Learning to live with our demons and what we cannot control. Photo credit: Georges Seguin/Wikimedia Commons.
OTTAWA — This year I made a promise to share more of my stories before I die. Don’t worry, I’m not dying—at least that I know of—anytime soon.
I woke up one morning and called my best friend, Barb, in a panic. I asked her if something should happen to me, could she release my writings? I explained that I have so much I want to share with others. To help them know they are not alone and alleviate their suffering. She agreed, and we discussed the logistics.
The next day I called her again and said sheepishly, “I guess it’s me that needs to release my stories, while I am alive?” I knew the answer to my question. But how and when?
Over a year ago, I started to gather my stories to release but left for Japan for a year. I wrote daily from Ochi, Japan, where I was placed in the countryside to work as an assistant English teacher with JET, the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program. I returned to Canada in August 2020, where I continue to write. I wonder when will be the right time to release this gigantic snowball of stories? When will I have the courage?
When is the Right Time?
I’ve learned there is never a “right time.” There won’t be a time when the light will go on, and you will hear a loud voice say, do it now. In fact, it may be the opposite because the bully inside us says, “who are you to do this? What if people make fun of your work? Maybe you should wait a bit longer?”
Don’t we want to succeed? Yes, but the bully in us is critical and negative, and most of all, scared. What do we do about the bully? We realize they will always be there. Instead of trying to push them out, since they will not go anyway, maybe we sit them down and give them a cup of tea.
Having Tea with Mara
I love the Buddhist story, Inviting Mara to Tea. The night before his enlightenment, the Buddha fought a great battle with the Demon God Mara, and Mara left. However, Mara continued to make unexpected appearances.
Instead of ignoring Mara or driving him away, the Buddha would calmly acknowledge his presence, saying, “I see you, Mara, let’s have tea.” Mara would stay for a while and then go. Throughout Mara’s comings and goings, the Buddha remained free and undisturbed.
Who is Mara for us in this story? Mara is our ego and visits us in the form of troubling emotions or fearsome stories. Why did the Buddha offer Mara tea? By saying, “I see you, Mara,” and offering him tea, the Buddha is accepting the experiences we don’t want with kindness. Why is this important? We can’t fight or drive away emotions and thoughts we don’t want because they will be back and continue to create havoc in our hurts and fears.
How do we let go of the emotions we do not want? By observing and accepting conditions such as happiness and unhappiness as transient. When you notice your mental states with pure consciousness, you gain power over them, which leads to more inner peace and less suffering. What is pure consciousness? In Buddhist mindfulness teachings, this means distinguishing between the temporary states of the mind and the knowing of them. Most people lump everything together as the mind itself.
What kind of tea do we serve Mara? This question arises from the chef in me and my curious soul. I feel Buddha would say to me, the best, the tea you love most.
In her book Radical Acceptance, psychologist and internationally renowned expert on Buddhist meditation Tara Brach urges us to accept ourselves and our pain, so we can treat ourselves with the care and kindness we deserve. She writes, “our habit of being a fair-weather friend to ourselves—of pushing away or ignoring whatever darkness we can—is deeply entrenched. But just as a relationship with a good friend is marked by understanding and compassion, we can learn to bring these same qualities to our own inner life.”
While the unwanted visitor Mara, or whatever name you want to give your bully or demon, is busy drinking our best tea, we press the send button, we make that call, or we start what we are avoiding.
Last March, I was speaking with Kelly Fleck, the editor of Nikkei Voice, about the impact of COVID-19 on her life and the paper. She said they had to close their office at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre. She was putting together the Nikkei Voice from her home. It wasn’t easy, but she was making it work for the time being. One year later, Kelly continues to put the paper together from her home and has done a superb job. Kudos to her and her team! We are stronger and more resilient than we think. It’s been a year living with COVID-19, the unwanted guest we didn’t want in the first place. It continues to overstay its unwelcome like Mara.
Drink your best tea with it, and keep going.