Last week I introduced the 8 worldly winds as a topic. These are also referred to as the 8 vicissitudes, which refers to the experience of an alteration between opposite states. The ‘winds’ therefore describe this tendency of moving from a pleasant to an unpleasant experience and then back again.
The four states to which we are inclined to cling due to finding them pleasurable are: gain, pleasure, praise and fame.
The four states we seek to avoid due to finding them unpleasant are: loss, pain, blame and disgrace/disrepute.
The Buddha taught that freedom is to be found by following the Middle Way between extremes. By this He meant the extreme of externalism and nihilism….the contrasting beliefs that at death there is a total annihilation of the self versus the belief that there is an eternal soul that continues after the dissolution of the body. But it also applies to this set of 4 opposites.
Reflect for a moment on your experience of suffering. When was the last time you felt some form of stress or emotional pain or distress?
- Were you feeling sad at the ending of a holiday……the act of holding tight to the pleasure of the holiday leading to pain as you resisted the feeling of loss that the end of the holiday represented? What would it have been like to have taken each day as it came without clinging to the pleasure of the holiday or fearing its end. By being in this middle way one would be less likely to have thoughts such as “the holiday is now half over”, or “these are the last three days” and if such thoughts came up it would be possible to remind oneself – “ah, here’s the worldly wind of fear of loss, or “this is the pain that comes from wanting to hold on to pleasure”.
- Did the pleasure of an enjoyable sense experience turn to pain when you saw that experience come to an end and wished it could have lasted longer? This could be quite a subtle experience of pain and seem insignificant, such as finishing a really tasty tub of ice cream and wishing there were more.
- Or did you suffer when you made a mistake that meant you would look foolish in front of someone and you felt the fear of blame and the wish for praise?
- And did this mistake lead to being well thought of (fame) being undermined so that there was a worry about being disgraced or censured?
This is how life is. Just as the pendulum of a clock cannot help but move from one side of its arc to the other, life will move from an experience of pleasure to its opposite…and back again. As the pendulum moves from one experience to its opposite it is so useful to reflect “this too will change, this too will end”. Enjoying the pleasure for the time that it is there, but accepting as it fades and allowing the difficulty to take the stage, knowing that that too will pass.
Ajahn Sumedho would always teach “this is how it is” – he would encourage us to find a sense of freedom and ease in accepting the way thing are in this moment rather than arguing against life and saying “but it should be like this”. Marcus Aurelius said “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realise this, and you will find strength.” …and this points to an attitude of mind that can start to experience peace. Rather than struggle against the swing of the pendulum, meditation teaches us the the only place we have power is the choice of how to relate to our own mind and thoughts.
The risk of this approach to life is that we go into what has been described as spiritual bypassing. We know that we are supposed to feel equanimity and not be touched by the winds so have a premature spiritual emancipation. We say “oh loosing my job was just meant to be”….”this was meant to be so I accept it”…..or something similar. this will be fine if we truly feel this but it risks not actually feeling what we are truly feeling as the winds rip through our life and devastate our comfort.
What we need in our practice is both wisdom and compassion. Wisdom knows that all things are impermanent and cannot give lasting pleasure. But as an unenlightened being we will feel pain and loss. The way to meet these challenging aspects of the worldly winds is to bring compassion to where we struggle, whilst gently reminding ourselves that even this unpleasant experience will pass. It’s for this reason we practice the Loving Kindness meditation and self-care meditations.