Ginger was a 51 year old social worker who had worked for years in a clinic in California’s Central Valley. A committed meditator, she took a month off to come to our spring retreat. At first it was hard for her to quiet her mind. Her beloved younger brother had re-entered the psych ward where he had first been hospitalized for a schizophrenic break. She told me she was awash with emotion, overwhelmed by fear, confusion, shakiness, anger, and grief. I counseled her to let it all be, to just sit and walk on the earth and let things settle in their own time. But as she sat, the feelings and stories got stronger. I recited to her Ajahn Chah’s teaching of sitting like a clear forest pool. I encouraged her to acknowledge, one by one, all the inner wild animals that come and drink at the pool.
She began to name them: fear of loss of control, fear of death, fear of living fully, grief and clinging to a previous relationship, longing for a partner but wanting to be independent, fear for her brother, anxiety about money, anger at the healthcare system she had to battle everyday at her job, gratitude for her co-workers.
I invited her to sit in the middle of it all, the paradox, the messiness, the hopes and fears. “Take your seat like a queen on the throne,” I said, “and allow the play of life, the joys and sorrows, the fears and confusions, the birth and death around you. Don’t think you have to fix it.”
Ginger practiced, sitting and walking, allowing it all to be. As the intense feelings continued to come and go, she relaxed and gradually she became more still and present. Her meditation felt more spacious, the strong states and feeling that arose seemed like impersonal waves of energy. Her body became lighter, and joy arose. Two days later things got worse. She came down with the flu, she felt extremely weak and unsafe, and she became depressed. Because Ginger also had Hepatitis C, she worried that her body would never be strong enough to meditate well or live with ease.
I reminded her about sitting in the middle of it all, and she came the next day, still and happy again. She said, “I’ve returned to the center. I’m not going to let my past karma and these obstacles rob me of my presence.” She laughed and went on, “Like the Buddha, I realized, oh, this is just Mara. I just say ‘I see you Mara.’ Mara can be my grief or my hopes, my body pain or my fear. All of it is just life and the middle way is so deep, it’s all of them and none of them, it’s always here.”
I’ve seen Ginger now over several years since she left the retreat. Her outer circumstances have not really improved. Her work, her brother, her health are all still difficulties she continues to face. But her heart is more at ease. She sits quietly almost every day in the messiness of her life. Ginger tells me her meditation has helped her find the middle path and the inner freedom she hoped for.
This excerpt is taken from the book, ” “The Wise Heart” by Jack Kornfield