Monday, September 6, 2010

Open Window Practice

Yesterday, a small window opened in my practice. I was driving the family home from my in-laws when I hit a pothole and became angry. A week ago my wife got a flat tire because of a pothole, which cost us $140, so I was still a little testy last night.

I cringed when the front passenger tire smashed into the asphalt. "Great," I thought, "there goes another wheel alignment. That'll cost $75!" My chest swelled with the familiar sensations of an anger rush, when something new happened.

Somehow, for no reason that I can explain, I saw the emotion like a tangible object--something I could almost literally pick up and engage, or ignore. Naturally, I chose the latter (who wants to be angry, right?). At that moment, I was filled with an almost crystalline clarity, or rather, I became that clarity. The anger was like a cloud that I would ordinarily get lost or caught up in, but this time I simply identified it for what it was--an emotion that I had the choice of engaging. And here's the amazing thing: once this happened, I couldn't engage the anger even if I wanted to, because it completely dissipated. Just like cloud vapor in front of a strong fan, it vanished. Poof!

Sure I'd read about these openings in practice before, but had never had one myself. Let alone felt it in my bones.

The story goes on. This morning my 11-month-old son crawled into the closet where the upright vacuum was standing. Both me and my three-year-old daughter acted at the same time. I pulled him out and shut the closet door, but then she started crying.

"What now?" I wondered.

"I wanted to pull him out!" she cried.

I just shook my head and went back to reading.

She carried on like this for another half minute before she opened the closet door again. Oh, no you didn't!

(She wanted him to crawl back in so that she could then pull him out.)

Needless to say, that pissed me off.

"Close the door!" I snapped, my voice sharp with annoyance.

And just like that I was caught again. The window slammed shut. Where had that calmness, clarity, and equanimity from the night before gone? Here I was, riding this damn emotional roller coaster all over again. I thought I was done being entangled by emotions!

Oh, silly mortal.

At first, I was disappointed. Frustrated too, by my backsliding. But then I realized that I was only compounding the emotional mud pie by adding these new emotions.

But I'm glad that it happened. It woke me up the complexity of Buddhist practice. Life is open-ended, and rarely do we ever find a permanent solution to life's problems, especially regarding the sticky, messy substance of human emotions. I was looking for a fix, a panacea, some new approach to solve all my problems. But, for better or worse (I can't decide), life doesn't work that way. We can easily become attached to the very practices we use to free ourselves, like I did last night.

It would seem that one of the hardest practices, at least for me, is the ability to accept uncertainty, the very open-ended nature of life itself. Embracing the fact that life is dynamic, and that what works today may not work tomorrow. Ultimately, accepting that there is no ultimate solution for life's little bumps, nor should there be.

Photograph borrowed with permission from flickr user karenwithak.

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