A Zen meditation student didn’t like the sound the water made when it rushed over the rocks. It drove him crazy so he decided to rearrange the rocks. But when he did, the water made a louder sound that was much worse. When he eventually accepted the sound for what it was, he stopped hearing it and he dropped into a peaceful meditation.

I had a challenging morning yesterday. It felt like I woke up with a political hangover. The day before, I made the mistake of indulging in the downward spiral of bad news, scary reports, bad people in power and the dread of contagion and death. I’m not saying these things aren’t real. They are, and no amount of wishing and hoping will change the truth. Only time will tell what’s coming down the pike and getting on the train to hell is a state of mind that is available if you don’t watch out. A train is always idling at the station, waiting for you to get on as it chugs away, picks up speed, and takes you on a harrowing ride to Anxiety Avenue and Scary Street. There is a seat there with your name on it and it requires great effort to get off the train once it reaches warp speed. It takes mindfulness, self-compassion and clarity.

When I got up yesterday, I was already on the train so I decided to take a long walk at the park to clear my mind and figure out how to calm down and get present. On my drive there, I decided I would ask myself two questions as I walked: Where is the good in this? How do I turn it into something positive and meaningful?

I put on my mask, positioned it so my breath didn’t fog up my sunglasses, and I started walking. Right foot. Where is the good in this? Left foot. How do I turn it into something positive and meaningful? Answers came and went during the next hour and a half. It’s a good thing for the environment, my mind said. It’s a bad thing for humanity. It’s good to recognize that we’re all in this together. It’s bad for loneliness. So which is it? Good or bad? Is it positive or negative? I kept judging people who weren’t wearing masks. I got angry at them as my aggressive thoughts blurred together. I couldn’t make any sense out of it all – until I heard two clear words.

IT IS. It isn’t good or bad. There’s no bargaining or controlling. It simply “is until it isn’t.”

I didn’t like that answer. It was too airy fairy. It was too Zen. It was too simple and direct. What the hell did it mean, anyway, and how could I get comfort from it? But by the time I finished my walk, I understood. There are things in this life that don’t fall into the category of good or bad. Whether I’m happy or sad about something, it makes no difference. If I want to stop struggling and find serenity, I have to stop trying to rearrange the rocks and accept the world as it is. That doesn’t mean I have to like it. Feelings come and go, they change with a thought, they fly out of control, they torture and wreak havoc and the only way through is to realize that the world is as it is. I’m here and I have to deal with the current state of affairs or life will be a living hell.

I decided to choose “heaven” on my drive home, but even that was a controlling thought. I could only choose “now.” Whatever it is or isn’t. However long it remains the same or keeps on changing. My earlier questions had brought me to a certain understanding. My feelings and my thoughts are always changing so there’s no use in holding on. If I can recognize them for what they are and watch them change, the entrance to heaven will be a hell of a lot easier to find.