A New Normal
“When we get too caught up in the busyness of the world, we lose connection with one another – and ourselves.” –
“Did you hear about the Buddhist vacuum cleaner? It’s pretty much useless, as it has no attachments.”
During his recent prayers to quell the pandemic His Holiness 17th Karmapa spoke in articulate and elegant English. He mentioned the additional stress under which this places him. He’s used to having a translator. Here he was quite alone, with just a webcam for company, talking to a hundred thousand people. A native Chinese speaker assures me that his Mandarin was equally impressive. He had important things to say and hearing him speaking directly to me in my own language seemed to bring me closer to him than I have felt hitherto. I found it immensely moving and comforting. Native language does that. It connects.
Connection is especially important at the moment. The earth seems to be crumbling under our feet and we’re trying to reach out to grasp the dependable vestiges of a life lived long ago (actually about 5 weeks.) I find myself reading books I’ve read before and listening to music that has been with me for much of my life; connections to safer times, now the world seems like a dangerous place.
Maybe these comfort blankets are harmless but I ask myself, when does a connection become an attachment? Indeed, what distinguishes a connection and an attachment?
Perhaps an attachment is that which takes us out of the present moment. It purports to keep us in the safety and familiarity of what has passed, or in a future where we long for finality and permanence. Its appeal is a total illusion. Connection is in the present. It offers a sense of peace, which still allows for the unexpected. It expresses and happily accepts our vulnerability.
A connection to others sets us on a path to happiness. A connection to the Dharma sets us on the road to freedom. This is true for everyone. There are no exceptions.
Many of our favourite attachments and diversions offer an ephemeral relief at huge cost to the environment. Their boom-bust nature drives us, like addicts, to repeat the process over and over without ever achieving the level of satisfaction we crave. Why do people not learn this simple lesson, which stares them so boldly in the face?
Our current predicament has allowed us to appreciate that there are things we can live without, despite having previously believed them to be essential. This has been a great learning experience. People want to return to normal. That’s understandable, but maybe normal is no more. Or perhaps a ‘New Normal’ awaits us, should we choose to embrace it. We can reassess, simplify our lives, reduce our impact on the environment and be happier with an inward-looking, connected simplicity, free from harmful and unhelpful attachments.