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Time Present and Time Past

Most of the stores had changed since I was a boy, though the cheese shop and the sporting goods outlet looked to be frozen in time. The slant of sunlight of the day made the town look prettier than it had in years. And as I stood in the middle of a little cobblestone street, I softly reflected on the fact that I’d been coming to this place my entire life.

Memories were loosed with the thought. Childhood frivolity, adolescent strife, college dreams, the hardships of adulthood, happiness, misery, longing, all that I had, all that I never had, all that I wanted, successes and failures, life in the blink of an eye.

My hosts and I had been discussing meditation and Buddhism over breakfast, and it was remarked that “I seemed very calm.” The words struck with some force. I was not calm at all. For days I’d been working into a lather the idea that my life was about to crumble. Everything around me felt tenuous. Within days I was certain to be picking up the pieces of foolhardy plans once again.

But there was something different. I was calm. Somehow, within the anxiety and swirling thoughts that wanted to chase me down a rabbit hole, I was calm. Had I successfully cleaved my suffering from my self?

I’d been trying to explain to somebody the idea that our suffering takes two forms: the suffering itself, and the clinging to the suffering. My attempts at making sense of it were falling flat, though I myself was somehow experiencing this very understanding. For the first time, I could live and breathe through my normal anxieties, preoccupations and fears without them gripping me like vines wrapped around iron bars. They were there, of course, but they had a different quality to them.

Gone was what Phillipp Moffitt in his wonderful “Dancing With Life” called “the hidden desire that life be something other than it is.” Life is, and will always be as it is. Or as T.S. Eliot wrote in “Four Quartets”:

What might have been and what has been / Point to one end, which is always present.

The weekend ended, and I said goodbye. As I drove away, something else occurred to me. I’ll be coming back here for years to come.

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