Where I live we have been experiencing excessive amounts of wind for weeks, for months, for what feels like forever! And I’m not a fan. Not at all. I see how my thoughts entangle as I rage against the wind and then worry that this wind might be the way climate change will be for us here: incessant wind forever. Oh no!
If you can think of a situation or condition that pushes your buttons, setting off an inner rant or a desire to run away or hide, then you know how challenging it can be to maintain a sense of balanced easeful equanimity. One minute we feel fine, life is good, and then something trips us into feeling overwhelmed, out of kilter, struggling to find solid ground.
In our ongoing veil metaphor, these unsettling experiences happen when we are entangled in one or more veils of thoughts and emotions around a situation, person, to-do list, upcoming event, or even, as in my case, the weather. This can range from mild discomfort or disorientation to feeling like we’ve lost our footing and any sense of resilience. Whatever coping system we have isn’t working. It’s just not up to the task.
(I remind myself the wind has many benefits and is beloved by sailors, kite flyers, tropical inhabitants who appreciate balmy breezes, etc. And I notice that when I go outside into the wind, it’s more pleasant than listening to it howl while I’m indoors. And I wonder where else in life is it much better to face a situation directly rather than railing against it or hiding away?)
The Buddha used the metaphor of wind when he taught about the Eight Worldly Winds that blow us off-balance: Gain and Loss, Pleasure and Pain, Praise and Censure, Status and Disgrace. (Read more about the 8WW) When applied to the veil metaphor, we can see that these winds blow the veils about, causing more tangles, as our attention chases after potential Gain, Pleasure, Praise, and Status, and worries about possible Loss, Pain, Censure, and Disgrace.
But when we guide our attention out of the veils, out of the tangle of stories we are telling ourselves, and simply sit with the felt sense of being alive in this moment, we can let go of the need to have things different than they are. Then we find balance, ease, and equanimity. So equanimity is the opposite of entangling in our veils of thoughts and emotions.
This is not an escape from life! Quite the opposite! It is becoming more present to see it more clearly and relate to life more directly.
Our preferences and perception change our experience. In class, one sangha sister shared an experience that perfectly illustrates this. She and her husband went on a dream vacation to a beautiful old hotel in a gorgeous natural setting. Perfect! Right? Wrong! With the windows of their hotel room open, she found it impossible to sleep with the sound of the building’s HVAC system just outside. The next morning she asked if there might be a different room, away from the A/C, and was told that there was no A/C system near their room, that the sound was a waterfall! That night she slept like a baby with the windows wide open. Same sound, but a different veil of perception!
In the previous post, I offered an overview of the Buddhist Four Brahmaviharas, the Sublime Abodes, and how our meditation practice brings us home to the radiant center of our being, where we can fully experience Metta (lovingkindness), Karuna (compassion), Mudita (sympathetic joy), and Upekkha, (equanimity.) The more we practice coming home, the easier it becomes to find our way here. And so we meditate, gently noting the nature of our thinking mind and encouraging our attention to focus on the felt sense of being alive in this moment.
As we come home to this moment, we begin to see things as they are. When I’m in a flurry of fury over the wind blowing, rather than scold myself about it, at some point I remember (aha!) that it is not the wind that is making me suffer, but all my thoughts about the wind, my ‘wind veil’ and how it intersects with my ‘climate change veil’.
Coming home to the moment, I see that all things, even the wind, are impermanent. And then I remind myself that the wind and I are both insubstantial in nature. And I recognize how getting caught up in railing against it all just causes me to suffer.
These three reminders are the core of the Buddha’s teachings: Anicca, Anatta, and Dukkha. The nature of impermanence, the nature of no solid separate existence, and how we exacerbate suffering when we refuse to acknowledge them.
These are not abstract concepts though they may seem alien to us, entangled as we’ve been our whole lives in veils of thinking of things in a certain way. But when we bring our attention out of the tangle and come to our senses, we notice what’s been there all along: Life’s simple lessons:
- Leaves fall off trees = life is impermanent. Anicca.
- Everything, including us, is made up of the same atoms = there is no solid separate self. Anatta.
- When we cling to the idea that life is permanent and we are isolated beings, we create unnecessary suffering. Dukkha.
Awareness of the nature of being is not an academic course with tests and grades. It doesn’t matter if we remember the Pali words for them, although you may enjoy doing so. It doesn’t matter what order we learn them in. The traditional order they are taught is from the most obvious to the most subtle. So first comes the nature of impermanence. We have direct experience of impermanence in the way our bodies change, how babies grow up, how seasons come and go, and how loved ones die. The cycles and rhythms of nature have variations too and are undependable. How much time do we waste wishing things to go back to being how they were instead of living this moment as it is?
A little more subtle is the nature of suffering. Oh, we know we suffer and we see suffering all around, but we don’t see how we are causing ourselves and others more pain by entangling in the veils of stories that exacerbate suffering.
And the third most challenging is Anatta. We cling to the idea of this ‘me’ as being a solid object and a separate self. Even as we acknowledge that we can’t identify the edges of this self, we bolster up its separate identity in every way possible, especially if we live in a culture that glorifies the individual rather than celebrating the community of all beings. Even though we sense how much suffering we experience from holding ourselves apart in this way, we persist in the illusion, afraid of disappearing. Yet when we experience the inseparable nature of being, all that disappears is our fear and delusion.
Learning these three Marks of Existence from direct experience and having insights is quite different from philosophizing and speaking in abstractions which just create more veils and more confusion. That’s why we practice being present, anchoring our awareness in the senses, whatever we are doing—embodied instead of distracted. And we tend to have more insights and a sense of connection when we are quiet outside in nature, the greatest dharma teacher of all.
We gently shift into simply being. Whatever we are doing, we do more mindfully, thus more skillfully. We feel more aligned and attuned to life.
This is unveiling. It’s a deep recognition of something we knew all along. Something we forgot as we got busy and our attention got entangled.
From this center, we experience an expansive and easeful balance. How relaxing it is not to chase every thread of thought for answers! We can celebrate our liberation from the constant need to know the perfect solution to everything.
It was a liberating moment for me on retreat years ago when I had a simple epiphany and wrote “I don’t know!” on a note I pinned to the message board to my teacher. Within an hour, there was a note for me on the board with one word: “Hooray!”
Hooray indeed! Have you noticed how the quest for answers to all life’s mysteries takes your attention on a not-so-merry chase? And conversely, have you noticed how being present with the mystery sparks awe and gratitude? And a sense of aliveness and deep interconnection with all life.
While we can make sensible preparations for many of the vagaries of life, we can also rest in the understanding that life is impermanent and unpredictable. There is no solid ground to stand on, no matter how much effort we make to prepare for every contingency. If we chase every thread of imagined outcomes, we get lost and lose balance.
Back home, back in the heart-space center of our being, where we feel the power of life pulsing and breathing and radiating out in all directions, we don’t find any promises of life being just how we want it. We see how our craving for all situations and relationships to be planned and ‘perfect’ has been blinding us and throwing us off kilter.
We are fleeting expressions of life loving itself into being. Resting in that awareness allows for joy in the expressing! And it enables us to let go of the need for permanence, perfection, and proof. So come home to the center of your being and celebrate being fully alive in this moment, just as it is.