I have a lot of questions right now. They aren’t my usual questions, like “is it lunchtime yet,” or “did I put on sunscreen?’ or “where did I put my room key?” These are weightier ones, prompted by the passing yesterday of Zen Master Thích Nhất Hạnh.
Can I spend less time dwelling on petty thoughts? Can I notice them, and move on? Better yet, can I figure out what they are really about and think productively about that? Am I mad at someone because of how they behave, or because something they did made me feel slighted, foolish, duped, or taken advantage of? Can I offload that pettiness into a serious discussion with myself about why I feel that way? Can I not leap so quickly to confirmation bias, seeing everything through the lens of what I have already decided about a person? Can I see my petty thoughts as a form of cheap entertainment? Can I see them as burdens dragging down my spirit?
Can I look at an individual and ask “what do the people who love this person hope will happen in this moment?” Can I ask, “What would I do if I loved this person?” Really it is the same question. Can I smile at her on behalf of her mother, or say hello to him for his sister, or stop for a moment to acknowledge her presence for her grandmother because right now all these people worry that that person in front of me, that person they love, is all alone, far away. They don’t know what is happening. They worry. Perhaps they know that times are hard for those they love. Perhaps they are harder than they know. Can I be an emissary for them? Will someone today be an emissary for me to those I love?
Can I ask, “How do I fit in here?” a little more often? Can I work a little harder to remember that each individual is the star of his or her autobiography? How can I be part of the good in their story? How can I help? Can I grow into the compassion that asks, “How can I love you better?”
I can feel it when I become burdened by the negative. I don’t feel it quite as easily when I am weighed down by indifference. Can I get better at recognizing both more quickly?
Thích Nhất Hạnh told his followers that he, like everything else, can never be gone, but is always present in the cycling of everything. Look for him in a flower, or a butterfly drying its wings, or in a crocodile zeroing in on its prey, or in the ugly actions of those who cannot yet be compassionate. Look for him also, I think, in the sudden urge I now have to think about things I have long neglected. Yes, I do think he is still here.
‘So smile to me and take my hand and wave good-bye. Tomorrow we shall meet again or even before. We shall always be meeting again at the true source. Always meeting again on the myriad paths of life.”