Of everything I read in Marta Maranda’s book What It Looks Like
(of which I’ve written before), the concept that gave me the most hope was that of “coming back.”
Maranda introduces the concept first in terms of her meditation practice. She writes of times during meditation when she “simply cannot quiet [her] mind.” She recounts asking the facilitator at a group meditation session “how many minutes out of his daily sitting was he where he wanted to be.” His answer was not one of minutes.
He said there are times–after work, the kids, bills to pay, and chores to do–when just making it to his cushion at the end of the night was the strongest part of his practice. He explained that it is the “coming back” that defines any process. It is coming back to your cushion to meditate when you would rather sit on the sofa and watch television. It is coming back to breath number one after a thought or feeling, once again, interrupted you before you had reached breath number ten. It is coming back to being an observer after you attached too long to a thought or feeling you should have let pass. (p. 338)
The next words written by Maranda are the ones that really hit me.
And it is coming back to your commitment to living an honorable, compassionate, and forgiving life after you reacted to something or someone in a dishonorable, angry, or vengeful way. Every errant step gives us another chance to come back to love, healing, and truth. (p.338)
Maranda writes more about the idea of “coming back” and how that idea relates to enlightenment.
Ironically, the concept of “coming back” is essential to enlightenment. Most imagine enlightenment to be the ultimate goal. One that, once achieved, transforms a human being into a perfected one free of all anger, fear, pain, ego, judgment, and difficulties, who lives his life in complete surrender, and radiates pure love and truth…However in his book After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, Jack Kornfield explains, “There is no such thing as enlightened retirement.” (p. 338-339)
Maranda goes on to quote Jack Kornfield:
Enlightenment does exist. It is possible to awaken. Unbounded freedom and joy, oneness with the Divine, awakening into a state of timeless grace–these experiences are more common than you know, and not far away. There is one further truth, however: They don’t last. Our realizations and awakenings show us the reality of the world, and bring transformation, but they pass… (p. 339)
Maranda wraps up her thoughts on “coming back” by writing
With awareness comes the realization that there are times of deep compassion, great wisdom, boundless joy, and ultimate freedom that coexist with times of fear, pain, struggle, and brokenness. By refusing to acknowledge and address the shadow that accompanies life, we never receive the gift it yearns to give us. The physical world, with all its pain and problems, is not here to thwart our enlightenment, but to strengthen it. With every satori, or enlightenment experience, we come back and hone what we’ve learned against the challenges in our lives and in the world: we come back to show others what love, healing, and truth look like in a world of anger, pain, and dysfunction. (p. 340)
This idea of “coming back” has really encouraged me, given me hope. I’ve often thought that if I’m not always a 100% perfect person, then I’m not a good person. When I get to a place of serenity, I can maintain it for a while, but I tend to slide back into gossip; petty, snarky thoughts and comments; irritation with friends and strangers,; general grumpiness; lack of gratitude; and jumping to ugly little conclusions about people. I thought all these negative ways of reacting to people meant I was a bad person with a negative attitude, but maybe these negative reactions mean I’m just a human person trying to live in this really fucked-up society that we call home.
I think the answer is NOT to think, Oh well, I’m human. We live in a fucked up world. I am what I am. Can’t change now. I think the answer is in this idea of coming back. Maybe the better thought process is I didn’t handle that situation the way I wanted to. What can I do better next time I find myself in a similar situation? How do I make amends for what I did?
The idea of coming back means my life is not an all or nothing proposition. It means I don’t have to see myself as a bad person just because I didn’t act or react the way I wanted too. I can still see myself as a good person, even after a failure, as long as I come back to the thoughts and behaviors that define the person I want to be.