Equanimity for the Transient

It’s a brilliantly cold day here today.  Up to a whopping 12 degrees with a wind chill of 7.  The sky is bright blue with hints of cloud spread around the edges, jet trails, mare’s tails, dry brush strokes of white that striate the blue.  It’s still technically morning, a few minutes to noon as I write this.  Morning, noon, night, hour, minute, month, year, all these abstract concepts that we lay upon our experience to try to rein it in, keep it in our “control.”  It is, of course, New Year’s eve, the last day of this construct known as 2014.

And even though it is a construct, a concept, it’s useful in its way.  We are not cut loose in timelessness, merged with the continuum of time and space.  We are here, somewhere, in these bodies that, like their sisters the plants, turn daily toward the sun for guidance, for nourishment, and then toward the dark for rest. And the days come and go and come and go, as the moments come and go and come and go, each one a realization: I am here.  I am this.  I am.

I am in a place of deeper translucence these days, a place of abiding joy, which has no opposite.  I was thinking earlier on my drive back from town, from yoga, coffee, groceries, about an article I read once about “The Happiest Man Alive.”  It was about a Buddhist monk, a Frenchman I think, who had spent the last twenty or so years of his life meditating about 20 minutes every day.  I remember envying him his happiness and at the same time considering the differences between living in the robe in a monastery and living in the myriad relationships of the wider world.  Today, the gap has all but disappeared.  Every life has its heavy lifting, even in the monastery.

I heard a story once from a Buddhist teacher of mine, who had herself, spent a few decades in the Thai Forest tradition.  It was about a monk in her order, a former US Marine, who had found his way from a tough youth to the military, and from the military to the war Southeast Asia, and from the war to the monastery.  There was in the order another monk who had a habit of sitting too close to the former Marine, usurping his space.  One day, at the end of his tether, the Marine called out the other monk–let’s take it outside, so to speak.  As they squared off in anger, the Marine monk suddenly stopped and looking at his raised fists dropped them into a namaskar mudra and a bow.  The monks embraced and went back to their meal.

It’s a good story, and one that speaks volumes about the challenges of being in one of these “meat suits,” this super sensitive bodymind with its millions of neurons and nerves firing non-stop day in and day out.  It’s about awareness and energy, about the need to embody what arises, to let it have its say and at the same time leaning into the way our own emotions, our anger, say, is ours alone, and the way what we encounter moment by moment is our teacher.

My teacher, Allan Morelock, says that equanimity is this realization.  That when we are in this moment with complete awareness, whatever the moment contains, whether pain or pleasure, that awareness is equanimity, and equanimity is joy, which has no opposite.  The mirror does not, as in the fairy tale, tell you whether you are beautiful or not.  It only reflects what is presented to it.  Where our conditioned experience meets the mirror, there can be a huge distance between subject and object.  Allan says they are one.  You are only as beautiful as you feel.  Coming to this truth requires us to relax into all the old stories, all the old patterns, resting in their deep discomfort.  After years of self judgment, denial, criticism, anger, bitterness, if we can rest in the truth of our woundedness, our vulnerability, then we can rest in our beauty, our innocence.

Wherever you are today, in balmy warmth or frigid cold, whether in pain or in ease, in community or in solitude, may you gaze into the mirror of your heart and find the truth of your beauty.  May you have joy in this moment and all the moments to come.

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The Drunken Poet of Being

It all starts with movement. Every day, we move, but how do we move? Do we move to the inner workings of our arising Being nature, or do we move to the thoughts of our minds?

There’s a grace in leaning into what arises. What is in the field? That is what is. Once the mind draws back from its agenda of expectations–what should be–to what is, movement becomes fluid.

I dreamed recently that I was walking somewhere with a very drunk celebrity of some sort, let’s call him a poet. I could feel in every layer of my Being how delicious he felt, the way our bodies resonated with each other was like home. I felt my fingers touching his arm, his body along mine. It was a sort of rapture. Walking behind us was a tall, thin woman with her hair in a severe knot who kept leaning toward me saying “what are you doing? What are you doing?” And I said “It’s okay; I’m just playing with him.” And I meant that in the literal sense; we were at play. After that I woke up.

Recounting the dream later, I saw how the parts illustrated this concept of movement and expectation. Of Being and the desire to control Being. Being is the drunk poet with whom we can play in a delicious connection, and the mind is the severe voice of fear: what are you doing?

Of course, Being does not always arise in a way that is delicious. Just as often it arises in a way that is tortuous, or nauseating, or painful. Still, what I am realizing is that even this is a sort of gift. Once I lean into what is uncomfortable, there’s a kind of relaxation. I guess what I’m saying is that relaxation is relaxation. We can relax in a bed of feathers and we can relax on a bed of nails. Everything that we encounter is an experience. My teacher Allan Morelock recently said something along the lines that experience is Being’s way of showing it what it feels like to be alive.

This is an old teaching. It runs through most of the world’s great spiritualities: turn the other cheek, don’t create unnecessary suffering, understand that the world is illusion. And these teachings can be used either for good or for ill.

Awakening to our true Being nature gives us the continual opportunity to practice relaxation. What changes is not our experience of life but our relationship to those experiences. Relaxation is like surrender. You can’t “make” yourself–or anyone else more to the point–relax. It comes from within. It comes from a courageous heart.

There’s an important Vedic concept represented by the Sanskrit word: Hridayam. It’s a kind of onomatopoeia. Heart I am. Hridayam. That which nourishes the heart. We can best nourish the heart by feeding it what it needs.

There’s another old teaching. A sage told a boy that he had both a tiger and a lamb in his heart. Which is stronger, the boy asked? Whichever one I feed, he answered. So if you feed relaxation, relaxation will be stronger than resistance.

So when the Drunken Poet of Being shows up in the dream that is your life, walk with him. Relax. He knows where he is going.

Reprieve

There’s a light rain tonight. This after winds that gusted over twenty miles an hour. A short power surge that took out the lights and computer and then came back almost as quickly. Overnight, it was so smoky again from the wild fires that are still burning, one just up the road a half dozen miles from here, that I slept with my windows closed, and even with the fan, it was stuffy and sweaty. When I woke this morning it was not much better. But throughout the day, the smoke cleared. The wind shifted, and I came home to clear skies and clean air. I took the opportunity to do all my laundry in preparation for a trip to California at the end of the week. It’s one of the advantages of life in the high desert: laundry dries in the time it takes the next load to wash.

It was a busy day in a busy week. At ten o’clock, I met with the Superintendent of Public Schools, at eleven thirty with a parent of one of the new students coming to the school where I work. He’s does “nature based human development,” and we had an inspirational and exciting conversation about how he might interact with the students to help them heal from the trauma of these ongoing and seemingly endless fires, smoke, unstable power. After that a working lunch with my iPhone catching up on emails. I’m trying to get an electrician to come and upgrade our wiring. There’s painting and cleaning to do. A parents’ meeting to prepare for. Walk to the post office, get the mail. Walk back to the office. Ratchet between two computers: one that has the whole institutional knowledge base on it and one that is able to connect to the wireless signal from the town library–even though it drops the connection for long moments at a time. Then to get finger printed for my background check. Then back to the office to draft a new teacher contract. Update the shifting enrollment numbers. Answer some more emails. Then shut the place down and go home.

So driving up the River Road toward home under dry, clear, smoke free skies put me in the mood to do laundry. I’ve just hung and stored it all in my room, the smell of clean cotton, that unmistakable smell of freshness, wafting from between the hangers and the stacks.

It was a long day and hard in its way. There is the constant reminder that I am not in control. I am watching the river move, and it will go where it wants. The wind will gust. The smoke will rest and then surge. Lightning may strike. The fire will consume what fuel it finds. I will sleep. I will wake. Tomorrow I’ll go out and do it all over again.

But in the mean time, I have been home. I have been loved. I have been fed and rested and heard. And there has been rain, and cool night air free from the smell of destruction. The night is full of song carried on the breeze through open windows.