March 10, 2013

The Truth of the Moment

We view all interactions and experiences through a filter. Sometimes our filter is clear--like crystalline, still water, where it’s easy to see all the way to the bottom. Often our filter is clouded, and occasionally it's completely covered in black slime. In those moments, we can't see the truth of the moment. We're too involved in rumination, planning, anxiety, or old stories that we can't stay present; we can't hear the words of the other person; we can't see through the old movies playing in our heads. 

The Buddha gave analogies on how mind states hinder clear seeing: craving is like water filled with beautiful colors; aversion is like boiling water; sloth is like water covered in algae; restlessness is like wind-churned water; and doubt is like muddy, unsettled, cloudy water (lots of layers to doubt).

Craving (read: wanting) and aversion (read: fear, anger, anxiety) are human habits--habits to avoid difficult feelings. The craving typically comes from a feeling of lack. I want this do-dad, cookie, compliment, or change of scenery, because deep in myself I don't feel enough. Rather than sit with that pain, I feed my cravings. Although aversion is a different hook, it also comes from a place of dis-ease: something is wrong. When we experience the something-is-wrong feeling, we typically direct it in one of three places: something is wrong with me (self-judgment), something is wrong with you (anger), or something is wrong with the world (not fair!). Again, aversion arises when we avoid the dis-ease--instead of exploring the something-is-wrong feeling, we leap to anxiety or anger or judgment. If we miss craving or aversion completely, then we can fall into restlessness or sloth. And doubt is the mother of all hindrances--it weaves a nasty web of cloudy filters that are hard to detect (doubt is wily).

So many potential obstructions to clear seeing--no wonder there is war, oppression, and everyday misunderstanding. Seems hopeless, huh? Actually, it's not. Because the simple act of noticing can make a big difference. If we notice a not-enough feeling and sit with it (just for a moment), then we move forward on the clear-seeing path. One of the most powerful realizations I've gained from meditation is that I am not my mind state. I am not fear or sadness or excitement or crankiness or contentment. I experience these emotions, but they do not define me, and they always pass. Sometimes it feels like the fear will last forever, but it never does. And if I notice when the emotional weather changes, then I trust it will pass the next time, too.

Moving away from the present moment is a human habit--it happens to us all. (I could write an entire blog post on the multitude of ways I distract from difficult emotions.) We move away because of dis-ease. It's a well-grooved habit, but interestingly it doesn't take away the dis-ease; it's an avoidance path (which is sometimes quite necessary). The paradox is that moving into the truth of the moment (into the dis-ease) is the path to freedom. The more we trust in the present moment--whatever it brings--the more alive we are. And it's these moments that we can string together (bit by bit) to make a more contented life.

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