"Peace, Be Still"
In order to get to most stores, restaurants or businesses in the region where we live everyone is forced to travel on one major highway that is peppered with a variety of “annoying” stop signs and signal lights - for some reason or other, one of these stop lights is programmed for an exceptionally long wait.
Yesterday I waited in a line of traffic stopped at that particularly long signal-light and I noticed that everyone waiting there with me seemed a lot more “antsy” than usual. Most people (myself included) usually feel rather impatient when forced to stop at that light, but yesterday I noticed a particularly pronounced sense of restlessness. It felt like we were all “race cars” waiting for the gun to go off to start the competition. People were revving their engines and the traffic was slowly inching forward anticipating the green light. One person decided that he wasn't going to wait any longer so he “ran the light” and almost caused an accident.
I’ve been reflecting on all the restlessness at that stop light yesterday and determined that that it was probably a powerful icon about life nowadays especially in these post-election weeks and during this busy “holiday” time of the year. Everywhere I look it seems like there is a “more-than-usual" sense of restlessness and anxiety, everyone anxious to make the next move, to get to the next destination, to accomplish the next task.
The celebrated Buddhist author and teacher, Pema Chodron, once observed:
Human beings have an inherent restlessness.
We often want to get up and leave
and yet this feeling of restlessness
can teach us an important lesson about what it means to be human.
We really don’t want to stay with the nakedness of our present experience.
As I sat at the stop-light stuck in that traffic yesterday, I wondered if our restlessness might have been more than feeling inconvenienced as we were forced to wait, maybe our restlessness was emblematic of an inherent human resistance to the nakedness of the present – somehow being “in the present” makes us feel too vulnerable, too exposed, perhaps too “out of control.” And yet, it is precisely this experience of the present moment that lies at the very core of the spiritual journey. It is only when I can train myself to “stay, wait and settle down” in the moment that I am able to experience greater truth and deeper wisdom - the revelation each moment has to offer.
I also remember something Buddhist author and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh once said:
When we see a red light or a stop sign
we can thank it because it is helping us to return to the present moment.
We may have thought of it as an enemy preventing us from achieving our goal.
But now we know the red light is a friend helping us to resist rushing,
calling us into the present where we can meet life with joy and peace.
For me, this Advent season is clearly calling me to greater “mindfulness” in my everyday life. So I have decided to “welcome” the long wait at that annoying stop light as I go about my business every day. The light is a “bell of mindfulness” for me, a friend helping me to stop all the rush, to “stop and settle down,” to spend a minute breathing into the moment where I “can meet life with joy and peace.”