"Don't be afraid to face your difficulty. Turn toward it. Lean into the wind. Hold your ground." Good advice for those living in hard times when it is tempting to run from our problems or avoid them as best we can. Jack Kornfield, one of the key Buddhist teachers to introduce mindfulness practices in the West, has fashioned a small book with an accompanying CD of meditations that guide us through our difficulties with wisdom, insight, and compassion.
The main point is that we can use our hardships for good, but we have to choose to do so. As Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel has put it:
"Suffering confers neither privileges nor rights. It all depends on how one uses it. If you use it to increase the anguish of others or yourself, you are degrading, even betraying it. And yet the day will come when we shall understand that suffering can elevate human beings. God help us to bear our suffering well."
One of the surprising things about suffering, Kornfield observes, is that as you become more acquainted with it, you heart begins to open to the plight of others as they face fear, grief, and loss. This slow unfurling process cannot be rushed: "[It] is always made a step at a time, a breath at a time, a day at a time." Kornfield presents a meditation on "Shared Compassion," which is also on Track Two of the audio CD accompanying the book.
By honoring the suffering of others and trying to understand it, we realize the role of forgiveness as a spiritual practice; it is good medicine for us and for those we consider our enemies. Kornfield explains: "Forgiveness is the only medicine that can release us from the past and allow us to truly begin anew."
There is a lamp in the darkness of the present times. We can navigate our way with practices of intention, peace, and equanimity. With an admirable mix of stories, quotations, and guided meditations, Kornfield hits the mark again.
"Even in the ruins, some new life waits to be born. Fix the mast, or build a new ship."