How are you doing? We are in challenging times. Most of us are now housebound, and not by choice, and this provides us with a unique opportunity to reflect on life and our practice.
There is a tension between doing something and with being calm when threatened by loss. That is a real challenge to our practice.
The current threat of the virus is for most of us invisible, until it strikes us personally. Unless we are infected by the virus ourselves or someone close to us is, for many of us the situation can feel quite surreal. The sense of threat is amplified by the fact that it is being experienced collectively, by society as a whole, and not just individually by ourselves. It is reinforced by the news, by radio programs and by social media as well as in almost every conversation we have with colleagues, friends and family. Even though the threat is invisible, the fear we feel is very physical.
Fear of the virus has now been further compounded by the injunction to self-isolate which separates us yet further from much of what provides us with a sense of security. Having to keep our physical distance from others, the disruption of familiar work routines and social activities; not being able to go to work or perhaps having to travel to work in high risk public transport and then having to face a yet higher risk of infection at work itself.
There is also the fear that comes with the loss of financial security, of not having an income whilst still having to meet ongoing expenses. The fear of not being able to provide for dependants or having to deal with the consequences of abandoned plans and projects or commitments in which one may have invested a lot of time and energy.
In one way or another we are all currently faced with the loss of what is familiar and what we are attached to; and the experience of this loss is dukkha.
But there can be a silver lining to all loss, and it is not necessarily a ‘happy-clappy’ one. The paradox of bhavana, or developing spiritually, is that in giving up what we are attached to we can experience freedom from the cause of our suffering. Sometimes the process of letting go feels difficult but manageable, at other times it can feel very painful, such as the extraction of a rotten or impacted wisdom tooth. There is the daily pain of the tooth, then there is the further intensified pain as it is extracted from the jawbone, and then there is the relief of not having the wisdom tooth, followed by the restful ease of being pain free.
Freeing oneself from attachment is not a passive process. It is also not just about finding a calm state of mind. Calmness comes and goes like all states of mind do.
Developing samatha, learning to allow oneself to experience a state of calm, is a wonderful antidote and counterbalance to the suffering we go through doing what we have to do in order to survive, such as having to confront the pain and fear of the COVID-19 virus and its consequences
As a daily practice, samatha together with sila, or morality, offers not only support and comfort, but it also creates the ground for a deeper investigation which allows the natural arising of vipassana, or insight.
There is an active process of engagement in samatha interwoven with vipassana, one that allows us to simply be with what is, as it arises, pleasant and unpleasant, moment by moment.
Much of being in the world is about doing. Our samatha practice allows us to rest in being. Both the doing and the being are found in deep and sincere practice.
The full integration of doing and being can only be realised through insight, the direct realisation of the truth of the way things are; the realisation of That which is always present and behind the flow of all experience.
So, in the light of these reflections each one of us can ask ourselves a few pertinent questions, made so much more real by the immediacy of current events.
What am I learning from all the change that is now happening around me and in me? What are my priorities? Where do I seek certainty? What am I determined to change? Where can I find support on my journey? Is there an ‘I’ that is looking for answers or is it an innate impersonal movement towards truth and real peace?
Do reply and share your thoughts and reflections with us (firstname.lastname@example.org) Martin, Randula and I will select what feels most relevant and helpful from what you write to us and in reply we will offer our observations and hopefully answer some of your questions as helpfully as we can.
Be well, be calm and be happy in the present moment.
25 March 2020