuadorian visa office.)
The book covers some very simple meditations and ideas to encourage the reader to enter a state of mindfulness or awareness (something he believes is necessary in order to truly love yourself or another…which we totally agree with). This really is a critical thing in the path to healing, and in learning how choose for yourself how you want to respond to something instead of letting the circumstance or the behavior choose for you. It is the practice of mindfulness and awareness that actually allows you to respond to a situation with love instead of anger, hope instead of fear, gratitude instead of bitterness, and on and on.
Today, I’d like to quote one analogy on this process of personal transformation that I thought was absolutely beautiful and relate it to my own experience of marriage and divorce…
As many other great teachers have done, Hanh chooses as a vehicle for his metaphor the normal/observable process of life and growth and death and destruction that is found in gardening. He notes that anyone familiar with organic gardening knows the value of saving waste material, of converting that waste material into compost, and of transforming that compost into flowers and vegetables. He then states:
“So be grateful for your pains, be grateful for suffering – you will need them.
“We have to learn the art of transforming compost into flowers. Look at the flower: it is beautiful, it is fragrant, it is pure; but if you look deeply you can already see the compost in the flower. With meditation, you can see that already. If you do not meditate, you will have to wait ten days to be able to see that. If you look deeply at the garbage heap with the eye of a meditator, you can see lettuce, tomatoes, and flowers. That is exactly what the gardener sees when he looks at the garbage heap, and that is why he does not throw away his waste materials. A little bit of practice is all you need to be able to transform the garbage heap into compost, and the compost into flowers.
“The same is true of our mental formations, which include flowers like faith, hope, understanding, and love; but there is also waste material like fear and pain. The flower is on its way to becoming refuse, but the refuse is also on its way to becoming a flower…. If a person has never suffered, he or she will never be able to know happiness…. We know well that sufferings helps us to understand, that it nurtures our compassion, and that for this reason it is vitally necessary for us. So we must know how to learn from suffering, we must know how to make use of it to gather the energy of compassion, of love, of understanding.”
There are many parts of this little metaphor that I think are quite profound. I’m only going to focus on the second paragraph, because this was a lesson learned that became very important to me in those very difficult days that surrounded separation and divorce. I began to see things as he described (though I wish I had been as gifted at explaining it), and it changed everything for me.
As I began to experience healing and wholeness and peace and joy, despite what was going on in my life, and despite the fact that my marriage was failing, I began to challenge myself to practice this kind of thinking. I learned that if I truly believed that full healing would be capable in 2 years, or 5 years, or more…if I truly believed it was possible at all, then perhaps I could do right now what would cause me to be ultimately whole 5 years from now. Perhaps with a little “deep looking” with the “eye of a meditator”, I could see (and enjoy in that very moment) the lettuce, tomatoes, and flowers as I stared at the compost. I began to think of the kinds of things that would describe my wholeness in the future, and I began practicing them immediately as if I already had it. And the wholeness followed.
For example, I knew that for me to be truly whole, I would be in a place where I had let go of anger and blaming and self doubt and fear associated with the situation. I knew that the future me that is whole would be full of forgiveness, compassion, understanding, hope, mercy, and gratitude….not only for anyone who seemed to have wronged him in the past, but for his own foolish actions and mistakes as well that contributed to his own and others’ pain.
So I brought the actions and behaviors of the future me that is whole into the present me that was suffering. It was one of the most important things I did, and one of the most important things I’ve ever learned. It is something I have practiced MANY times since, almost always with the same results.
Like Hanh says, with a little practice, you can become as skilled as the gardener at seeing and enjoying the beauty of the future flower while staring into the garbage heap and the compost pile.
Have any of you ever done this? If you have, please share in the comments to help others who may be struggling to do so. If you haven’t done this before, consider sharing what situation you’re going to apply this to (or something else that stood out to you in the post) right now.