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How We Respond to Stressful Times Matters

How We Respond to Stressful Times Matters

How We Respond to Stressful Times Matters

The line “how we respond in stressful times matters” comes from Tara Brach, with these words:

“With the holiday season upon us, many people are experiencing increasing demands on all fronts.  We’re also living with constant and disturbing headlines broadcasting deceit, greed and a fundamental lack of care for fellow beings.  How we respond to stressful times matters.  It profoundly impacts our own body and heart, our loved ones and our world.”

My post How You Respond to the Issue…Is the Issue echoes the responsibility – and the possibilities – we all face in navigating the stress of the upcoming holidays, the distress of our times in general. More information about Tara’s Flourishing in Stressful Times course here.

This week’s resource, The Gift of Being Present, comes from the free Sounds True Holiday Companion, a baker’s dozen of wisdom teachings from many esteemed spiritual teachers. May these teachings about presence, compassion, and forgiveness be useful to you and yours.

THE GIFT OF BEING PRESENT

By Rabbi Rami Shapiro

Both Hanukkah and Christmas owe their innermost meaning to the turning of the seasons in the Northern Hemisphere.  This is our dark time of year when the sun appears weak, daylight is brief, and (to the extent we carry the fears of our ancestors in the recesses our mind) we fear that light may be leaving the world never to return.  So we do the outrageous: we kindle candles and tell stories about light overcoming darkness.  And we reach out to others with forgiveness, hoping to rekindle love in relationships grown dark in the shadow of anger and shame.

But forgiveness cannot be kindled the way a candle wick is ignited.  Nor is a story of hope enough to erase a memory of hurt.  Forgiveness isn’t a strategy or a tactic; it isn’t something you bestow or grant or do – forgiveness is the liberating grace that happens of itself when you understand the nature of reality and are present to the ten thousand joys and sorrows of everyday living.

We like to believe that the people who hurt us could have acted differently – that in some sense they chose to hurt us.  But is that true?  Is it true of you when you cause another harm?  When you said the hurtful thing you said or did the hurtful thing you did, did you weight your words and actions in advance, and deliberately choose to cause another to suffer? Or did you say and do what you said and did because, in that moment, nothing else could be said or done?  I think the latter is truer.

Understanding the nature of reality doesn’t lead to passivity; it isn’t a matter of turning the other cheeks, or making excuses, or trying to fix others or oneself.  Understanding the nature of reality leads to being present to what is true.

And what is true is that we are all trapped in our own stories, fears, and compulsions.  Don’t expect mean people to become kind, or evil people to become compassionate, or dangerous people to become loving.  Don’t expect anything at all; just stay open to what is rather than what you expect or wish it should be.  Hurtful people may need to be avoided; dangerous people may need to be incarcerated. But saint or sinner, we are all doing the only thing we can do given the conditions in which we find ourselves doing anything at all

Rather than practice forgiveness, practice being present to what is true, and allow forgiveness to arise of its own accord.  Meditation, chanting, and contemplative walking are just three ways to practice being present to the truth of what is.  Being present will break your heart, but it is only a broken heart that has the capacity for compassion and forgiveness.  The gift of a heart broken open with wisdom, compassion, and forgiveness may be the best gift you can give or receive in any season.

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