“When I lead retreats, a bell sounds to indicate our transition from one part of the day to the next. The bell sounds, and immediately we shift mental gears, moving from meditation to preparations for mealtime. What will lunch be today? Where will I sit? The bell rings, and we shift from walking meditation to preparations for a sitting meditation. Where did I leave my seat cushion? Will my aching back be a distraction during this sit? So much of life is like this–we are so quick to escape the present moment with anticipation and anxiety about what’s coming next.”
On Tuesday evening I joined my cousin for a meditation class facilitated by the Seattle Insight Meditation Society. The class commences with a 45 minute meditation sit, followed by a lesson by one of the society’s Meditation teachers. That night, the talk focused on patience, one of the ten paramis, or “qualities of character that can be developed to support the path of awakening,” in the Buddhist tradition practiced by the group. The teacher used this illustration about the bell on his retreats to demonstrate how much impatience we often have for the present moment. Mainstream perceptions of life have taught us that the present is to dismissed for what ever is next. We so hastily move from one thing to the next.
The teacher said that he has begun to ask his students to pause when they hear this transition bell at the retreat. It is an exercise in patience. Rather than eagerly fleeing the moment, they exercise attention to the present by remaining where they are while the impending transition awaits its proper time. The teacher said this intentional pause between one thing and the next is incredibly difficult for the retreatants.
This does not surprise me, for the bell has rung and I also struggle to pause in the present as I await the major impending transition in my life. It is not that I don’t want to be here in the present, in Seattle, right now. On the contrary, it is not the present that makes the pause difficult. In all honesty, I deeply wish this city and its community could remain a present reality in my life for a very long time. It is the awareness that the present is fleeting that makes it hard. It feels a bit like I imagine it would feel to fall in love with someone who was dying. It is hard to be present, to be freely, extravagantly present, to something that is simultaneously slipping away. I’m not yet enjoying the goodness that the next phase will bring, only grasping desperately at every bit of goodness I can garner out of a present that is dying its own little death.
But it is better to have loved, isn’t that right? Better, yes. But harder, too. The teacher encouraged us to recite this mantra to ourselves in moments of anxiety and impatience, “Do I have patience, even for this?” I find that when I ask myself that now, it feel so silly to reply with anything but, “Yes.” Of course I can endure the difficult patience required for this–for this home that I love so much. For the friends and family I cherish. For the opportunities afforded to me by the transition ahead. For the goodness I know I will find in Boston. Of course I have patience for this. This patience is better, yes, but harder, too.