Being With Things As They Are
by Matthew Daniell
(published in the Newburyport Daily News Newspaper on November 6, 2020)
Can’t see Mount Fuji
This is a simple and profound teaching from the renowned 17th century Japanese haiku poet, Basho: That which is blocking our view of something we want to see is interesting in its own right, and worthy of our attention, just as it is.
Basho was looking to see Mount Fuji, and the fog got in the way. But all this did was show him something else to be interested in. He brought his full care and attention to what was actually right in front of him and it transformed his experience.
The anticipation of seeing the beautiful vista of Mount Fuji and instead seeing fog could have been a cause of suffering for Basho, but it wasn’t.
We all live with the powerful forces of wanting certain outcomes in life. Wanting security for ourselves and our families; to have nice things, achieve financial success, be healthy and safe, etc. are all perfectly natural. Basho expressed his own kind of desire when he looked to Mt. Fuji. This is the human condition. But as the saying goes “you can't always get what you want”. What happens when things don't go as we’d like? Do we react in old ways that may not be very helpful? Can we respond in ways that are flexible, creative and fresh? Basho didn't use his thinking mind to shift his perspective when he looked at the mountain and saw fog. He used a different skill.
Getting to know experience without the filters of preconceptions allows us to relax, and find a quiet inner joy of discovery that arises with clear present moment awareness. As a natural byproduct of this process we may find more respect and kindness for ourselves and others. The world continues to be just as it is, but we have changed.
This morning, after a long bike ride, I rested my aching body in the bubbling warm waters of a hot tub. As I lay soaking I felt a little disconnected and discontented due to some sadness, and an unresolved work situation. I wanted this suffering to go away. At first my mind started commenting and analyzing the unpleasant thoughts and emotions I was experiencing. But then I shifted to softly focus on the warm water enveloping me and swirling before me. As I began to relax more deeply I noticed the sun glistening on the rising and ceasing bubbles, and the warm air wafting into the leafy surround of the nearby forest. I felt my body breathing. I kept coming back to the immediacy of experience in my senses, mindfully letting go of following thoughts and returning each time my mind got caught up in them. After some time my heart softened and I became calmer. Then, naturally awareness opened more fully to the experiences in and around me. I began to notice the resistance to the unpleasant emotions and thoughts I was having. This created space and allowed me to become interested in the thoughts and emotions themselves. Some of them dissolved, others did not, but somehow they were no longer problems but unique expressions of life, simply part of the fullness of the moment.
Insight meditation is here so that we can train ourselves to be mindful, to relax, and ‘soak’ our awareness in being present. Once immersed in the immediacy of experience, awareness is freed up to see more, and with greater clarity. Then the preoccupations that were blocks to being present become objects of awareness itself, no longer getting in the way. The fullness of what is here and now is the way, how interesting!