The Disappeared Door
“Don’t think that happiness will be possible only when conditions around you become perfect. Happiness lies in your own heart.”
Thich Nhat Hanh
You may have noticed there was no new blog entry last week. Life became quite difficult, and I couldn’t manage to write one.
This week, things are slightly calmer—slightly. However, the stress has taken its toll.
Yesterday, I arrived at work for my first class feeling harried. I had too much to do and had received an upsetting phone call on my commute. Because of this, I also was running a few minutes late. I was still early, arriving to my classroom way before the students (as it turned out, the student since only one came in person), and there was no need to panic. I still had time to wipe down surfaces, set up Zoom, and complete all of the new pandemic protocols that have become part of my teaching routine.
But when I went to open the classroom door, it was locked. Slight panic. Just a little. There was still time for pre-class pandemic prep. However, I also needed to make an important phone call before class and required information on my computer and time to do that.
I was logical. Call security. Security unlocks doors. Of course, I couldn’t remember the number for security. Fortunately, our phones are miniature computers, so I googled the number Unfortunately, the reception was terrible, and the page wasn’t loading. “Breathe,” I told myself while I stood in front of that locked door.
As the page loaded and I called security, I looked behind me and remembered that the classroom has two doors. And, yes, as security answered the phone, I was walking into my classroom through the unlocked second door.
I’ve been teaching two classes in that same room all semester. Yet for those couple of minutes, that door had disappeared.
Note that the class I was about to teach is on Jane Austen, and my focus in there is the subject of the book I’ve written, which is the connection I see between Austen and Buddhism. Note also that my students do a mindfulness activity and reflection every week.
The disappeared door made me feel a little like an impostor for a minute or two. Who was I to be teaching these ideas when I can’t even see a door?
Then I realized it’s precisely because of disappearing doors that I needed to teach the class, that I needed the material as much as my students, that it’s a practice, not a destination.
A favorite novel of mine is Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. One of the main characters is named Door, and she has the ability to open locked doors through the power of her mind. Doing so drains her, though, so she reaches moments where she no longer can open doors and needs help as she undergoes a perilous journey.
I think I was a bit like a depleted Door yesterday. I can’t magically open doors, but in order to walk through them, I have to see them. If I’m too worn out from life, the door disappears.
As Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, we can’t wait for life to settle down to find peace, calm, and happiness. If so, given the difficulties of daily life currently, we’d be in trouble. Instead, we can see the door and walk through it to find that all of the conditions necessary for our happiness are already and always present.