Some people experience breakthroughs when they meditate. I am not one of them. While I endeavor to maintain perfect awareness on the breath, instead I seem to be trying to tame my wild-horse mind that sets off to the races the moment my butt hits the cushion. Occasionally, however, there are moments of clarity that make this effort worth it.
As I have mentioned before (here, here, and here), I am someone who finds uncertainty supremely uncomfortable and generally likes to know what to expect. Through what I’ve called emotional disaster-preparedness, I imagine the worst-case scenario under the faulty assumption that I will feel less pain/anxiety/upheaval when disaster really does strike. As I’ve also noted, however, I fail miserably to imagine what actually does happen in the future and in the process, make the present very unpleasant.
I’ve lived for a long time with this notion of disaster lurking just around the corner. The monster under the bed. The other shoe about to drop. These negative imaginings are much of what brought me to the meditation cushion in the first place. So, as I sat one day and heard myself silently say to myself, “in this moment, there is nothing wrong,” the earth moved.
The idea that taking the risk to be fully present (rather than stocking my emotional fallout shelter with rations and gasmasks) relieved me of the burden of imagining every possible thing that might go wrong and resting, truly resting, in awareness. What a relief!
I came back to this idea many times both on and off the cushion. Meditation had led me to the realization that oftentimes, if I stopped and noticed what was actually happening, there was nothing wrong. One day months later, while meditating, I recalled this notion, silently repeating to myself “in this moment, there is nothing wrong,” with the intention of labeling this thought – thinking – and returning to the breath. Instead, I heard myself answer “in this moment, there is nothing right, either.”
Full on, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure: WHOA!
In her book Comfortable with Uncertainty, Pema Chodron writes the following about equanimity:
By practicing loving-kindness, compassion, and rejoicing, we are training in thinking bigger, in opening up as wholeheartedly as we can. We are cultivating the unbiased state of equanimity. Without this fourth boundless quality the other three are limited by our habit of liking and disliking, accepting and rejecting.
Cultivating equanimity is a work in progress. We aspire to spend our lives training in the loving-kindness and courage that it takes to receive whatever appears—sickness, health, poverty, wealth, sorrow, and joy. We welcome and get to know them all.
To cultivate equanimity we practice catching ourselves when we feel attraction or aversion, before it hardens into grasping or negativity. We train in staying with the soft spot and use our biases as stepping-stones for connecting with the confusion of others.
Though I’m far from cultivating perfect equanimity and I often find myself grasping or repelling, I’ve begun to notice this habit. And I’ve begun to recognize that I have the choice to stay with the raw vulnerability before it hardens into something else.