Finding stillness in the storm of life
A couple of months ago, I made the bold decision to pack my bags and leave London, my home city, family, friends and all that was familiar to move to the beautiful Moorish frontier town of Vejer De la Frontera, upon the simple suggestion of a fellow yogi whom I love and trust, “This is where you should be” she said, and I followed.
The town is famous for many reasons; as a pitch perfect example of Southern Spain’s Pueblos Blancos (or white towns) its rich history, it’s outstanding beauty, the impenetrable walls that kept it safe from invaders, it’s culture, warm-hearted people and amazing food but also for The Levante, the infamously strong wind of the Western Mediterranean Sea, which seasonally whistles between its narrow white walls.
Lokavipatti sutta: the eight worldly winds
Pondering on the vicissitudes of change on a morning when the sky is luminous, the swallows swoop and the wind is wild, led me neatly to the teachings of the Buddha upon The Eight Worldly Winds, to reflect upon Equanimity, acceptance and setting Sankalpa (or intention) to achieve balance in turbulent times.
The Buddhas teachings on The Eight Worldly Winds (the Lokavipatti Sutta) basically outline a set of four opposing states which exist in our lives; Pleasure & Pain, Gain & Loss, Praise & Blame, Fame & Disrepute.
We all experience these (sometimes all in one day!) to a greater or lesser extent; We fall head over heels in love, we experience the agony of betrayal. We get the job we’ve always wanted, the firm goes bust. We are told how needed and loved we are, we are accused of gossiping. We are at the top of our game, a year later we feel unacknowledged. Or, as ‘ol blue eyes Frank Sinatra put it “you’re riding high in April, shot down in June.”
The Buddha wanted us to recognise that all these states are present in our current incarnation (samsara) and most importantly that all are impermanent. That suffering (Dukkha) is causal, arising through both attachment and aversion. When we cling to one and try to push away the other. That all eight states are beautiful and important teachers, helping us to find compassion for ourselves and others.
Here is what The Buddha to say on the subject (an excerpt from the Lokavipatti Sutta);
‘When gain, loss, status, disgrace, censure, praise, pleasure or pain arise for an ordinary person they do not reflect, “Gain has arisen for me. It is inconstant and subject to change.” He (or she) does not discern it as it actually is. He welcomes the gain and rebels against the loss. He welcomes the status and rebels against the disgrace. He welcomes the praise and rebels against the censure. He welcomes the pleasure and rebels against the pain.’
Finding serenity in the storms of life
So what to do when the going gets tough, and the winds are whipping around? Practicing equanimity and acceptance is a wonderful place to start, a spaciousness and balance of heart. Although it grows naturally with our meditation practice, both qualities can also be cultivated in the same systematic way that we have used for mindfulness, loving awareness and compassion.
Through the practice of meditation we are able to recognise where we are at more clearly. In particular Vipassanā meditation (insight meditation) allows us to accept and release whatever is present and arising. Quietening our minds, allowing the whirling storms of thought to settle and dissolve. Accepting and releasing all states into a calm and loving spaciousness.
As we go about our day, we can begin to face what is occurring with equanimity. We can acknowledge our thoughts without chasing or running away from them. The Buddha never taught that pleasure was bad, or pain good. He taught only that both should be treated with the same loving awareness and mindfulness. Both welcomed. Both released.
Whatever’s going on in our lives right now, if we look skilfully, we will recognise is impermanent. We may feel like a situation, a feeling will last forever, that we’re stuck in it, but the Buddha was clear in this instruction and even divided them into these categories to help us see clearly what arises and what falls away.
Our minds are wired to seek safety and comfort (attachments) and to be aversive to pain either emotional or physical. This is necessary for survival, but reacting or controlling to cling to one or push away the other rarely, if ever works or brings joy, and is by definition unskillful practice.
Clinging to pleasure, gain, praise, fame whilst battling against their opposites when all are ephemeral is by definition futile and painful, or as the great Theravadan teacher Jack Kornfield puts it, “What do you get when you hang on? Ropeburn.”
The sacred pause
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
– Victor E Frankl (Neurologist, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor)
Pausing, learning to respond rather than react, with a heart filled with loving kindness (metta) a heart that has evolved through meditation and spiritual practice, brings untold benefit not only to ourselves, but to those we love and rippling out to the
Dancing in the rain
Recognising that we are not in control can also help us to achieve this possibility of balance in our hearts in the midst of life. Recognising that we are a small part of the dance of life.
At the very core of its teachings, the Lokavipatti Sutta encourages us to see that we are not defined by these states. That our reactions to them stem from fear.
In skilful practice we can ask ourselves “what is my intention here?” Am I chasing praise, pleasure, gain or status? Am I doing all I can to avoid blame, pain, loss or disgrace?
We can look at what is arising from our fear. We can set our intention (Sankalpa) to respond wisely. We can learn.
A few years ago, one of the wisest of my Dharma teachers laughed sweetly and said “really, all our teachings could in essence be summed up in two words. Let go.”
He then went on to tell me of the story of the venerable Buddhist monk Ajahn Chah, who when walking through the forest with a few novice monks, pointed out a large boulder to their side. “Is it heavy?” He enquired. “Well, yes” they replied. “Not of you don’t pick it up” he said, smiling.
The primary lesson taught;
How to embody a generosity of spirit, a willingness to let go. How to develop an ability to detach lovingly from beliefs, reactions, resentments, hurts.
Don’t pick up the rock. Flip the script. Embrace joy. Embrace uncertainty. Embrace life. Let go.
”Do everything with a mind that
If you let go a little you will have a little peace. If you let go a lot you will have a lot of peace. If you let go completely you will have complete peace.”
Embracing the winds of change
There’s a beautiful section in the Dhammapada in which the Buddha says, “Live in joy and freedom, even amongst those who are sick or troubled. Live in joy and a peaceful heart, even among those in conflict. Quiet the mind and heart and find the sweet joy of living in the dharma.”
And now, to venture forth into this beautiful new day, surfing the waves and rolling with the punches, hoping not to be carried away like Mary Poppins over the rooftops of this sacred place, but if I am then kind of happy and excited to see where I am blown to next…