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Heart Advice for Difficult Times

Difficult times almost always strike unexpectedly. There is no grand announcement, no fanfare, no hoopla. They just arrive at your doorstep, and you are caught by surprise. Sometimes What!?! Why me?!? is all you can manage to say. Emotions take over and influence your response. For me, the unexpected death of my parents, within a space of two years, pulled the ground out from under me. Around that time, as luck would have had it, I was reading Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. I had always admired Pema for her very practical and no-nonsense approach to life and its vagaries, but this work was special. It touched upon the very nature of suffering in a way that made it possible for me to understand loss and accept it without turning away from it. As more heart advice followed from friends and family over the years, taking some of the edge off of my grief, the one piece that really helped me move on comes from a fellow Buddhist practitioner at my Sangha: Grieve but be careful not to hold on to grief so tightly so as to make it your identity.

Difficult times almost always force you to slow down. At first glance, slowing down doesn’t seem like a good thing. Changing your pace suddenly or coming to a grinding halt can incapacitate your life in unimaginable ways. Yet, slowing down is the only way to take stock, reflect calmly and then respond. As things came to a halt this year with the pandemic, Haemin Sunim’s The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down: How to Be Calm in a Busy World kept me company. As I delved into Sunim’s myriad thoughts on busyness, my own endless busyness and striving were brought to the fore. And I wholeheartedly agreed with Sunim when he pointed to the root of all busyness as “endless resistance to what is.” Not a bad revelation at all upon which to build some real change.

Difficult times almost always force you to reset your rituals. Big or small, formal or informal, hidden or revealed, we all have our rituals. Rituals capture the essence of everyday living and sustain us in ways we do not even realize. As most of the world works from home these days, old rituals have been upended and new rituals begin to take shape and meaning. I sought to find some insight in ritual-making through Shunmyo Masuno’s The Art of Simple Living: 100 Daily Practices from a Japanese Monk for a Lifetime of Calm and Joy. In fact, I found Masuno’s daily rituals, coupled with beautiful illustrations, so simple and comforting that I have carried the book around for the last few months, poring over it whenever a wave of despair hits.

- by Shilpa Shanbhag, Hickory Corner Branch

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