Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Meditation: Hold the Railing in the Bottomless Pool

Right in the middle of dinner, a mood settles in, changing the textures of experience, tamping down on interactions and forming strange silences. There's a deep pool of possible feelings upon which to draw, yet like sipping through a straw, only one small part is sucked up, feeding the whole.  It wasn't like this just moments before, or perhaps yesterday was different. It feels as though a shift, like a tectonic plate, happened, and without knowing how it happened, or making up reasons why it happened, we feel as though standing in a place from which life looks different.  Right in the middle of life, someone we love  leaves us and we are lost in the bottomless pool.

It doesn't seem like a choice, since it is something we feel. Feelings surround us, like an immersion, and we cannot feel the bottom of the pool with our toes any more. Seems like either we drift with it, paddle in it, or drown in it. Is feeling really a matter of mind? a reaction to a condition? Does it help to know that the condition is impermanent, or is this feeling of the impermanence of everything like being in a bottomless pool, hopeless of finding our feet? Forever without the comfort of grounding? This is the wash of grief, the depth of loss, the fear of looking forward or letting go of what is past, unable to see the continuum of events as a constantly shifting mirage without feeling despair and agonizing incompleteness.

How do we live with equanimity if there is no bottom to the pool? Think of the shallow end of a swimming pool. There are stairs to give a gradual way into the water, where one can stay until more at ease with the depth and the shift from dry to wet. Even in the deepest end of the pool there are ladders for one to climb out, or to hold onto for a moment of rest. Understanding that the pool is bottomless does not mean giving up these supports, in fact it helps to see them as exactly that. There is little hope of understanding the sea simply from standing on the shore, we begin by wading in. We cannot know the deepest parts on our own, nor traverse the breadth of the sea as a fish might. Yet we can hold the concept of the mountain ridges beneath the surface, the universe of life and energy cycles playing out throughout. These are like the steps into the pool that we can use in approaching the ocean of our feelings and reactions, the seemingly boundary-less and overwhelming reactions we can have in a moment of loss, disappointment or fear.

Setting aside time from the viewing platform of meditation or a yoga practice can allow us to visualize the stairs, and the vastness of the bottomless pool, without reactivity. We can watch the whole scene play out without immersing ourselves in it. Notice the fear or grief arising, the avoidance or the urge to plunge beyond our depth. This moment of observation can be seen and even felt without being lost in it. We can learn to train our attention to hold the railing of the ladder while we let the mind follow the waves outward into the deep end. Let the breath itself be your railing.

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