It has been said that meditation is not a vacation from irritation.

Last Friday I had the opportunity to observe an open heart surgery from the dome of the hospital’s operating room where I volunteer. The miracle of a medical team, a cardiac surgeon, an anesthetist and 8-10 nurses and technicians working hard to save one life. If you stop to think about it, it is beyond remarkable that it is possible to sedate someone, cut through the breastbone, hook up a machine to take over the function of the heart and lungs, then repair their failing heart. Then, the person is sewn back up, the heart and lungs kick back in and walking starts the next day. While I was absorbed in this miracle, in another part of the country, 10 lives were taken away from children who just minutes before were full of potential. This is the 22nd US school shooting since the beginning of the year.

The surgeon, a tall dark and handsome man, came into the dome area, pulled back a chair and sat down while we clapped and congratulated him. Dr Singh put up his cowboy boot-covered feet up and asked us if we had any questions. I asked him if not being able to see the patient’s face, since it was on the other side of the “bat wing” (a screen that comes between his head and the rest of the body), helped or hindered him to do this remarkable act. Dr Singh replied: I know the man, his family, his hopes, fears and plans.

No one ever tells us to stop running away from fear. We are very rarely told to move closer, to just be there, to become familiar with fear. Zen master Kobun Chino Roshi was asked how he related with fear, he said, “I agree. I agree” But the advice we usually get is to sweeten it up, smooth it over, take a pill, or distract ourselves, but by all means make it go away. We don’t need that kind of encouragement, because dissociating from fear is what we do naturally.

Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.” -Thich Nhat Hanh

Meditation practice trains our minds to quiet the excess chatter running through — thoughts of anxiety, fear, and self-doubt. Regular meditation allows us to begin to realize all those thoughts are just thoughts. They aren’t who we really are. With this knowledge and training, we free ourselves to become more focused on the present moment and enjoy more blissful living. It’s not instant gratification, however. Just like working out — the more often you meditate, the better the results. Those who meditate regularly often experience feelings of calm, clarity, and love.

One hand on the beauty of the world,

one hand on the suffering of all beings,

and two feet grounded in the present moment

– Tibetan poet