Peace in the Center of Panic

““If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.”

 

His holiness, the Dalai Lama

peace in meditative Sri Lanka

peace in meditative Sri Lanka

 

“Now, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’ — then you should enter & remain in them.”

The Buddha

 

 

““If every 8 year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.”

 

The Buddha

 

I thought I was drowning.

 

It was an early June day on a crisp blue lake in Northern Wisconsin. My uncle was teaching my older brother and I how to sail. I shivered in the morning chill as my mom wrapped me up in a life jacket, cushioning me in safety and love.

 

My uncle expertly guided us into a gust of wind, moving us at a fast clip through the sparkly water. I had just taken a deep breath and smiled when my uncle spotted the dark clouds of an early summer storm. He knew the wind was changing.

 

“Lean right!” he shouted, just as the wind burst hit our small boat, knocking us roughly off course.

 

I couldn’t tell my left from my right to save my life. I leaned left, not right, and the hard metal sailing bar, attached to the billowing sail, hit me hard. Plunging into the dark, scary water, I started to panic.

 

I was a good, trained swimmer. I knew how to relax in a life jacket. But fear and surprise shoved all of that away and told me to paddle, hard. No matter how furiously I tried, I hardly moved. I started to sink. Waves crashed around me, tsunamis in my little girl eyes, inflaming my fear and making it hard for me to breathe.

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The insensitive water responded to my fruitless pounding by splashing right back at me, causing me to choke as I tried not to swallow. I remembered watching a show about people stranded on a lifeboat. One of them died when he swallowed the ocean water.

 

For a few minutes, I thought I was drowning.   I was nowhere near dying, of course. Drowning people rarely panic as they lose their ability to breathe. They calm down as their body focuses on getting oxygen, fooling would be rescuers with their appearance of serenity.

 

I didn’t know how to manage my mind. My uncle taught us to relax and let the life jacket keep us afloat in an emergency, but no one taught us that panic might cause us to forget. I never practiced noticing my thoughts. Like most children in America, I was never taught to meditate.

 

Navy Seals learn mindfulness through practice, being dumped into a pool upside down in a plane cabin over and over until they learn to stop the interference of panic with their confident, life saving actions. In Buddhist countries, mindfulness is learned from birth. People practice silent meditation, which naturally creates an innate ability to notice, and let go of thoughts before a catastrophic reaction can occur.

 

Bhante Sujatha, the monk I wrote about in My Wish, the Life Story of a Man who Brought Happiness to America, shared a story about a sign he noticed in Las Vegas. It was an advertisement for a sports car. In large black and white letters, the words, “Excite your senses!” shouted out at people passing by in their cars.

 

Bhante laughed as he asked me, “Why would anyone want to do that? You would lose your mindfulness! I want to erase excite and write observe, and calm down. If we can train ourselves to stop and observe our senses before we react, we can practice a happy, contemplative life. Excited senses cause suffering. We lose our mindfulness.”

 

As a Western girl, I was unable to practice contemplation to any meaningful degree. If I could have relaxed, I might have experienced the miracle of a life jacket in stormy waters and just waited for my funny, kind uncle to rescue me. Truly, I could have enjoyed myself. I was perfectly safe, and my uncle was an expert sailor.

 

When my dog jumped off the pier, unable to watch the young girl under her care struggle any longer, I calmed down. Because I had watched so many episodes of Lassie, I was finally able to bring contemplative sense to this circumstance and allow myself to be saved. I can remember taking a final sobbing gulp, and a deep breath when my dog jumped in. The moment I did that, the buoyant life jacket and I bobbed up to the surface. It was easy to breathe as I lay on my back, with my head above the water. I didn’t need to dive in and swim. I finally felt the magic of floating in dark water as I settled down and waited for my dog.

 

My mind had been trained by the Lassie show on TV, in which a family dog routinely performed miracle rescues. I learned to expect reliable never-fail help from my dog,

This had become my common sense brought on by time spent staring at a reassuring television show with my dog’s head in my lap

 

People who meditate regularly become practiced at noticing their minds and their senses in a circumstance.   They develop their own common sense, as they are able to discern for themselves what works for them. In a way, they develop a unique, common sense, common to them in their life, rather than in common with other people.

 

A person who practices loving kindness meditation on a regular basis is likely to take his time, let go of his thoughts, and reach a peaceful conclusion about his next move. He knows there is not an absolute answer to any question, and that most questions are dependent on many moving parts. In the center of stressful chaos and crazy drama, a contemplative person can reach his center and make the right, special choices for themselves and their lives.

 

With steady practice and careful discernment, I can calm down, even in the middle of a hurricane, and choose an action, a thought or a word that will be beneficial for myself and others. This is the irreplaceable gift of a spiritual, contemplative life.

 

“Children here are subjected to advertising since birth, and it is difficult to convince a consumer kid, who is taught to want a better backpack and a fancier watch, that it’s a good idea to stop and breathe for awhile, that loving kindness on steroids is the answer to their problems, rather than a self centered quest for more. When I see a student start to meditate and keep at it for more than a year, I am hopeful for our future.”- John Bardi, philosophy professor who wrote the forward to My Wish.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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