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Posts Tagged ‘Pema Chodron’

nostalgia

In the garden of gentle sanity, may you be bombarded by coconuts of wakefulness.—Chogyam Trungpa

Crossing Tompkins Square Park, I walked a tightrope between the beauty of the present moment and the pain of nostalgia. I watched my daughter play in the sprinklers, share a snack with the pigeons, and bark at the dogs in their park.  My daughter befriended strangers, smiled at babies, and negotiated for the right to cover her entire body in sand. (To my great relief, I won that argument.) Together we followed the music, and tapped our feet to the rhythm of the congas.

Even as I enjoyed our visit, my mind wandered into the land of craving: why couldn’t we live there, play in the park each week? Was our private family garden in PA a fair trade for a share in a community garden, where neighbors mingle and connect?

It hurt to be a visitor where I once was a resident, but on the heels of the hurt I had a reality check. Nostalgia is a funny thing, coming as it does with blindfolds and warping of the memory. After all, Loisaida is not all music and community gardens. I had lived in an oven-hot apartment where the only window was in my roommate’s bedroom. One memorable evening I had a conversation with the NYPD that went something like, “Well, if you don’t want to be burglarized, don’t live on the first floor.”

Why is this sense of longing such a big deal? Why is it worthwhile to write on this hunger for what is not there? Experiencing craving in this way gets in the way of enjoying the present moment. When I can be aware and see these feelings arise, I am grateful for the tools I have learned through meditation and yoga. These tools have to be used in regular practice, and I do not have as much discipline as I need. However, on the meditation cushion and on the mat I have experienced staying present with what arises, seeing it clearly and with gentleness.  This helps immensely, because joy and gratitude become the focus.  The mind feels more spacious when it is not clouded with hunger and confusion.

While in the park, mentally wandering away from the present, I was able to catch myself and to say, “Stay here now. Life is now, in this moment.” There still was an underlayer of craving, but I knew it was happening and it could not run away with me. I refused to get stuck and allow nostalgia to ruin my day.

Buddhist teacher Pema Chodron describes my experience concisely. She writes, “All of us derive security and comfort from the imaginary world of memories and fantasies and plans. We really don’t want to stay with the nakedness of our present experience. It goes against the grain to stay present. There are the times when only gentleness and a sense of humor can give us the strength to settle down.”

In the park, when I said to my companion, “I really miss this place,” her response was, “The smell of dog urine? Body odor on the subway? Do you miss those, too?” Sometimes, as Ani Pema alludes, it takes humor to wakes us up.

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