Monday, July 27, 2015

Stability of Mind

"Enduring Presence"
- Outside the Desert Retreat House -

I had a very insightful conversation with someone yesterday who told me that she never really worried much about “West Coast” earthquakes until she started reading about them on the internet. As a matter of fact, if you do a “Google search” about earthquakes you will learn way more than you ever need or want to know about the probability of a “big one” hitting this part of the country in the relatively near future. A full scenario about the various sorts of incredible devastation that will result are spelled out in graphic detail.

As my conversation with this person continued yesterday, we both concluded that the “too much information” syndrome has likely been a major source of anxiety in today’s world, ratcheting up the worry-factor for almost every single one of us who can go to a computer and read all about the problems that are looming in our lives or might be just around the corner. From medical symptoms to potential natural disasters, all the information is right there at our fingertips at the click of a computer key.

Yesterday got me to thinking about my own propensity for worrying. My son who is here visiting told me the other day, “Dad, you worry about the weirdest stuff.” While I hate to admit it, I know of course that he is right. And with me, oddly enough, I often worry about the small and inconsequential stuff more than the big stuff in life.

I honestly don’t worry all that much about an earthquake on the West Coast or the likelihood of a terrorist attack, and while I sometimes worry about my health or finances, I find myself worrying much more about stuff like a computer glitch or a leaky hose in the garden.

Interestingly enough, whenever I have shared my propensity for worrying (even about the weirdest stuff), I often get a lot of empathy from folks who tell me, “Yeah, I do the same thing.”

After my conversation about “worrying” yesterday, I came home and looked up one of my favorite Buddha quotes:

If you have a problem that can be fixed, then there is no use in worrying.
If you have a problem that cannot be fixed, then there is no use in worrying.

Of course we all have problems, and chaos is innate to our human experience. Some of our problems are cataclysmic and even catastrophic, earthquakes and drought, terrorism, cancer and financial collapse, other problems are inconsequential like whether or not a computer program is working right or if a hose is leaking, but no matter what the problem, big or small, worrying about any of it is essentially useless.

I suppose an earthquake might hit the West Coast and if it does there are some things that we might be able to do to survive, and it is probably a good idea to plan for this; some things may happen that we will just have to endure. Worrying about any of it seems to be a waste of energy.

The Buddha taught his followers to cultivate “equanimity” on the journey of wisdom - “equanimity” is the foundation of wisdom. People think that Buddha is teaching his disciples to be calm and composed when troubles comes along, I think it goes far deeper. While there are many definitions of the meaning of “equanimity,” the one that is most clear to me is this:

Equanimity is that stability of mind that allows us
to be present with an open heart to everything that comes our way,
no matter how wonderful or how difficult.

There are plenty of problems to go around in the lives of each and every one of us.  A “stability of mind” allows me to welcome rather than resist whatever comes my way in life, from earthquakes to a broken hose. Some of these problems can be fixed, so I don’t have to worry about them; some cannot be fixed, so I don’t have to worry about them.

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