Saturday, September 10, 2011


Last Saturday, I went to hear the Vietnamese-born Buddhist monk, teacher, author, and peace and social justice activist who helped originate the "Engaged Buddhism" movement., Thich Nhat Hanh, speak in Pasadena. TNH is turning 85 soon and he looked like a jolly, little Yoda when he sits on a small cushion to teach us. For three hours, he and his entourage of monks and nuns engaged the audience in mindfulness meditation, chanting, and contemplation. Just being in the presence of someone so peaceful and wise was a healing balm for me, but beyond that, TNH's message of compassion and understanding enveloped my heart with a warmth that I haven't been feeling much of lately. The untrained voices of the monks and nuns lifted a chant to the bodhisattva associated with compassion, and I realized how much I need more compassion in my life--for my friends and coworkers whom I reject because they get pregnant so easily, for Ivan, whom I pounce on for little things even though he does all the big things so right and so loyally, and for myself.

THN then spoke of a lotus flower--its beauty, serenity, delicacy and joyful presence. He brought the flower to life in my mind and then, very gently, he pointed out that every lotus flower is made of "non-lotus elements," by which he means sunlight, water and mud. So, every time you look at a lotus admiringly, you should realize that it took these other, "non-lotus elements" to create that beauty. Of course, the metaphor is a simple one: the beauty and joy in every person's life must inevitably contain "non-lotus elements"--especially, MUD. This metaphor struck me so profoundly--but why? Perhaps it was the gentle, knowing quality of TNH's voice, or the way he addressed the audience as "Beloved Friends" that made me soften and open my heart. Or, perhaps it was just that his message felt so right for where I am in my life: stuck in the mud.

All along this two-year infertility journey, I have tried hard to remember the "glowing sunshine and refreshing water" that make up so much of who I am and what I have in my life. But I must not be very good at counting my blessings because many times, those beautiful elements of my life pale in comparison to the "mud of infertility" that has glopped nastily all over my mind, my heart, my sex life, my marriage, my body, my soul. Most of the time, I think I'm just made of mud now--that this sorrow and loss and anger and jealousy are my only "elements" and that I'll never be a flower again. I imagine that, even if we eventually adopt a baby and finally become a family, I'll never be happy because I was unable to live this dream of pregnancy, the dream of giving the gift of life.

But strangely, TNH, the unmarried monk with no children, was able to convince me--if only briefly--that all this "mud" is not only a necessary part of who I am now, but it's an essential aspect of the lotus flower that I can be. He also reminded me that everybody is part "mud" and that I need to have more compassion for the suffering in each person's life. We are all made of "non-lotus elements"--even my friends and colleagues who get pregnant just by standing next to their partner have suffered, or continue to suffer, on their journey to motherhood. I should try to appreciate that we have that in common, even when I feel so far away from them now.

After the talk last weekend, I searched out some of TNH's writings and found this quote. It's my latest talisman, the lotus in my back pocket. It reminds me that yes, I am the sticky, staining mud, but I am also the warming sunlight and the clear, cold Colorado mountain water. I hope that Thich Nhat Hanh's wisdom makes you smile:

"Suffering is not enough. Life is both dreadful and wonderful...How can I smile when I am filled with so much sorrow? It is natural--you need to smile to your sorrow because you are more than your sorrow."

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