Some time ago, I wrote about practice as a way of return, of recollection, of remembering…..coming down out of our thoughts and memories and dreams, to the experience of being in a living, breathing body, here and now. I wrote about how this movement of return can feel like a last resort, something we turn to when all our thinking and distractions fail.
This week the universe taught me a deeper lesson. On Sunday, I taught a meditation workshop in the morning in celebration of the International Day of Peace that is sponsored by the United Nations. Afterwards, a group of about 55 people made their way into Manhattan for a tour of the U.N. and an enjoyable day in NYC. A wonderful big group turned out and we were even able to see part of The People’s Climate March where almost 400,000 people came together in peace to shine a spotlight on environmental issues ahead of the U.N. Climate Summit that began today. Afterwards, the energy was so powerful and exciting that I practically sprinted to Grand Central Station. I was so happy! I felt so blessed to be able to share the wonderful art of meditation, the art of return, to a big, diverse group of people. I felt with life and in perfect agreement with it.
I took my seat on Metro North, began to search for my book in my Nun’s bag and I realized I had been pickpocketed!  The envelope with all the money that had come to me in that beautiful spirit of dana (generosity) was gone!  In an instant I felt bereft. The city had been beautiful and full of light and now it was all in darkness…..hurt, battled with rage and even embarrassment. Years ago, my cousin had been pick pocketed and she shouted on a subway after she discovered she was robbed:  “I’m a life long New Yorker! I was born here!”  As though only tourists deserve to be robbed.
Then hurt and self-pity took over. All that effort….I had planned to use the dana to support the apple picking event that is held with a local orphanage…only to have the dana snatched from me!  I began to tell myself about how unfair it was, how cursed I was….WAIT…what was I saying to myself?  The awareness seeped in that I had been teaching all day….all week….just about most of my adult life….about the way spiritual practice allows you to be with life as it arises, about the way it allows you to find a freedom and happiness that isn’t welded to what is happening.
Practice opens up the space between stimulus and response….from the minute level of stimulus that is constantly streaming in (car horns, sirens, indigestion), to the macro level of robberies, floods, Academy Award nominations or bad reviews. The movement of return, of recollection, of breathing and sensation helps us remember that we have a choice. I realized that I couldn’t change what happened….life is quite surprising, in spite of our best efforts. Yet, I didn’t have to go into a story about it. I could choose not to believe I was cursed or assign blame or any of the rest of it.  I did not have to make an identity out of it. I could simply relate to it as something that happened. Before it happened, I had been soaring along, with life. Was I not still with life?
Whoosh….in flowed a vibrancy and light and freedom. I saw that things happen. 
I once had the strangely unique experience of having my monastic badges, driver’s license and malas stolen during a retreat in monastery. Reporting the theft to a State Trooper so I could get a new driver’s license, I mused to him that what was so strange was that the theft happened at a place where nothing bad ever happened. He looked at me as if I had just dropped in from Mars. Good and bad things happen everywhere. Life goes up and down. The gift of spiritual practice is that our deeper peace and happiness, our sense of connectedness to a greater whole, doesn’t depend on what happens. It gives us a capacity to open to a deeper truth, a greater whole.
Later on Sunday evening, I looked up the word “bereft,” and discovered that it comes from a root that literally means to be robbed or have something snatched from you….not just money or property but deeper qualities like dignity, freedom, happiness. This is what injustice feels like, I realized.  This is what many beings feel every day. Bereft. I also realized that the feeling among the group of us….the feeling of mutual dana or generosity…..could not be stolen. This is not hippy delusion….if we are a little bit more free inside, we can see more.
When something shocking or upsetting happens, when loss or blame….or wild good fortune happens….where do you turn? If you are like me, there are favorite stories you can slip into like old sweaters, cozy but ugly…..stories about being unlucky or unloved or cursed. And what is it like to not to put on the sweater of failure? What would it be like to dwell in the space between praise and blame, stimulus and response. To listen to the silence instead of the old stories?