by Robert Wilkinson
I am reminded constantly that we live in very strange, difficult, and stressful times. It seems like everyone I talk to is on the edge of profound personal change, usually not very sure what's happening or how things will turn out, and are unsettled with the ways they are or are not responding to the changes. While feeling edgy in edgy times is understandable, it is also a very driven way to live, and wears on our nerves. While we cannot change the fact that we're all under pressure, we can learn techniques that lessen the pressure, or help us to steer the pressure toward productive ways of moving through the weirdness.
In my book, "A New Look At Mercury Retrograde," I made a point that can help to clarify the place and function of the many stimuli that fill our lives. Either we are acting, reacting, or being acted upon. I believe the first thing to regard in our immediate experience is which of these is at work? When we are acting, we are moving under our own steam toward goals of our choosing. These can be good or bad, depending on how accurately our desires and vision are guiding or misguiding us.
When we are reacting, we are moved by something to respond to it. It may not matter that the thing is entirely subjective, unconscious, or even unreal, we respond whether we need to or not, whether it's a good thing or not, or whether our response is appropriate or not. Echoes of memories of perception of memories from childhood often bring these up to the surface. When we are being acted upon there is something external that has become an immediate part of our experience, whether we react or not. How long we choose to live with it depends on whether we invited it or not, and whether the result of it acting on us feels unifying or dividing in a healthy or unhealthy way.
I've always been of the opinion that we should be driving our own boat in the direction of the dharma we may not even be able to formulate. It's a good thing to hold back a little on how much we allow others, even those who are well-intentioned, to drive it, since they very well may not know how, or where, or what to do when certain things are about to happen. When we learn to drive our own boat, we have a sense of power and potential, even when we're just idling and waiting to figure out which direction to go. It's not helped that everything is so weird, and the hitchiker you pick up could be an angel or a devil in disguise. And so we hope, and wish, and opine, and effort, and hope some more.
Of course, as a whole we haven't been offered ways to cope with feeling weird, or been taught to know how to act or react appropriately to the ever-changing conditions of our evolving reality. We're mostly told it's all part of a Mystery, or "God's plan," or some other homily, and that few can really know how to be in the ever-present NOW of the eternal flux and flow. And of course we are told to venerate "spiritual teachers," while being reminded over and over how miserably short we fall relative to the ideal, according to others' perceptions.
Psychology tells us that we supposed to learn from what others do to us, and if it's bad, to see "our part" and do forgiveness practices. However, it doesn't seem to come with the equally valid point that sometimes we are acted upon by others of no good intention, that someone else's free will has just jammed our gears. Then it would seem useless to overanalyze "our part" beyond knowing we just didn't need to go there, and probably won't ever again.
We can learn from our experience to use our imagination creatively, and this alone can prevent the recurrence of many old karmas. We can always learn more skills of how to move through this ever-changing reality, but must first train our mind to interpret our experience, what our 5 senses bring us, so that we can know the unreal from the real, darkness from light, the impermanent and the permanent, and acquire coping skills that can help us feel more competent in the future through knowledge of how to respond accordingly.
There are a lot of rumors, hopes, and dreams about the coming of "the New Age," and how much things will be different. Still, as long as there are humans, there will be lessons of learning and teaching detachment, dispassion, discrimination, and how to generate good will, or "bodhichitta," as it is termed. With a little effort and mindfulness, we can learn to regard all that comes and goes as part of a greater experience, not take any of it personally, and know the place and function of what presents itself.
When we are able to practice these virtues at will and couple them with a genuine willingness to generate positivity in every moment, whether we're presented with harmony or disharmony, then we will be able to maintain our equilibrium, our perspective, our sense of humor, and our strength and clarity of higher intention despite all the glancing blows of passing fortune. We can get free of the traps of feeling bad, or helpless, or discouraged by the passing parade, and even in the worst of times, be a light in our world, breaking the link between pain and suffering.
© Copyright 2006 Robert Wilkinson