The story is told of Milarepa, an 8th century Tibetan Buddhist, who came back to his cave one day to find it filled with demons. He didn’t know how to get rid of them. He got angry and shouted at them to leave. They just laughed. He regained his composure and tried to teach them Buddhism. They yawned and ignored him. Finally, he gave up and said, “I’m not going anywhere and it seems that you are not either. I guess we will have to live here together. Let’s have tea.” He turned to make tea at which point the demons promptly left.
A lot has happened in the last few months that has stirred up feelings. Deep feelings relating to things that happened long ago. Disturbing feelings. Even scary. Churning up long settled silt to muddy the clear water of the present.
What to do with these feelings?
First I dismiss them.
How silly to be upset about things that happened so long ago. I know better. I’m not even upset about things that really happened, because who really knows what happened? As A Course in Miracles teaches, “the only wholly true thing you can say about the past is that it is not here.” I’m upset about the stories I’m telling myself about the past. Stories I’m telling myself right now about times lost in the mist. Why am I doing this to myself? I can simply change the stories and not be upset. Of course, that is just substituting stories. The feel good stories are no more true than the feel bad stories. They are all just stories. Drop them all. Why are those feelings still hanging around?
Next I try to analyze them.
What are these feelings really about? If I can understand them, I can control them. I can put them in a properly labeled container and be done with them. So I think and think. But my thinking gets me nowhere and I find myself circling by the same thoughts repeatedly, like seeing the same tree over and over when lost in the woods. I am hopelessly confused. I cannot think my way to peace with these feelings.
So I invite them to tea.
I remember the story of Milarepa. Okay, feelings, sit down and have some tea. Sit right here. Drink this. But no one comes.
And finally I give up.
A good host does not command her guests. She prepares the table and welcomes who shows up.
I remember the little tea set that someone gave my daughter years ago. It is covered with hearts. It sits on a heart shaped tray, and the four tiny cups are shaped like hearts. Seems like a gift from destiny.
I fill the little pot with water and sit down to wait.
One by one, they arrive – pain, anger, fear, sadness. As each one arrives, I bow in welcome. I think of the teapot as representing the courage to open my heart to these guests, and the water is the nectar of mercy and compassion. I pour water into the cups and offer one to each guest with another bow.
And I listen to what each has to say.
I would like to tell you that they each spoke their piece and then left, but the truth is that they are still here. They are not finished yet. And that’s okay.
We are all friends here.