We all ride the worldly winds of life, but are we flailing, falling or flapping our wings more than we need to? Or do we think we can avoid the winds by cowering in our nest? We can’t. The Buddha’s Eight Worldly Winds (Gain/Loss, Pleasure/Pain, Praise/Blame, and Fame/Disgrace) are a metaphor for life itself. As long as we are alive we will be in relationship with them in one way or another.
In this week’s class, a student brought in a book that contained a partial quote by Pema Chodron: “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land.”*
My student was both intrigued by the idea, but disheartened by the ‘no-man’s-land’, the image of desolate arid emptiness between warring factions. I suggested that it might be the skillful ‘I don’t know’ mind or the First Noble Truth that life is suffering. But as a writer I was bothered by the mixed metaphor of a nest and a no-man’s-land as they seem to have no relationship. So I suggested that if we are always being thrown out of the nest, perhaps it’s because we are meant to fly. Our practice of meditation and our compassionate self-observations help us to learn how to spread our wings and ride the currents of the Eight Worldly Winds that blow through all of our lives. Through our intentions, words and actions we contribute to the creation of causes and conditions, but many causes and conditions are beyond our control. There’s no use making enemies of the Eight Worldly Winds. It’s more skillful to notice our tendencies to chase after some and run from the others, making our happiness dependent on which way the wind is blowing. Seeing that pattern we can choose instead to learn how to ride the currents.
I am thinking about this lately because for the past month I’ve been enjoying riding a current as buoyant and pleasurable as a fresh summer day. I feel a sense of contentment about where I am in my life right now, both professionally and personally, with a sense of purpose but no pressure or urgency. I enjoy doing what I have to offer the world and many people seem to appreciate my offerings. What could be better than to feel that what comes naturally in your life, is also of some benefit to others, whether to one person or to followers around the world?
Then something happened that sent me soaring beyond that pleasurable current, taking my general sense of well being and inflating it with surprise and elation. I was suddenly a bit breathless in the thin air of the stratosphere of amazing possibilities, hanging onto a balloon of hope.
At one point the current dipped. I assumed I was in a tailspin and was ready to crash and burn, relinquishing all hope. Imagining my little balloon lying on the ground, burst and ragged, I quickly turned away, embarrassed, and directed my thoughts elsewhere. But the person who, out of the blue, had offered me a hand-up, did not see balloons, inflation or deflation. He saw the facts.
I was astounded to see, having read the same email response sent to both him and me, that while I just saw ‘NO’, he saw the offered name and email of the person to reach out to next. Where I saw rejection, he saw opportunity! (Is this a guy thing? Women in my family were taught to ask ‘Who am I to put myself forward in any way?”) Suddenly I understood how he had built a career not just out of talent, experience and an extensive knowledge-base, but out of the ability to see clearly and simply forge ahead. While I had built a tidy safe nest that I was afraid to leave.
This experience was a gift to me. It revealed a blindspot in my navigation in the world. Just like all of us, I am being repeatedly ‘thrown out of the nest’ and am always in a state of learning to fly in the confusing mashup of the worldly winds. And then along comes this other bird who seems to know how to navigate a current that I have always found particularly problematic. And just by flying the current in a natural way, he showed me how it’s done.
Does the metaphor of being ‘thrown out of the nest’ feel familiar to you?
Where in your life are you experiencing that?
What challenge is life giving you that you are either bravely learning to navigate its challenging currents or fearfully clinging to the nest as if you weren’t given wings to fly?
If so, how about this: Don’t cling! Take wing! And if you’re not sure how to fly, observe how others do it. We’re all birds of a feather in this life. Let’s fly together in a joyful murmuration!
Photo of bird on nest by Thomas Pedrazzoli.
*Full Pema Chodron quote: “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again.”