Friday, March 25, 2005

Easter meditation: put it down

QUICK SATURDAY UPDATE: Sunrise is at 6:24AM on Sunday morning. I'll be at Namsan's wooden mountaintop pavilion (assuming it's not crowded with over-fervent Christians who're gonna make a lot of noise). Look for the fat, sweaty half-Korean guy in a black coat and no hat staring vainly eastward for a glimpse of the sun. Am hoping pollution is minimal at that time of the morning, but the weather forecast is also for a partly cloudy day, so we might get only a diffuse glow. All the same...

Today begins the period known to Catholics as Triduum, the three-day span during which Christ suffered, died, descended into hell, and rose again from the dead. Good Friday is the day of sadness and shadows, the day when the world loses hope, and all seems to be in ruin. Holy Saturday finds us in mourning and loss; it is a day of endurance. Finally, Easter Sunday reminds us that every ending is also a beginning. New life emerges. Hope finds its fulfillment. 

 Since I and a few people I know are all going through a painful period, each of us for various reasons, I thought it might be good to write about "putting it down." 

In Zen Buddhism, the maxim is "don't make anything." Your mind is so often the source of your troubles. You choose to face the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune either negatively or positively. Often, at the beginning of a troublesome period in your life, it is difficult to realize how responsible you are for your own choices. It's easier to shift blame to your surroundings. But ultimately, the healthiest route out of the forest of troubles is to start by looking in a mirror. Behold what's actually there; don't needlessly manufacture problems for yourself and others. 

 I'm not a scriptural literalist, so I don't believe Jesus rose from the dead. But the story of the passion and resurrection nevertheless holds power for me because it's a story about a man who put everything down, including his own life, for the sake of love. How many of us can claim to be ready and willing to do something like that? Not many, I suspect. Most of us, like little children, cling desperately to our cherished notions, preconceptions, and delusions, unwilling to countenance truth and change. We face the world with fear and create clever rationales for our spiritual cowardice. In a crisis period, this instinct intensifies. The ego swells to enormous size—everything is about getting hurt, everything is about me, me, me. The world doesn't understand my pain, and only I am in pain! 

 I've felt like that before. I've looked out at a street full of people and wondered why they didn't see my agony, which was plain as day to me. The world kept right on turning, resisting my egocentric interpretation of it. And there's a lesson in that. 

Life is change, ceaseless change. All we have is this moment. If we try to keep the past with us, we merely create more suffering for ourselves. If we try to hold on to our anger, or our hurt, or whatever it is we're feeling, we poison ourselves. 

It's better simply to put it all down. 

People need time to do this. It can't be done immediately. If, for example, you've just experienced a family tragedy, you can't be expected to act like the Taoist writer Chuang-tzu, banging on pots and celebrating your wife's death. No; most of us need time to mourn, grieve, recover. But after that period, we should be ready and willing to move on with our lives, to follow the constant flow of the river. You can't see the new life of Easter if you're always looking backward. Easter points simultaneously to the present and to the future, to hope and happiness and fulfillment. Think positively. Embrace goodness where you find it. Actively seek the good; don't wait passively for it.

I'm changing my own plans: I won't be blogging this weekend. I have a lot to do, not much time to do it, and am looking forward to some good job interviews next week. On Sunday morning, I'm going to try and hit Namsan very early so I can see the sunrise from the mountaintop. Then I'm off to Hwagye-sa with a friend—nothing like a little Easter dharma.

Whatever your religion (or even if you have no religion), may this Easter find you looking to the horizon with hope and a sense that things can and will be better. May it also find you looking back from the horizon to where you are now, suddenly seeing the good things that have always surrounded you. Peace.

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