We have been born into this awesome, mysterious, incomprehensible, wild world of change. As humans, we’re not super excited about continuous change. It makes us feel vulnerable. We have this yearning for openheartedness in this world, and yet we’d like to feel safe, too. We want some kind of lasting security, which we go about trying to arrange as best we can. We look for protection for our vulnerable heart and mind by trying to control this world. Our usual strategies for controlling life are what are known in Buddhism as the three roots of suffering: ignorance or delusion, attachment, and aversion. First, we ignore, sublimate, deny or otherwise try to avoid the truth of change in this world. We then try to control the world so that we experience only what we want (pleasantness) through holding on, and avoid what we don’t want (unpleasantness) through pushing away. In this way, we hope to make this world manageable and to protect our heart/mind from the vulnerable business of being a human being.
The great disappointment we face in our spiritual quest is learning that these strategies don’t work. Our efforts to find security in this way impede our deepest wish for openheartedness. We see that we suffer unease and contraction of heart/mind from trying to control this life, and lose the spaciousness and connectedness we yearn for.
Ignorance, or denial of truth, demands a high price. Maintaining the highly cherished illusion of permanency and constancy necessarily involves living at a remove from life. We know that it’s an uncontrollable universe and keeping this truth at bay takes lots of energy. When we try to protect our hearts through denial of the truth, we don’t know peace.
Attachment and aversion fail as worthy protection strategies as their very nature is one of contraction and restlessness. They keep us very busy trying to micromanage life! They ultimately fail because life moves, morphs, and changes, whether we want it to or not. And they shrink the heart/mind, in the process sacrificing openness and connection.
Fortunately, meditation practice offers us sane and peaceful ways to protect the heart/mind. We can think of practice as a slow transition from relying on these ineffective and suffering forms of protection to developing saner ones that lead to peace. Through clear seeing and in-depth investigation into the control strategies of ignorance, attachment and aversion, we discover the shortcomings of these forms of relating to the world and answer the yearning for openheartedness and connection. We develop saner protections for the heart/mind, the protections of equanimity and metta (loving kindness or unconditional love).
Equanimity is continuous accommodation to the truth of the present moment. An equanimous heart/mind can connect with this world and all its changes with balance, poise, grace, and flexibility. It’s not flipped out by the continuous coming and going of pleasant and unpleasant experiences. With equanimity, we learn to trust deeply, and relax into, our capacity to flow with the river of change.
A heart/mind filled with metta loves this world and all things in it unconditionally, just as they are. Its power lies in its complete inclusivity; nothing is exiled. Its gentleness and softness melts the hard edges of our resistance to reality. Love makes being in touch with the full truth of this life possible.
Meditation practice deepens these qualities of equanimity and metta and strengthens our capacity to be openhearted with life. With hearts strong and protected in equanimity and metta, we find the courage to connect with life as it is, and we nourish the liberating wisdom that comes from this connection. May our practice deepen these wholesome qualities of mind/heart, guiding us towards deeper and deeper levels of freedom.