This has happened twice lately: I’ve bustled out of the house hot with anger, driven to the gym, busted my butt, and emerged cool, wise and free.
Okay, that’s an exaggeration. I emerge less angry, no doubt, but definitely not wise, nor free, at least not for any longer than the endorphin rush lasts. Within a few hours, the low-grade anger is back, growling in my ear, breathing its hot air on my neck.
Today it’s back before I’ve barely left the gym parking lot. That’s when I happen to be listening to Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Art of Mindful Living.
“Breathe in, imagine yourself as a flower,” he says, “breathe out, imagine you are freshhh”.
The monk’s voice brings Yoda to mind: his accent and cadence bespeak his Vietnamese heritage, his tone is soft, infused with kindness. He speaks as though he is on tip-toes, not meaning to disturb anyone’s peace with his message.
I smile at this and, despite myself, think Oh dear, this is the exactly the kind of thing that you imagine hearing when you think of Buddhists. My Western-bred, lawyer mind gets the better of me: skeptical, condescending, ignorant, in a way that only a Western-bred, lawyer-brain could be. I shoo the thought away as quickly as it arises. My bookshelves are thick with Buddhist literature: I know there is more to this than a superficial interpretation would suggest.
“The Buddha is described as sitting on a flower. It means that anywhere, he sits with peace, happiness,freshness.” I try to imagine this, as I drive, try to call up the sensation, but it is elusive, too great a mental leap. Then this truth zings out like an arrow on fire:
“Practising the way of the Buddha, you should sit on a lotus flower, and not on burning charcoals”
Immediately, I know exactly what he is talking about. The tension in my jaw, the tear of adrenalin through my chest, the sting of anger-driven blood coursing through my body. Not very flower-like. No, burning charcoal I understand.
If you have too much worries, too much anger in yourself, you cannot sit on a flower, you sit on burning charcoal. You have no peace
It sounds cliché, but there it, the truth, in hi-def sound.
Imagining yourself as a fragile blossom, all of a sudden, doesn’t seem silly at all. No, it seems pretty right here, right now. In this very driver’s seat. Check yourself in the mirror, babe, you are boiling in the oil of your own poisonous emotion. And that is no one’s doing but your own. No one else is responsible for how you feel. I sigh, deprived of all defence. I hate it when someone sees me so clearly, strips me so bare, especially when the message is delivered on CD.
Breathing in, I see myself as a flower. Breathing out, I feel fresh.