Zen in the Time of Chaos

ANIKA SHARMA

How does one hold on to a sense of “Zen” at a time of chaos? It seems like chaos surrounds us these days and it takes many forms.

My life especially, seems to thrive on it. Perhaps some of it is my own creation. After all, why do we have a dog, marine fish and so many house plants – wouldn’t life be simpler if I had fewer things to manage? And this is only the beginning of the list. Life has a way of turning into chaos, especially if one does not consciously steer it in the right direction, day in and day out. Look at my children for instance. One has discovered the power of “why” for everything; the other has discovered the power of her lungs as well as the freedom that comes with walking. And she is less than a year old. Now the one place that I hold on to my Zen, my inner peace, is my shower. I start and end my day with it. But my daughter has discovered her mother’s hideaway and the sheer joy of coming into the bathroom, screaming her lungs out, till her mother responds! So much for a Zen moment.

Talking about the economic crisis, I am looking at our hard earned money invested in really good mutual stocks, and it is not very heartening to see that its value has fallen by more than 60%. And this is money in good hands. I cannot even imagine what is happening to the money that has been invested in other stocks and mutual funds. But we are blessed.

Both my husband and I are of an earning age, and can continue to add to our nest egg. But where does this leave those who have retired and have invested all their hard earned money, hoping to see it grow, or at least not lose value? How can I ask them to feel a sense of Zen?

We have a planet in peril and we live in a world that is so unpredictable. There is a financial crisis and a food crisis all rolled into one. Yet, more than at any other time in the world, it is now that we are probably wasting the most amount of food. Is this how we are being made to realize our follies?

I look back and see the greed in my own life. I never thought twice before buying anything, might that be a new piece of furniture, or perhaps a new dress. Everything was a “credit card” away – the mantra of living was, “if I can afford it, I should buy it.” And obviously everybody was thinking on the same lines.

Perhaps this is what they call the circle of life. What goes around comes around. We were so haughty about our money and now it seems to have no value. Perhaps it will give us a chance to rethink the way we live and give objects a second life. I for one am a big believer in garage sales, consignment stores and community sites like craigslist.org. I am also a believer of the mantra that, “if you can get it secondhand, why waste the energy of buying it new?” So my desk, on which I write this, is a solid piece of wood that I bought second hand from an international student studying at Princeton University. It only cost me 30 bucks, but that is not the point. What makes me happy is to know that it has seen better days, it has seen life, someone has sat on it to complete their masters and it comes to me with all that karma.

I also love it when friends drop in with hand-medowns for my two children. I do not see it as a reflection of “whether I can afford it or not.” I see it as a way to recycle, to reuse what has more life in it. And when I am done with it (especially because children outgrow everything so quickly) I will pass it on too, to others who can probably give those things yet another life.

“Perhaps this is what they call the circle of life. What goes around comes around. We were so haughty about our money and now it seems to have no value.”

A couple of months ago we had a swapping party. Everyone got something that they did not need anymore – gifts they had received, things that they had outgrown and we put it on a big table – from where everybody could take what they wanted. And whatever was left would go to charity. I remember my friend brought in a brand new thermos, because she already had one – and I had been looking for one for a while.

What are the odds? The party was a huge success – everyone took something home, something they actually needed, while making space for new things in their life.

What a simple concept – and one filled with good karma. Our parents and grandparents lived on the concept that everything should be used until it is in shreds. So in this time of chaos, where is that Zen moment we all seek? Perhaps it’s in the realization that a home-cooked meal can bring as much joy as one had in a restaurant. Perhaps it’s in the realization that life is more than a bunch of purchases. Perhaps it’s in the realization that everything in our homes does not have to look like it has come out of a catalogue. Things can look (and be appreciated for) like they have been through the rough and tumble of life. For example, I look at my face in the mirror and see my wrinkles and laughter lines and my little belly bulge – perhaps I have not been through enough in life, but I have been through some and have something to show for it. Perhaps this phase too has been sent to us so that we start appreciating what we have, instead of pining for what we don’t. And perhaps we too will have something to show for it – like the rings of a tree trunk.

So I try and find my Zen in things like my solid wood table – after all, like me, it has been through life’s tumbles.

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