Sorrow, Fear and Stillness
By: Cheng Tong - Aug 01, 2023
How do you live with sorrow in your life? How do you live with fear in your life?
It is inescapable that sorrow will be a part of our life, just as it is that joy will also be a part. If we are truly lucky, they will come to us in equal measure. Whether or not they do, though, each is inevitable.
It is also true to say that things change, always. The pendulum of our life, of nature, and of the universe, never stops swinging. What was once up will be down; what was once night will become day; and so on. What seems so dire in the moment will seem less so tomorrow, and by next week will have been replaced by something else.
But, how do you live with sorrow or fear, or even shame, in your life? The answer? You live. You keep on breathing, and you live.
One of my Zen masters once told me that if I did not like my life, I would have the opportunity in the very next moment to begin it anew. I could choose to begin over. I did not understand his words at the time, but life has a way of teaching us simply in the living of it, and by continuing to breathe
Each moment is new and filled with endless possibilities. Stillness brings us into each moment with clarity, the clarity to see it merely as it is. If we enter each moment with a before-thinking mind, what Zen Master Seung Sahn called the “don’t know” mind, we see with that clarity, and without judgment. It simply is.
If we are still, if we maintain that “don’t know” mind, in the midst of each moment, the correct response to it will arise as if on its own. Woven sufficiently into the fabric of the moment such that we are a part of it, we will know instinctively and organically what to do.
Each of us, each of us all, have lost someone or something. Each of us has faced fear – fear of loss, fear of failure, fear of death. In the moments of experiencing those fears, and of the sorrow that can accompany them, they were real. In some instances, they were debilitating.
Sorrow is from our past, a legacy we carry around in our life’s backpack. We live in that past when sorrow, loss, guilt, remorse, and anger color us and keep us from the present moment awareness we seek. Fear speaks to a future moment, one that has not yet arrived, and also pulls us from the present moment awareness we seek.
And yet here we are, me writing these words, you reading them, sharing this moment together. We are breathing. Things seemed so dire in those moments, and yet we are still breathing.
Things change. Always.
In the moment, there is neither room nor time for fear or sorrow. There will be only our response to the moment. We wish to live a fully engaged life, to take advantage of this wondrous and magical gift of life we’ve been given.
Walking a path of spiritual growth, we come to realize that spirituality is simply being present in each moment. We find our place in creation – not the center of it, but rather a part of it, no more or less important than any other part. Connected to everyone and everything everywhere, we share each moment with each other and with all of creation. In this very moment, you (the reader) and I (the writer) are sharing these words and thoughts, and we are connected.
Sorrow, guilt, remorse, shame, the things many carry around in their backpack of life, keep us in the past, pulling us out of the present moment, and our steps along a spiritual path falter, if no stop. Fear and worry about what might happen in the future also pull us out of the present moment. Those moments are wasted and unrecoverable, and full engagement with life is impossible.
Make no mistake, though. I am not talking about pretending the past did not exist, not talking about pretending sorrowful things did not happen. They happen to all of us. And I am not talking about ignoring warning signs about future events and pretending all will be happy and gay.
Rather, I am talking about placing a premium on the present that is of far more importance to us in living a fully engaged life. Learn from the past, and then let it go; be present in all you do. Present moment engagement, along with the understanding that all things change always, will help dispel fear and worry about the future such that you can simply be.
If I had to define spirituality, I would define it thusly: cultivating stillness to bring clarity to your present moment awareness, and then living in it.
Spirituality is not thinking about God while you are chopping your vegetables for dinner. Spirituality is simply chopping the vegetables – being fully present in whatever is before you.
Seeing each moment clearly, without judgment, allows you to live well in them. Some moments will bring joy, while others will bring sorrow. Nonetheless, experience them fully, embrace them equally, and then let them go so you can greet the next moment with that same clarity.
This is walking a spiritual path in life.