Waves

One of the truths of human nature described by the Buddha more than 2600 years ago is that we attach or crave things that feel good to us, and avoid or detest those that don't.  While this in its purest sense is a survival mechanism (run from the scary tiger, crave shelter and warmth, for instance), it is also a tremendous source of our own suffering.  How can this be?

One metaphor I use a lot when teaching or talking about meditation is this:  Imagine you are on a raft floating in the ocean.  The day is clear and sunny, and life is good.  Then something happens out at sea, and waves start to come.  They seem to get bigger and bigger, more frequent and intense, and suddenly there is fear and discomfort at what is happening.  You keep asking yourself, "what happened to my clear, sunny day...my tranquil ocean?"  You keep telling yourself that this shouldn't be happening, that the weather was supposed to be calm, clear, and sunny, and that this current situation simply isn't fair, just, or even right.  You reach out and try to stop or somehow alter the waves.  You stand rigid in the fear and sense of injustice at this current turn of events and stay fixed on the day you were supposed to be having that felt much better (craving).  Eventually, your skillful mind kicks in and tells you that if calm weather was here before, then it will surely come again, and so all you need to do is to hold on, stay atop your raft, ride the waves the best you can, and that calmer waters will return.

This is what the practice of meditation affords us in daily life.  While we like to feel safe, secure, and free, the fact is, our lives only arrive one precious moment at a time.  Anything could happen in the next minute, hour, day, or year that would change everything as we know it forever.  The waves come as they come, not as we want or expect them to be.  Most of us suffer when this happens, not because of the wave, but because of our clinging to the idea that the wave "shouldn't have" come or that there is some other reality that "should be" happening.  This is aversion, and it is painful.  It is the feeling of trying so hard to stop or somehow alter the waves that are coming, which is of course, fruitless and frustrating.

I'm not saying that when difficulty arises that we should ignore the feelings that come, quite the contrary.  Much like the ocean, it is important to understand the size, shape, frequency, and intensity of the waves so that we can skillfully ride them on our raft.  But we must also recognize that each wave is unique unto its own, and like all things, is itself impermanent.   It is the turning into difficulty that offers liberation from it.  Much like understanding the waves gives us the best chance to ride them skillfully, understanding the body, the mind, the ebb and flow of emotions, and how we relate to the events in our lives gives us the best chance at engaging with life in a way that allows us to stay clear, healthy, and content, even in the face of tremendous difficulty.

It is much like spending days, months, or years convinced that there is a monster in your closet. The fear is gripping, and the evidence in your mind compelling.  In fact, if you believe it is really there, your perceptions will continue to collect evidence to support this "truth."  Science has shown us this quality of the human brain.  But if you have the courage to walk over and open the door and look inside, you see there is no monster, only shoes, clothes, and whatever else is actually in there.  Deconstructing this monster is really important if you are to sleep peacefully in your own bed.

And so it goes with meditation.  We can be chased around for years by monsters from our past.  It is the turning into and touching them in the present moment to understand their truth and the components that make them up (sensations, thoughts, ideas, perceptions, fears, memories, etc) that allows us to stop running, to stop being scared, and to find comfort and safety in our own lives.

Remember, it is not about stopping, controlling, or somehow altering the waves in your life, it is about staying on the raft as skillfully and with as little injury as possible.  There is definitely more to come on this topic, but... that is all for now.  Thank you.

PB-