not special

 

He was not special

For three days last spring, I was enrolled in a workshop of the Psychology of Yoga and Mindfulness with Michael Stone, a psychotherapist, Buddhist teacher and social activist. Despite having read his books and listening to his podcasts for years, this was the first time I had studied with him, in person.

I thought he was special.

When he learned that I was there for some professional development as a high school guidance counsellor on the cusp of launching a mindfulness program at my school, he elegantly wove helpful suggestions like “this would be great to use with students” into his lessons.

He made time during his breaks to meet with workshop participants. He made no outrageous claims to having all the answers and freely admitted his fears.
He had a great sense of humour.  He was as present with us as he could have been.

He invited us to not consider anything or anyone to be special.

As soon as we consider something to be special, we cling to it, try to capture it and recreate it in the future. But clinging only leads to sorrow.  Because everything passes. It all passes away.

Only a month or so after this workshop, Michael passed away.

He was not special. Only a set of conditions. Like us, he had his triumphs and his challenges, his fears and his acts of outrageous courage and he did the best he could with what he had. Through my clinging and deep mourning of the loss of my teacher, I was invited to learn once again to let go of what I think of as special.

Everything passes. It all passes away.

 

She is not special

Like me, she was one of the first to arrive on the Friday morning.  Arriving early is a trait I instantly admire in a person. Clearly eager to learn , we set up our mats and cushions at the front, close to the mat set out for the teacher and introduced ourselves to each other. We quickly partnered up for activities which is how we found ourselves sitting face to face for a powerful guided activity. As we sat cross-legged with our knees touching, we followed Michael’s direction to look closely, deeply at the other person while staying completely present in our bodies for what seemed like a very long time.

I thought she was special.

She is a set of conditions. Like you, she has her triumphs and her challenges, her fears and her acts of outrageous courage and is doing the best she can with what she has. Can you give her the gift of being completely present for her right now knowing that one day she will pass away? Not off in your head thinking about something else. But right here. Now. Coming back always to looking deeply into her face without judgment.

As the minutes on the clock ticked by so slowly, her face changed. It went from determination, to discomfort, to curiosity before it softened. I felt my face soften after moving through similar experiences. By staying right there, my breath began to soften in my body and my body felt at rest. I felt a gratitude for the present moment. For her. For him. For me.

Despite my gratitude for her in that moment, clinging to her and our shared experience is folly. The moment has passed. It no longer exists.

Everything passes. It all passes away.

 

I am not special

Nothing to see here. I am merely a set of conditions. And doing the best I can. Nothing to cling to. I too will pass.

 

You are not special