I did my morning yoga practice in front of the window, this morning, while the snow was falling outside. During some of the more meditative postures, I allowed the pose to gently ease the movements of my mind to a dull roar, and I just peacefully gazed out the window.
It came to me that, in a way, there was a basic choice of how to watch the snow fall. You could either track individual flakes, one at a time, as they slowly swirled around and then floated down out of sight, at which point you pick out another to follow. The other option is to be perceptive of the snow coming down, but to not pick out any individual flake… It proved to be kind of difficult.
I found myself almost automatically latching on to a specific flake and following its individual path. I couldn’t just see the snow falling; it was always one flake at a time. There was almost a need to grab onto a specific flake, as if that was the only way to watch what was happening in front of me.
This struck me as a bit odd and, somehow, important, instructional even. With a bit of reflection on it, I came to realize there was a basic choice in approach to life arising, here. It’s very difficult to see flow or movement, maybe impossible. Think of looking at a river… It’s hard to not follow a certain current down the river. It’s a challenge to actually look at the river, itself, and not some smaller piece of it. It’s hard to truly see the river.
I think we do this in life a lot, and I think it’s what so many sages of so many traditions warn against. We are rarely part of the movement, or flow, of life; we usually latch on to specific events, like they were the snowflakes falling through the sky.
Something new and exciting arises, we give it our attention and get excited, “tracking” its movement through our life . When the excitement starts to wear off, we look for another new and exciting thing. Just as I sat there and had trouble simply watching the snowfall, getting caught up in individual pieces of snow falling, we too often get caught up in the events in life, perhaps missing the grand movement of life, itself.
You could argue, and I would agree, and I believe the sages would, as well, that the fun in life is in riding the waves of these individual events; that’s where the excitement is. Doing otherwise would be like watching a football game, but not rooting for either team. Where’s the fun in that?
Truly, emotions are products of the interaction between you and those things you watch, believe, root for, or invest in. Happiness, joy, loss, anger, worry, they are all generated by the interaction between you and the snowflake. When it first shows, you get excited. When it gets caught in a sudden gust of wind, you panic a little, maybe worry that it’ll blow away. Then, when it slips out of the wind’s grip, your anxiety eases and you feel a little peace. When it reaches the ground and melts, you feel a little sad. The ride is over.
Many would argue that this is what life is about, that this is life. Here’s where I believe the sages would suggest a slightly different take on things.
It is agreed that this is, quite typically, how life does play out. It is, indeed, very common. However, there is another way, another experience of life. That other way is, of course, watching the snowfall, and not just the snow fall.
The problem, if you examine closely, with the typical ride of life, is that for every joy experienced, there is a trade off. The emotional excitement always comes at a certain cost.
For example, imagine something you find truly fun. Now, imagine actually doing it. Keep doing it. Keep on doing it. Keep it up. More, more, more… Gets kind of exhausting doesn’t it?
Fun is fun, but you need a break. And you need that break because these things we typically consider fun and exciting come at a cost of energy. They, in very tangible ways, drain you of energy.
All of a sudden, then, “fun” loses some of its shine and glamor. We’re not questioning that it is fun, but we’re discovering more about it. Fun and excitement seem to convey a certain promise. That’s why we always go for it. But, if you stop and pay a little closer attention, well, it doesn’t fulfill that promise.
There’s that enticement that something will feel good. And it does, but it never lasts. And it always comes at a cost. The easiest, if not extreme, example is drug abuse. It feels good, but is fleeting, takes a toll, and constantly draws you back again and again, slowly creating a viscous downward cycle.
It seems life could so easily be lost to simply running around searching for bits and moments of feel good. They’re always, ultimately, empty, at best, and downright destructive, at worst.
Now, most of us don’t suffer quite that much, but does that difference in degree change anything? If what you’re holding onto, what you’re emotionally investing in, gives only limited, shallow “joy”, and if it is guaranteed to cause outright suffering through inevitable, eventual loss… If you’re honest with yourself and acknowledge the greater reality of the process, why not let go?
Though not rhetorical, the question does not require an answer, but perhaps it needs to be asked sincerely, that road traveled down, that inquiry, self investigation effected in earnest.
There were moments where I could step back from any isolated, individual snow flake. There were moments where there wasn’t pieces of snow falling, but, instead, simple snowfall… I wouldn’t call it exciting or exhilarating in any way, but there was something beautiful about it, something beautiful, simple, real, something beyond words… Of course, one is always left only ever able to point at that which is truly great and beautiful, and, today, I point out the window. ;)