A Lesson in Pad Thai + Non-Attachment

I continue to learn the most when I least expect it. I think spirit enjoys effortlessness. 

This past Saturday, my boyfriend and I accepted a last minute invitation from a friend to check out a local Songkran, or Thai New Year Festival. Unlike the Western calendar, the Thai/Buddhist calendar coincides with the astrological calendar, {which has always made infinitely more sense to me} and the new year is celebrated over a 3-day period after Aries rises, April 13-15, as a time of unity, purification and honoring both ancestors and elders.

The celebration I attended was held at the largest Buddhist temple here in Texas, a magnificent red, white and gold structure, filled with ornate Buddhas of various sizes and heaps of fresh flowers.

The festival was packed, having been going on all day by the time we arrived around 7pm. We met up with our friend and made our way to the food.

On the way, I spotted kids with super soakers on a playground {splashing water represents purity/renewal}, a beauty pageant contestant in a lime green dress and a long row of vendors, with people happily lined up for delicious items like mangos with coconut sticky rice + papaya salad.

My guy and I settled on fish cakes and sticky rice that we ate with our hands. We were later brought a huge portion of some of the most delicious pad thai I’ve ever had. I think it was even better on the couch at home, three hours later.

The secrets to amazing pad thai, I’ve learned, include fresh, thin rice noodles & a light hand when it comes to the brown sauce {instead of the reddish, oily American version}, and oddly, no lime to garnish.

But back to the festival.

Like many of the best conversations I’ve had, I’m not really sure how it began nor the way we arrived at the subject matter we did. 

But I ended up eagerly picking the brain of my friend’s younger brother, a trained monk and formed navy member, because yeah, that exists.

Maybe I should qualify my excitement. I’ve been fascinated with Buddhism ever since taking a random* college elective some twelve years ago.

It’s the first school of thought/way of life I have found that doesn’t push itself upon you. I love the grace with which buddhism entered my life and how it continues to lure me simply by being its beautiful self.

Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.

— Buddha
I’ve always felt that a spiritual life should be one that feels right; one that makes sense to you on an innate level, and one that you find out of your heart’s calling, rather than one that was simply handed down to you by your ancestors. 
I’ve also felt, since childhood, that you don’t have to do anything to “deserve” salvation and that there’s no ultimate savior, save yourself. Buddhism espouses these same ideas.
“No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path.”
— Buddha
It’s hard to use a spiritual system as a crutch when it asks for personal responsibility and mindfulness in every area of our lives. In Buddhism, you don’t get to go to church/temple once a week and act like an asshole the other 6 days of the week. Instead, you are asked to be rigorous in where you direct your attention, non judgmental and to practice loving kindness in your daily life. In fact, the Dali Lama is infamous for saying, “Kindness is my religion.” How beautiful is that?

And perhaps because there’s so much hypocrisy in religion today or maybe, simply, because I detest dishonesty, I admire the straightforwardness of The Four Noble Truths and the elegant simplicity of The Eightfold Path.

But my love of Buddhism aside, I’ve been struggling a lot lately. I’ve been grappling with control and the anger thats stems from not being in control and the fear/powerlessness that underlies that. And, I don’t fucking know.

Point is, I’ve been walking around with a clenched fist for a while now and a mountain of resistance. I can’t even meditate. 

Which is why I relished Saturday’s talk.

I was reminded that when we’re attached— whether it be in joy or sorrow— suffering is inevitable. 

Why? Because attachment is what brings suffering, not the emotion or experience itself.

“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.”

— Thich Nhat Hanh

My anger? Not the problem. The indulging in it and scrutinizing it and assigning it an elaborate story line and attaching blame and ultimately, acting out on it— that’s the problem.

The point is not to overcome our anger, nor wallow in it. But to simply look at it. Be with it. 

The more we learn to engage our emotions, the less power they tend to hold over us. We realize it’s simply one small part of a never-ending stream of consciousness.

Why latch onto something so minuscule? 

I’m not encouraging you to discount your emotions—that would be blasphemous for an empath like myself— but I am reminding you to not become so attached to them.

Recovery, and life itself I would argue, is a process of integrating all aspects of our selves, and alienating yourself from your feelings is emotional suicide. 

But it’s mental masturbation to talk about your problems all the freakin’ time or to bitch about the crap you can’t change.

It would be far healthier to meditate or take a long walk, several deep breaths and remind ourselves: this isn’t forever and it isn’t fatal. 

“Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”

— Rainer Maria Rilke

The pain stems from not letting there be room for all of it: the dear friends + douche bags, the vibrant flower and the dirt it grows in.

Our soul knows no distinction because it came here to experience it all. So long as our heart is opening, we are doing the work we came here to do.

But you can be sure: if you’re feeling scared, small or otherwise constricted, that’s ego. It’s only a temporary construct of the mind but I know how real it can feel!

Just remember, on a non-cellular level, all is well. The soul is born knowing the grace of surrender, which is often nothing more than being able to say, this too, I allow.

So for any one else out there, walking around with a belly full of fear/anger/whatever, let me also remind you for the millionth time: this too shall pass. 

That’s the real beauty of any experience: it’s destined to change. We can’t escape the heartbreaking, beautiful impermanence.

We might as well forgive quickly, eat delicious pad thai and splash water on one another while we can.

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