In and Out of Rain
I’m in Edinburgh, Scotland this week and enjoying “the beautiful sunny weather”—as the gentlemen exclaimed at the airport as he greeted us. That is a joke, of course, as it has rained every day. But, it has also been extremely beautiful—lots of lush green, friendly people, and wonderful sites of ancient architecture, as well as modern exhibitions of theatre, dance, comedy, and music at the Fringe (an international festival held in August every year).
The juxtaposition of rain and sun, wind and calm, old and new that I have experienced every day have me reflecting on the way this affects us and how we choose to respond to the differences and the changes. I heard from one friend on Facebook who, after hearing I was at the Fringe, talked about how much it rained while he was here. Out of all of the things to consider, that was his response. However, another friend talked about the amazing performances. I’m sure it rained when she was here, but that was not her focus.
Where do you normally gravitate? The rain or the show? Not that one is better than the other, but each one certainly has an impact. If you focus on the rain, you are probably not going to be as excited about the experience, but you will be sure not to get wet. If you focus on the show and the performances, you are probably going to be happier, but you might have forgotten your umbrella. Of course, the third alternative is to be aware that there will be rain (so you prepare for that), but you are focused on the fun and excitement of the show. I call this taking the middle way.
The middle way is traditionally spoken about in Buddhism as not going to one extreme or the other. It is neither a path of denial nor of affirmation. Ajahn Chah, a Buddhist monk from the Thai Forest Tradition, said “There is a middle way between the extremes of self-indulgence and self-denial, free from sorrow and suffering. This is way to peace and liberation in this very life.”
The idea is that if we are purely indulgent, we are not free. And, if we are in battle with the world, we are not free. It is the middle path—the one where we are in the world and experiencing it without clinging to it being one way of the other—that we are truly free. Living mindfully, we observe (and enjoy) without judgment and let it rain and shine without struggle or attachment. Then, as Ajahn Chah says, “your mind will become still in any surroundings, like a clear forest pool.” He goes on to say “You will see many strange and wonderful things come and go, but you will be still.”
Of course, dealing with rain is considerably easier than dealing with many of the other challenges we will face in life. But the message and the way to respond is the same. We accept them all. We don’t fight with them or ourselves and get caught in the idea that “something has gone wrong.” Actually, even when things are seemingly falling apart, nothing has gone wrong. Falling apart and coming back together again are the natural course of all things. We might prefer them to be different, but in learning to give up our preferences we are more likely to successfully navigate the storms.
Being with things as they are with curiosity, kindness, and compassion is over and over again the message of mindfulness. When you forget and feel yourself caught in the struggle, come back to your center, to your heart. Feeling it all fully but letting the feelings pass through like the weather front. Once the rain passes, the sun does shine. If you keep chasing the rain, though, it is harder for the sun to peep out from under the clouds.