I find that I still get swept away, but I no longer drown. And it’s far easier to get back to shore. This is all due to having perspective.
As you may know, mindfulness meditation effectively calms the mind. But it’s not permanent.
Our mind is like a glass of muddy water. If you don’t stir it, the mud will settle to the bottom and the water becomes clear. But as soon as you stir it, the water becomes muddy again.
Life is constantly stirring us up.
Mindfulness practice reduces the chaos of relentless thinking, but we need something more to fully uproot our fundamental misperception and the tendency to repeatedly embroil ourselves in all these captivating emotions. This is clear seeing – an entirely different perspective – which gradually emerges from the bedrock of mindfulness.
People often mistake meditation as a way to eliminate thoughts and emotions. That’s impossible. Your current thoughts and emotions are the result of your past actions, thoughts, and emotions. This is the law of cause and effect known as “karma.” There is a drama going on, but it’s one you’ve created yourself.
If the idea of “karma” seems too exotic for you, think instead of “habits.” The more you repeat a habit, the stronger it grows. We are the sum total of our habits – our thinking and emotional patterns, recurring reactions, typical behaviors. For most of us, it’s an endless cycle of dissatisfaction interspersed with occasional moments of happiness. But, there is a way out.
The Magical Display of Mind
The trick is to understand the nature of thoughts and emotions themselves – to establish a different view or perspective. This is what ultimately releases us from the suffering of turbulent emotions.
Simply said, whatever appears in the mind is the magical display of your true nature. Think of waves in the ocean. The waves aren’t separate from the ocean. They are just a momentary expression of water and wind. They arise from the ocean and return to the ocean. Sometimes the waves are huge, some times they are barely a ripple. But the ocean is never fundamentally disturbed by the waves.
It’s the same with mind. Thoughts and emotions are simply the expression of the nature of our mind. They rise from our true nature and dissolve back into it.
The trouble with us is that we take our thoughts and emotions far too seriously. We think they are solid and real and cling onto them for dear life. But thoughts and emotions are neither real nor unreal. They are just transitory phenomena like the waves on the ocean. You can skillfully ride a wave – recognizing its true essence – until it naturally dissolves back into the ocean. There’s no need to immerse yourself in the wave or to be battered or bruised by it.
As long as you have mind, there will be thoughts, emotions, perception, experience.
The risings of mind don’t change. What changes – with the support of meditation – is how we perceive and respond to them. This is what creates positive karma.
Even if you are a great meditator, strong emotions will rise up from time-to time. It’s an inevitable surge of past karma encountering causes and conditions – the potential triggers in our life.
Unlike the past, I now understand that the best approach is to simply surrender. Of course, I still protest, wriggle, struggle, and try to fight against difficult circumstances and my responses to them. But in moments of clarity, I let go. In those moments, all the pain and suffering drains away. For a moment, I can see how ridiculous it is to hold on to anything at all.
I can’t control the circumstances that manifest around me. People may be friendly or unkind. Challenges and tragedy may appear out of nowhere. All I can really change is my perspective.
Reflection: Clear Seeing
For this week’s reflection, I’ve chosen a quote from the great 14th century spiritual master Longchenpa. These insightful words capture the unceasing play of emptiness and appearance within our mind and the world around us.
“Since things neither exist nor don’t exist,
are neither real nor unreal,
are utterly beyond adopting and rejecting -
one might as well burst out laughing.”
You wouldn’t get angry at a rainbow. So why fret about thoughts and emotions?
Of course, this is far easier said than done. Acquiring such a profound view is a lifelong journey. While it might be easy to understand intellectually, great teachers always warn us not to mistake understanding for realization or realization for liberation. Nevertheless, savor any glimpse you have and let it blossom into a stream of clear seeing.
What do you do when your mind is stormy?
This post is part of my weekly series of Reflections for An Inquiring Mind which appear every Sunday.
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