Caught In a World of Images

Today my husband and I are camping at Nehalem Bay on the Oregon coast, in our vintage 1977 motor home, La Verne. The wind is present here, as are the sun, the ocean, the stillness, and Milli–our sometimes barking dog.

Now, you may think this post is about La Verne or the dog, but then you would be not quite correct 🙂 As we shall see . . .

When I come to the beach to camp, memories of other beach trips, other camping trips, arise in my mind. Some of these memories are pleasant–like leisurely walks on a windy beach, watching the sun rise over the tops of the scrub pines, savoring espresso and a bit of dark chocolate in the early morning hours, hanging out with my hubby, working on my dissertation. Other memories, are not so pleasant. This time, mixed in with the pleasant–remembering how still and spacious this place is–were the unpleasant–memories of my last trip here when I was sick with bronchitis and recovering from workplace trauma.

Of course there are millions of moments that have comprised these trips that are pleasant, unpleasant, or even neutral, and any one of these moments, or any other moments I have experienced in my life, can spring forth into my conscious memory. Thich Nhat Hanh (Thây) calls the memory of these moments “images,” because they are no longer reality.

I have been reading Thây’s book, Reconciliation, enjoying his most recent teachings on mindfulness and healing. In this book is my first experience of his teaching about the world of images. Thây says many of us are caught in the world of images. Suffering is born when we are in touch with a negative image from the past. If we are mindful of our experience, we will be able to look and see that this present suffering is born because we are in touch with that moment from the past. He says the fact is that these are only images; they are not reality any more.

Mindfulness, that is, being aware of what is going on right here in this moment, helps me recognize when I am caught in an image–any of my previous experiences that I bring into this camping moment–and realize that it is not reality in this present moment. Grateful for this fresh teaching, I was able to quickly recognize the path that led to those more difficult memories, let them go, and be with the moment Now. Right now, there are white clouds floating through a blue sky, the space heater is humming as it puts warmth into the air, the sound of the wind howling breezes into my awareness, I am sitting under a soft, grey blanket blogging about my experience (ironic!).

It is our nature to be caught in a world of images. It is also our nature to be able to experience this moment right now as it is. As I cultivate my practice of mindfulness, I am more able to catch those difficult images when they arise, allow them to be. Sometimes they drop away of their own accord. At times I even discover that I am strong enough to stay with difficulties that do not easily drop away, and that they open me up to deeper layers of suffering in me. Whenever I am able to stay with a difficulty, I find that something–sometimes tiny, sometimes huge–is released in me, and I feel lighter.

Of course, we do not have to be all cleaned out of suffering in order to enjoy the present moment. We have the capacity to enjoy life right now. Just take a breath. Look around. Feel the air on your skin. Listen to the birds singing. As I was reading posts on my facebook page, I came across a video of Harbor the Raccoon, nearly blind from four years of being held in a 2×2 crate, in the dark, in a cage that was never cleaned. The story of his freedom, and the expression of his wondrous, joyful spirit, is testament to the wonders of being right here right now.

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