JUST THIS MUCH

After my husband’s death, once I could think at all, I became afraid I might have become schizophrenic. As I began this new life on my own, so often my emotions were all over the place. It was frightening to jump in a minute from the relief of tranquility to desperate unhappiness. And of course, with Barry gone, during these erratic shifts it felt as if I had nothing to hold on to.

Most often, what caused the dangerous-feeling anguish began with the treacherous word ‘never’. I would never see Barry’s face light up when I came home; never to stand shoulder to shoulder watching a doe with a fragile, newborn fawn, never dance wildly and ridiculously to Valentine’s Day music, never again hear “Just listen to this…” Never.

Always, it was Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh who helped me most. I read widely, searching for help, but it was the Buddhist concept of Santusta (“right here, right now”) which became my anchor. At times when my grief was so far-reaching that I was sure I was drowning, it was his teaching of “just this much” which saved me. He held up his thumb and forefinger, open barely an inch. This is all you ever have to do at any one minute. Just this much. This is all you have to think about.”

“Just this much.” I could do that. And as I lived through what had begun by feeling like an impossibly bleak winter I clung to that idea.

But there was more: “We have enough conditions to be happy right here and right now,” Thich Nhat Hanh stressed. “We don’t need any more.” Being content with what I have. I balked at this. It simply did not seem possible.

Only, out of this “right here and right now” thinking, slowly unexpected little pieces of happiness crept into my life. The warmth of my little dachsund Magnus joyfully flinging himself against me every morning; sitting by the blazing fire I had built up from firewood I had brought in, wrapping my cold, stiff hands around my steaming coffee; the sanctuary of a friend’s hug; coming back over and over throughout the day to watch the petals on my white orchid bud unfurl; laughing at my first red-bellied woodpecker, who sometimes scolded me from high in his favourite aspen tree; reading the story of the previous night in the tracks on the fresh snow. When I thought about holding onto being aware of only “just this much”, I began to let myself appreciate these precious fragments of content. And, once I began to notice, these turned out to be everywhere.

How could it be that I had lived at Singing Meadow for fourteen years and never before taken time to fully experience the majesty of slow-moving winter sunsets? Out of this “right here, right now” teaching I found a new reverence in watching the solemn fading of the sun from the eastern hills beyond my valley.

One morning, watching a mist of snow blow off one of the pine trees we had planted, I remembered the powerful Thornton Wilder play Our Town:

“Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?—every, every minute?”