Most of us have experienced moments or even sustained periods of freedom (aka emptiness). Reflect, not on those times of giddy happiness or despair, but times of contentment and ease. Most of us have at least moments of such experience, often in the presence of nature, perhaps in meditation, in church, in the presence of loved ones, etc. If we can’t think of any moments of contentment, it may not be because they do not occur, but rather because we are not trained to notice them.
When I first noticed the calm between the highs and lows, it was after several years of practice that gradually evened out my experience. That is, the lows were not as depressing, but the highs were also not as giddy–which at first was quite disappointing! As “unawakened worldlings,” we are wired to chase after the highs and try to avoid the lows by any means possible. This doesn’t work. In the binary universe, one does not exist without the other.
I finally learned to notice and value the peace and freedom (the space) between the highs and lows. An interesting effect of that perceptual shift was a natural movement towards doing what I could to make it more likely (setting the conditions) for my external environment to support what was happening internally. This involved changing work and some relationships–in short, I realized, aligning my life more with the Noble Eightfold Path.
The Path, though, is a tool that ultimately is transcended; its purpose is not to surround us with a glass bubble that nothing can penetrate. What it helps us do is create the causes and conditions for eliminating stress (dukkha), and this leads to increased freedom. Eventually, as our habit of mind leans toward peace, we are able to remain peaceful even surrounded by chaos. When we fully understand this, we can appreciate Ajahn Chah’s response to the monk who asked him if he ever experienced anger. His reply was that yes, anger arose–he just chose not to “pick it up.”
What will I choose to pick up today?