Note: I’m not in love with this post, but I decided to share it anyway. Why? Because sometimes we need to share an idea before it’s fully formed. I think part of what bothers me is that I don’t quite know if it’s true. Do we all have a place of peace and quiet that we can access any time? Maybe the title should really be a question: “Can we find a place of rest in the middle of things?”
Frank Ostaseski is a man who has a lot to say about what the dying can teach the living. He learned these things through his work as an end-of-life counselor at the Zen Hospice in San Francisco.
Ostaseski summarized the insights he’s learned from the dying as five invitations to be present:
1) Don’t wait.
2) Welcome everything, push away nothing.
3) Bring your whole self to the experience.
4) Find a place of rest in the middle of things.
5) Cultivate don’t-know mind.
During our recent road trip, the adults listened to Ostaseski and his “invitations” on Seminars on Long-term Thinking in the front seat, while the kids were plugged in to their own programs in the backseat. Every once in a while a word like “death” or “dying” would make it through their headphones and they would shout, “What are you listening to?!” or “This sounds so depressing!” Then they would return with rapt attention to Harry Potter or Pokemon, or whatever. But you know what? Despite the backdrop of death and dying, it really wasn’t depressing at all. There were, indeed, many good (non-depressing) lessons for those of us who plan to go on with this business of living.
The lesson that has been on my mind lately is #4, Find a place of rest in the middle of things. It’s that phrase “in the middle of things” that’s really key here. It’s easy to find rest on a holiday, on the weekend, at night in bed or curled up with a book. But what if we’re up to our eyeballs in work? What if we’re surrounded by screaming kids? Or stuck in traffic? Or stressed out by any of the million-and-one things that stress us out? Can we find a place of rest right there, right in the messy middle of things?
To do: Find a place of rest in the middle of things.
Somewhere inside of you, of me, of all of us, is a quiet place. A place that is always peaceful and calm. Under all the noise and clutter, there’s a reserve of quiet. Call it whatever you want–the meaning is the same. So how do we get there, in the middle of everything?
I think it takes some brain training and reframing. In Ostaseski’s example, he describes helping the dying find a place of rest between the gasps of their dying breaths. That space might be infinitesimal, but calming nevertheless.
First we have to locate that quiet place, then we have to learn the way there. Maybe it’s through slowing our breath. Maybe it’s focusing on the space between our breaths. Or maybe it’s hiding in a closet (not that I’ve ever done that). I think (I hope) that with attention and practice, the pathway to that quiet place will gradually become easier to find, and we’ll have a place of rest–a respite for the soul–right in the middle of everything.