As I sit in the Goldsmiths College library I cannot help but miss home. I miss the silence. I have to smile when someone actually whispers in the library here, it is so rare. Others freely shout on cell phones or let them ring incessantly. And even the library itself has an intercom system (think, "clean-up on aisle four... clean-up on aisle four") on which they repeatedly announce impending closings: "The Goldsmiths Library facilities will be closing in one hour at eighteen forty-five, please report to the main checkout desk by eighteen thirty." .... "half an hour...." .... "fifteen minutes...."
I practice breathing meditations and return to my work.
In a spiritual sense, little of this is worthy of such attention. Just noise, just people, just sounds and sights like anywhere. But I feel myself, first in my body, then mind, pulled from my spiritual "home" by this foreign world. So much different, so much unfamiliar. The body doesn't like it much. Why? Insecurity?
Tiny shifts do happen though. I notice CCTV cameras, feel safer; see familiar faces, feel safer; relax with new friends at the flat, feel safer; meditate and work out, feel safer. I am starting to see more smiles, to relax and probably smile more myself as well.
Tied in with the last post, I am sure all of this newness has triggered an evolutionary response of heightened stress-hormones that I am just having to deal with. I read somewhere recently that this is just what we have to deal with. Shy of being an extraordinary yogi like Matteau Ricard (who was able to shut down his startle/stress-response to a gunshot-like noise near his head) our body is just set up to jump into these stress-hormone releases. I'm not sure how much I simply accept that (I am sure we can all become as adept as Ricard, given the practice), but I do agree with the point that came later, namely that what counts is how we deal with this bodily reaction. Do we allow ourselves to get 'heated-up' to the point that we are breathing heavily (even while just sitting in traffic or at our desk)? Do we lash out either subtly by calling other drivers names, mumbling under our breath in anger, or more overtly? Or do we acknowledge the realness of the reaction our body is having and counteract it with calming thoughts and exercises (such as simply breathing slowly and deeply through the nose)?
If we cannot eliminate bodily stress-reactions, or even if we can but just have not developed that capacity just yet, then obviously it is essential to minimize the damage these do to our mind and body (excessive cortisol, a main stress hormone, is linked to the build-up of deep tissue belly fats, hyperglycemia, and adult-onset diabetes). Obviously exercise is hugely important. But a second, and perhaps more important factor may be attitude. The very act/habit of constant worry, and honing in on the negatives, the disastrous possibilities out there, and so on is a key ingredient in the chronic stress that plagues our society.
Life is complicated these days. There is so much to worry about: am I dressed ok, do I speak ok, is my face (skin/hair/etc) ok, do I smile enough, am I doing the right things to get ahead? It's funny. It's one of the reasons I have long been attracted to monastic life. You wear robes, you're mostly silent, hair shaved, mood: contemplative. Somehow that just kind of fits me so much of the time. As a monk in society you are not expected to fit in, you are an outsider, cut and dry. Sometimes that is revered, sometimes ignored, but at least it is there - no worries.
But then I am told, by monks, that it isn't really that simple. Some monks specially alter their robes this way or that, or wear a pin or cloak or something that makes them unique. Some jostle for the approval of higher-ups, some back-bite and seem to lose track of contemplation as a focus in life. So much for those romantic dreams.
So what am I (are we) left with? Just this. Hopefully a smile (I hear using all those facial muscles actually reduces stress). We have the world as it is. And what is the fourth great weapon of the warrior-bodhisattva? Acceptance. Accept that life is a flow, and that the mind may get ever so busy reifying elements of it - labeling, boxing off, trying to exert control, or to find stability. But that is just the busy mind, and the body may get busy too, reacting to these reified elements, but that is just the busy body. Reality stays the same.