This week I've brought a few more of my books to my office at the synagogue. As I add each one to the bookshelves, often I am tempted to open them and remind myself why I wanted to bring them in the first place. This afternoon I picked up Thich Nhat Hanh's Being Peace, and the page to which it opened told me this:
Even though life is hard, even though it is sometimes difficult to smile, we have to try. Just as when we wish each other, "Good morning," it must be a real "Good morning." Recently, one friend asked me, "How can I force myself to smile when I am filled with sorrow? It isn't natural." I told her she must be able to smile to her sorrow, because we are more than our sorrow. A human being is like a television set with millions of channels. If we turn the Buddha on, we are the Buddha. If we turn sorrow on, we are sorrow. If we turn a smile on, we really are the smile. We cannot let just one channel dominate us. We have the seed of everything in us, and we have to seize the situation in our hand, to recover our own sovereignty. When we sit down peacefully, breathing and smiling, with awareness, we are our true selves, we have sovereignty over ourselves.
I'm struck by the notion of smiling to one's sorrow: not despite it, not through it, but to it. And I'm moved by his suggestion that each of us can choose to which emotional channel we turn. I think he's right that we are "more than our sorrow" -- and that even in the midst of sadness or anger, one can choose to try to tune in to the channel of compassion and kindness.
I am not a serious student of Buddhism -- not in the way that many of my friends are -- but I have learned so much from the Buddhist teachers who I have encountered, both in person and in print. I haven't read this book in years, but I'm glad it remains on my shelf. What a lovely teaching to carry with me for the rest of the day and into tomorrow morning's meditation minyan. Thank you, Brother Thầy.