Part III – Chapter 16
Facing facts with equanimity.
A first step in spiritual work is to look upon one’s present “life situation” as a given – i.e. to accept it as stands, without whining and complaining as to how “the cards were dealt out”. This is not an attitude of fatalism, because the intent is to improve on that situation. It is just a realization that any situation one finds oneself in at any time is mere landscape, mere theatrical décor around the play of one’s life, which is essentially an internal play. Things and people around one are only stage sets and supporting cast – the inner drama is what counts.
In particular, one should not allow oneself to be distracted or distressed by people and events in the surrounding world one perceives as stupid or evil, to the extent that one’s spiritual work is considerably hampered or blocked. Meditation requires and fosters equanimity and serenity; if this is indifference, it is born of perspective rather than narrow-mindedness. If we were in “nirvana” instead of “samsara”, there would be no need for spiritual development.
It is silly to waste precious time and energy on resentment. We have to view the world we happen to find ourselves in as a given – this world is by its very nature (as a multiplex, with changing and interacting particulars) an imperfect world with imperfect people. It is useless to get sad or angry at situations or people; things and people are what they are. Once these facts are acknowledged and accepted, rather than evaded or rejected, one can begin to act (mostly on oneself) to change things for the better.
Whatever one’s situation – whether one is healthy or sick, surrounded or alone, free or enslaved, rich or poor, employed or jobless, married or single, etc., etc. – one will always be called upon by life to exercise certain virtues, like courage, effort, perseverance, purity, strength, kindness, integrity, and so on. A rich person seems to have it easier than a poor one – but poverty may in fact facilitate certain virtues whereas riches make them more remote; similarly, in all other cases.
Life makes the same moral demands on all of us, and changing the surrounding scenery makes no difference to the basic challenge involved. It is useless to shake one’s fist at God, or to envy or blame other people, for one’s present condition. One should regard one’s current situation (whatever it be) as the best possible context and framework for the virtues one spiritually needs to exercise right now.
One must see that the situation one happens to be in provides the ideal opportunity for the currently needed virtues. One can view it as “God’s will” or as “one’s karma”; but in any case, as the best place to be for one’s spiritual progress. With this realization, one can face one’s situation with gratitude and optimism, and deal with its difficulties with energy and even relish.
I recently had a very strong direct experience of detachment. It was after a full day of fasting and prayer (Yom Kippur), including periods of meditation. I stood in my room in the half-light coming from the window, realizing that all things and events can be compared to furniture laid out in a room. All experiences, whether good or bad, pleasant or painful, can indeed be viewed as mere parts of the scenery, without attachment or self-identification. Whatever you come across, you can take in stride, just as you walk around furniture.
Face every situation in your life with equanimity. Face the facts – and put the emphasis on solutions, rather than on problems. There is never any justification for feeling overwhelmed by the tasks at hand: deal with one task at a time, and all the work gets done. Keep bouncing back no matter what difficulties arise; resilience is the mark of liveliness, the will to live.
There is no doubt that will is continuously called for in the course of meditation – at the physical, mental and spiritual levels. In sitting meditations, we have to sit down and stay put, controlling our posture, directing our attention. In moving meditations (such as yoga or tai chi), likewise, we have to make the appropriate moves, at the appropriate rates, with appropriate attention. We have to develop the right attitudes, direct and intensify our awareness, detach from our passions, be patiently mindful, and so on.
All this implies volition, although not always in the simple sense of “forcing oneself to do” something, but usually in a more refined and precise manner. Gradually, as one’s discipline develops, one finds it easy to do the right things at the right time, seemingly without effort.