And so, with an audacious Auld Lang Syne I’m savoring the tastes of cookies, candy canes, and knishes of Christmases past. The knish was my street supper one long ago, snowy Christmas Eve as I schlepped on train and bus and still had to walk 5 blocks to home lugging shopping bags of presents. As the snow continued to grow on my head and shoulders, the silence deepened as well. I know of no other natural phenomenon that can silence the world like snow. When New York City is silenced, it’s time to listen. And I listened and heard nothing except the peace, both, outside and in. It was miraculously glorious, knish or not. Whatever and however we believe, individually, within many cultures this is the season of miracles and wonder. It’s a time of peace and reconciliation, a time of respite even in the midst of the turmoils and challenges of life.
The Season in Nursing School
It’s a Friday afternoon, the last week of the semester before Winter Break. It’s been pretty grueling and all I needed to do now was sit through an AA/NA meeting as part of the Psychiatric Clinical Rotation. The protocol was that female students attended female meetings but there weren’t any that day. Instead, Charlene and I were invited into the men’s meeting. There were about 30 sitting in the circle; all colors, shapes and sizes. There were veterans of their common war as well as ‘newbies’ and those who still didn’t think they belonged.
Just as I’m about finished running my ‘BS meter’ over the last gentleman’s update, I felt the tremor of something starting to break. He was a big man, with a big voice, and a petrifying fear that he would not make it through the weekend ‘clean’. He proceeded to relate how his friends had not left him alone for a minute in the last week, and how they, alone, stood between him and his nemesis but, now he was ready to explode. He’d been through a good de-tox but he hated what his psychiatrist prescribed medications did to him. Yes, he’s tried to get an appointment to address the issue, and he got one, for three weeks down the road. There was no “Hallelujah Chorus”, only one of agreement and empathy with his plight.
Passionately, with the spirit of the season, a much smaller and younger man spoke up. “I know exactly how you feel! The last time I was in the hospital they gave me something that made my arms numb. I couldn’t feel my arms!” Before anyone could much commiserating the Therapist jumps in with “Listen to what you just said. Before you stopped ‘using’ you would have said ‘Far Out…..can’t feel my arms…’.” And there was the silence, draping as of snow.
It didn’t last long, barely a few seconds, when I started laughing. Not a little chuckle mind you, but a body-shaking kind of laugh. Fortunately, for me, the entire room erupted with laughter. And it lasted, and lasted until the gentleman a few seats from me leaned over and, as everyone is catching their breath he turns to me and asks “So what’s your story, Lynn?”
A Time of Savoring
I savor that story, and I savor others along my path. To savor is to appreciate a ‘distinctive quality’. In Pali, the word for “to remember’ can also be translated as “mindfulness”, paying direct, non-verbal attention to what is happening from one moment to the next. The time between now and the New Year is especially conducive to remembering mindfully.
Resting comfortably in awareness, we relax into things as they are right now in this very moment, without slipping away into what happened in the past or will happen in the future. Normally, because we do not understand, we tend to blame the world for our pain and suffering. But with mindful remembering, we understand that the only place to find peace and freedom from suffering is this very place, right here in our own body and mind…As mental events occur, mindfulness helps us to see whether they hurt our mind and body [or not]. We have the choice. Do we merely suffer from pain, or do we examine the pain to understand why it arises? If we ignore the causes, we continue to suffer. Living with awareness requires effort, but with practice anyone can master it. (The Four Foundations of Mindfulness by Bhante Gunaratana)
A Time of Peace
Some of us are closer to our dying than others, but we don’t know who’s who, do we now? But we do have each moment, one at a time, to practice and choose. We can choose to be generous, kind, and compassionate. We can even choose to savor our “Tear Soup” if that’s what on the menu, as long as we savor and not wallow.