My thoughts have turned to spring, partly because my eyes are itching and partly because the trees up and down my block are in bloom. My friends in the Southern Hemisphere are coming to the end of summer, not winter, but I hope they'll be inspired by these quotations and commentary anyway.
Perhaps the earth can teach us
"Woman with a Parasol in a Garden" by Renoir
As when everything seems dead
And later proves to be alive
There's a crepe myrtle bush that sits right outside my bedroom window. In the depth of winter, it looks dead. In fact, the first winter after it was planted, I was convinced that it was dead because its branches were so brittle and bare. Then one day from my window, I spotted little specks of green. I went outside to see what they were, and there were the beginnings of tiny leaves on the branches. Within days, the bush was filled with green. So, whenever you feel defeated or hopeless, know that at any moment, from deep within, you may burst forth with new life.
We are just living this moment; we don't have to live 150,000 moments at once. We are only living one. That's why I say you might as well practice with each moment. —Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck
What a relief. We only have to live one moment at a time! I'm turning this quotation into a springtime resolution. We make New Year's resolutions, why not springtime ones? I resolve to live fully in this moment, neither ruminating about the past nor worrying about the future. (I also resolve not to get upset with myself when I slip up on my resolution—which I know I will!)
Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans. —John Lennon
"Spring" by Monet
Philosophers have said it using more sophisticated words, but Lennon cuts to the chase with his Zen-like lyric. No matter what plans (or resolutions) we make, life may intervene and take us in an unexpected direction. The ability to be flexible is one of the keys to contentment and happiness. If we can change course gracefully, knowing that some of our plans will succeed and some will not, we can find peace in any circumstances.
Within you there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself. —Hermann Hesse
"Tulip Fields" by Van Gogh
There's an expression among those with chronic pain and illness: "When all else fails, go to bed." I see this quotation as a nice little variation on that: "When all else fails, look inward." What do we find when we take sanctuary in ourselves? We find someone deserving of our forgiveness and compassion. We can't always control the world outside of us, but we can control our inner world, by which I mean: how we treat ourselves. The Buddha said, "If you search the whole world over, you will find no one who is more worthy of lovingkindness than yourself." In my view, there's never a good reason not to treat ourselves with the same kindness and compassion that we treat those who are most beloved to us.
One should count each day a separate life. —Seneca
Wow. If I do this, I'll live to be very old indeed!
You don't get to choose how you're going to die. Or when. You can decide how you're going to live now. —Joan Baez
Yes, we don't get to choose how we're going to die (with deference to Advanced Directives), but it's also true that we often don't get to choose what this moment will bring. We can, however, learn to choose how to respond to this moment—not to recoil from unpleasant experiences and not to cling to pleasant ones. So, when Ms. Baez says we can decide how we're going to live now, to me, this means we can decide how to respond to our life as it is right now. We can be bitter, angry, and resentful when things don't go our way. Or we can be open-hearted, forgiving, and accepting. The choice is ours.
In the depth of winter I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer. —Albert Camus
"Irises" by Van Gogh
We've all experienced the depth of cold from painful emotions. We've all shivered in their grip. "Invincible" is defined in the dictionary as "too powerful to be defeated or overcome." And so, yes, within us all is an invincible summer that will eventually bring those painful emotions out of the cold darkness and into the heat of the sun which will melt away their grip on us.
The world is full of suffering, it is also full of overcoming it. —Helen Keller
The first phrase of the quotation is as good a statement of the Buddha's first noble truth as I've come across (although there's no reason to think Ms. Keller was referring to it!). Like the Buddha, she has good news for us: the world is also full of overcoming suffering. If Helen Keller can do it, we can do it—or at least get close. The key to me is opening our hearts and minds to all of life's experiences—pleasant and unpleasant—and engaging life fully as it comes to us.
When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. —Lao Tzu
I love to work on letting go of the identities I've come to associate with myself. They used to be "dean" and "law professor." Now they're often "sick person" and "writer." Identities are useful (we need one to get a paycheck), but it's so freeing to shed them because it opens up possibilities that may not have even occurred to us... so we can become what we might be.
All beings are flowers
"Water Lilies" (detail) by Monet
In a blossoming universe.
I close with this poem from Zen master Soen Roshi because reading it always brings a slight smile to my face—as slight as the tiny flower buds that emerge in springtime. This poem is in my first book and, if I write a second one, I'm pretty sure it will be in it too, as a reminder that all of us can blossom and fulfill our potential as human beings.
(For more quotations, reflections, and Impressionist paintings, see "Sizzling Summer"!)
© 2012 Toni Bernhard www.tonibernhard.com
Thank you for reading my work. My most recent book is titled How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow.
I'm also the author of the award-winning How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and their Caregivers.
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