Life is always such a wonderful teacher. Lessons which can be constantly observed in the nuances as well as the monumental moments of our lives. And while lessons are always available, quite often we all can be very unaware that we are being taught anything of benefit. Most recently I have seen this occurring for me personally as I felt myself slipping into darkness. A blanket of fear and dread have seemed to have drown out the voice of wisdom and mindfulness. And while my practice is firmly in place, the reality of a great tragedy can easily become quite overwhelming.
This practice is based on three foundations, which are impermanence (anicca), suffering (dukkha), and no-self (anatta). Impermanence perhaps being the easiest to understand, but not always the easiest to accept. I have let go of a great deal in my life, some by choice while others were not. An increasing peace with the nature of life has helped me understand and accept this more and more. Yet still I would not say that loss comes to me without some amount of distress and sadness. But my view of all things coming and going is immensely different from what it was ten years ago, or even one year ago. So clearly I can see that the truth of the dhamma is infallible and invaluable in navigating this life. But perhaps more importantly, it has to be learned through personal experience. No one can just tell me these things and have me absorb it, but they must be understood one at a time. Each experience a lesson, each moment a great teacher.
So what lesson can be learned from slipping into darkness?
Well, I think it can be viewed like many other experiences in every life. When we are born, we come from the darkness of the womb into the light of day. While in death we go from the light of day to the darkness. And I think this unknown quality of death, leaving the light to the darkness, is symbolic of how any of us feel when we are facing an extreme circumstance or tragedy in our lives. It is the unforeseen that creates fear and aversion. This is suffering (dukkha), or, as more accurately explained by Bhante Punnaji, “dukkha is the insecurity of life”. The obvious truth being that there is always insecurity in this life, and this is unavoidable. But when things are going along as planned, we easily ignore this fact. Therein lies another great lesson if we are able to increase our mindfulness to that degree. But then who wants to think about devastating loss when life is going so charmingly well, right! Yet this is really the best time to develop a deep understanding, because our minds and bodies are at ease. This is the reason why many people spend part of meditation every day focusing on death and decay. And as morbid as that may sound to many of you, it is really a wonderful way to increase our own understanding about the nature of all things – including ourselves. And therein lies the seed of understanding no-self (anatta). The idea of all things being about us is at the heart of our struggle, and one of the lessons that we most likely avoid learning.
In summation, while I may be slipping into darkness at the moment, there remains a gratitude and understanding that keeps the wind at my back. Knowing full well that when I set out on this journey of life that there would be stormy seas. And even though the gale of this storm was unforeseen, I am fully aware that the clouds will break and the Sun will shine again. These lessons learned leaving me as a more seasoned and experienced Captain of my own ship.