In every spiritual tradition that I’ve encountered and studied, the litmus test for me is whether or not I can experience the truth of the teachings in my own life and in the world around me. So, it was a relief when I read the Buddha’s instruction to “come and see for yourself” whether the teachings are true. This way of exploration has always made sense to me. Plus, having a bit of a hard head (metaphorically speaking), I am not keen on being asked to believe what someone else tells me to.
One of the teachings says that everything has a direct cause and, when it comes into contact with a condition, the result is an effect. And, this effect leaves behind traces. Here is a fairly simplistic explanation using the coronavirus. The cause is the virus and the condition is a human body which comes in contact with it. When they have contact there is an effect (i.e. disease state) which leaves behind traces of everything from slight to severe illness to death and the resulting grief and pain. As you can see from this explanation, there is no blame to be placed on anyone or anything for what’s happening. It is nature doing what it does.
However, the effects resulting from the coronavirus pandemic feel palpable in my heart and mind—waves of emotional energy that pass, unbidden at times, which I believe have much to do with what is going on in the lives of others unknown and known who are currently suffering. Sadness, grief, and loneliness arise in waves, and I ride them into the shore in honor of those who are facing circumstances much tougher than my own.
These passing emotional energies bring home the interconnectedness that we have with one another. Despite the unfortunate nationalism that some might adhere to, we are a global community. Our borders are imaginary and irrelevant when it comes to our connection as human beings. These humanly-constructed lines on the earth are easily erased by a virus that knows no such thing as countries or states.
Other emotional energies are common among all of us and can make us feel tossed around as well. In that regard, there is a teaching from Buddhism called the eight worldly winds which has kept coming into my mind for the past few weeks. The eight winds are made up of pairs which you might initially decide are “good” and “bad”—namely, praise and blame, success and failure, pleasure and pain, and fame and disrepute. However, neither side of the coin will save you from suffering. For instance, if you need to experience praise, success, pleasure and fame you will surely suffer. And, if you allow yourself to react to blame, failure, pain, or disrepute you will also suffer.
The teaching suggests that you can be aware of how these winds toss you about and mindfully not fall prey to them. Rather than transcend them (good luck with that!), you can understand them as basic conditioned energies of the world in which we live. And, instead of compulsively reaching after one and rejecting or avoiding the other, we can also ride the wave of these emotions like an ocean wave and ride it into the shore.
These winds show up in all kinds of ways. Personally, I’ve been finding myself tossed with the need for success, and the pleasure that’s associated with it, as I wait on Fridays for a response from my publisher. Thursday “title meetings” approve titles for books and mine has yet to be finalized. (By the way, if you’ve never negotiated a title with a publisher–for me, it’s definitely the hardest part of writing a book.)
Each Friday I notice that my focus is off and my ability to put together a thought on the page is greatly diminished—which is quite unfortunate for someone trying to finish a book. I can sense my desire to get want I want and get it now. So far, I’ve either not gotten an answer or gotten answers I don’t agree with and then need to keep negotiating. After two consecutive Fridays like this, I’m deciding to let it go. That’s the beauty of suffering. When you notice it, you can often just let it go.
One can’t expect, of course, that these worldly winds won’t arise. And, who wouldn’t prefer having success or feeling pleasure as opposed to their opposites. But, it always comes back to how much are we clinging and does that create anything positive or helpful. Pretty much, the answer is “no.” All the clinging to things being a certain way will not do anything to steer the path in a certain direction. And, actually, sometimes quite the opposite is true.
When I am more willing to be open to possibilities greater than my own mind can muster, then I have a much greater potential for an outcome that is beneficial for myself and others. So, I am learning to ride the waves of emotions in my life and not worry so much that there are waves. I am getting better at surfing, despite the occasional wipeout.
Here is where a sense of equanimity can arise. In equanimity practice, you open to the world just as it is – not the one you think it should be. My dear meditation teacher, Ginny, taught me many years ago these simple phrases: “Things are as they are despite my wishes otherwise. May I be at peace in the midst of them all.”
This surrendering to things as they are is not a passive response, but an active way of taking back your own control and balance from the winds that blow across the surface. All emotions and situations will arise and pass away—including praise and blame, success and failure, pleasure and pain, and fame and disrepute.
These are your surfing lessons for today. My wish for you is to remain open and peaceful–full of joy and ease. Hang ten!