A friend called yesterday. She's a teacher and struggling. Can't find a new job. Doesn't know how to make ends meet. Her friend is in trouble. It's a lot to handle. She called to hear something good from me. I hope I gave her something. Even if I did, I sent her a version of this today because it seemed on the nose.
What do you do when you find unpleasant guests are knocking at the door of home? Some thinly disguised versions of greed, hatred, or ignorance. Of course, the guests are usually better presented than this scruffy bunch sounds, because the self does a fair bit of work to make them more presentable to itself.
Practice says a strange thing: So that you can let them go, make mindful room for them. Welcome them in as the brief guests passing through that they really are, not the long stay tyrants we can easily turn them into. Find out who they are really, so you can know more skillfully how to let them go. The Way is not about drowning in bliss but establishing freedom in every mood, condition, emotion, and belief. And so it has to be about knowing, moment by moment, our actual condition upside-down and inside-out, with an alert, curious, willing attentiveness. Sitting patiently and ungrudgingly with the way things actually are. — Susan Murphy, Upside-Down Zen, qtd in Daily Doses Of Wisdom, page 164
I told her she certainly does have unpleasant guests knocking at her door. They aren't greed, hatred, or ignorance, more like frustration, anxiety, and fear. Unpleasant characters indeed. They present as matters of fact, unavoidable, the natural order. We've been taught that there's no other way to think of them. That's why people tell us to suck it up and deal. We're told, the world simply is this way; quit your whining.
There's some wisdom in that. We do well to accept the world as it is, but I'm not describing an awful place or situation. There is plenty that sucks about this life, but there's more than plenty wonder in it and the world is more interesting than all bad or all good.
Have you ever had to listen to someone who believes bad things come in threes? Two things happen and they cast about for magic number three. There it is! they cry. Of course it's there when they go looking for it. This morning the toilet paper roll was empty and I forgot to have breakfast. Where's my third bad thing? I can go looking for it or not. My choice. The third thing is out there (so too are the fourth, fifth, sixth), but there's this good writing, my wondrous wife in the next room, and my friend to whom I first wrote all this. We find what we're looking for, bad and good, and these things come more than three at a time.
My friend is having some awful times. Bad things are at her door. She should welcome them and offer them food, a place to sit. Be polite, I told her. Be compassionate toward them. But don't indulge them. Don't let them move in and take up all your time and space. They can visit for a few, but then send them on their way. Accept them in order to let them go. Accept the way things are without falling for the con that they will stay this way forever.
That's the limit of my wisdom. Feeling that it's not quite enough, here is the sheer grace of Derek Walcott's most gorgeous of poems:
Love After Love
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.