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A deep dig for joy

As I look out the window on April 6th, a day of double birthdays in my family (Happy Birthday to my mom and 2 year old niece!!), I see snow falling from the sky. The wind is blowing dense flakes, they skip across muddy puddles, bounce against the walls of the building surrounding me and eventually return to the earth. This intrigue in watching the snow has me thinking about the mind. Our minds are like the vast sky and our emotions and thoughts are the weather patterns that emerge across the sky and then dissipate, recycled back to where they came from and in its wake another weather pattern follows. Sometimes these weather patterns last minutes, hours, and some last days. We even have seasons with somewhat predictable weather patterns where, depending on where you live, you might expect precipitation more often or more sunshine. They all pass, recycle, and begin again - just like our thoughts and ruminations.

Last month my family traveled to Arizona for our spring break. A chance to get away from the typical weather pattern of our area which was still very much in the throes of winter, to escape for a bit to an area that experiences different weather patterns. The first morning in Arizona set the stage for what we desired. Calm air and a sunny sky that warmed our timid flesh. However, that same day we traveled away from the calm air and sunny sky into a dark, cloudy sky, unpredictable air, and rain. As we sat outside of a restaurant waiting for our name to be called to a newly cleaned table, also located outside, we continued to take in the warmth against our skin and the enjoyment of our new surroundings. Yet - we couldn’t help but notice, in the distance the sky appeared to be changing.

Once we sat down at our table, in an outside seating area, the sky began to darken and the air became more swift. We questioned returning to our vehicle for jackets. Nah - we were from the midwest, we could handle a bit of air movement. Yet - our minds changed just moments later when the wind picked up, the dark clouds were directly overhead and rain began to lightly sprinkle our faces. By this point we had clad ourselves in jackets and had ordered our food. Others that had been seated outside had left. We were the only table that remained with any guests and our waitress apologized that there was not enough space in the restaurant to move us to. She also expressed confidence that the weather would pass quickly and that it is “never like this here”. I am not sure that was at all comforting. A few moments later as we huddled around the heater near our table, the waitress brought out my cup of hot tea and the tea bag flew right off the saucer landing in a cup of ice water on the table. She apologized and I laughed. I reminisced on the fact that a few hours ago I was gleefully sitting outside getting a bit too hot in the sun as I ate breakfast and now I was shivering watching my tea bag float in a cup of ice. My son looked at me and lamented, “I thought it was supposed to be hot here!”. Oh the promises of a different climate. My family of five had each packed one sweatshirt each for the trip, “just in case”. Needless to say, those sweatshirts were worn most days on our trip as we traveled to the Grand Canyon (brrr!) and then through the mountains. At least in the most southern part of our journey we were able to exchange the jackets for swimsuits. Finally!!

Enjoying the amazing canyon with my mother and father in law

Since returning to the north, the weather has been equally dysregulated. A lot of snow had melted when we were in Arizona, but then a few days upon our return, it snowed again leaving us with yet another landscape of white as far as the eye could see. Snow this time of year is different from the snow that falls November - February. Now it is heavy and dense, not light and fluffy. There is mud everywhere. The grass is matted and brown. Yet, the robins are singing a lovely song and while I wonder if they ever feel like they’ve been duped by mother nature as they sit in the branches of the trees, dense snowflakes pelting their little faces, they continue to fly and sing. I learn from watching nature. I notice that the weather patterns outside are similar to the weather patterns inside of myself. I notice that I feel different with each season and desire doing different things. I am ever changing, ever evolving, and cyclical.

When my family traveled to Jamaica in December and were on a tour bus from our resort to Dunn River Falls on a cloudy and rainy morning, our tour guide apologized for the weather and said “our rainy season is over, so we are not suppose to be getting rain right now!” We get wet. Sometimes we manage to stay dry. We endure cold and welcome warmth. It seems we are perhaps always in a state of avoiding or desiring. When we are hot, we seek shade and cool beverages. When we are cold, we seek sunshine, fire, or a heater, and warm beverages. Naturally we seek balance. We know it does not feel good to be all one way. Of course we are going to acquire aversions and preferences in our lifetime. In yoga, aversions (dvesha) and preferences (raga) are considered two of the five kleshas. Kleshas are afflictions or “poisons” that cause suffering. If we are to live a full life that involves working, being involved in relationships with others, our communities, and raising families, we are going to live with dvesha and raga. In many ways this is important for our survival. We learn that there are some things that need to be avoided in life and other things that meet our needs. However, suffering occurs when we are attached to aversions and preferences. When we hold on to them so tightly that we are unable to enjoy the present moment because we are frustrated with the rain when we desire clear skies and sun or when we sit down hungry at a restaurant full of anticipation to order a desirable dish of food only to be told that it is no longer available, we suffer. These might be small situations and small amounts of suffering - but accrued over time, leads to tension and rigidity. We either move closer to our attachments and further from our aversions, creating paths in our life to avoid our aversions as much as possible or seek our preferences at a cost. Loosening our grip and not minding so much when things change, despite our intentions (e.g., flying to a warmer climate and accepting that it might still be cold) and allowing life to unfold like the opening of a beautiful flower, is really what you can consciously do.

As we all know - the beautiful flower was once a seed and its petals will fall after full bloom. Yet this doesn’t make the flower any less beautiful. We seem to understand when we see a beautiful flower that it won’t always be that way. What would happen if we accepted that about life in general? Delight, beauty, and pleasure are wonderful, but they will pass. Just as suffering from not getting what we need, desire, or feel that we deserve, will also pass. If we reduce our attachment to our preferences in life, we will be less affected when things don’t go the way we want them to. It is a practice. See if you can observe when situations arise today -do you notice that you get a little prickly beneath the skin or hot under the collar because something didn’t go the way you had intended or desired? Equally important, observe when things go just as you had planned and you feel satisfied, maybe even euphoric. Notice that both pass. This does not mean that you shouldn’t plan or hope that things go as you’d like them to, but it does mean that you accept when they don’t and you don’t let it ruin you. Have you ever noticed when you are in a “perfect” moment (close your eyes and imagine what that is for you) and you feel a little lighter, your heart feels expansive and you don’t ever want to let go of that moment? Suffering occurs when we begin to think, “this will never last and I’m already sad about the fact that things will be shitty again”. We rob ourselves of that moment because we have already decided that without things as they are when we feel so damn good, that we’ll have to deal with feeling shitty. Yet, it is possible to take each moment as it comes, with all its beauty or discomfort and know that you are fluid. Enjoy what is to be enjoyed, but also slide into the next moment with an okay-ness that no matter what happens, you are capable of floating on. Loosen your grip, release the tension little by little, and you’ll start to realize that you really can be here now with no expectations of what happens next. I dare say that you’ll start to notice a deeper joy that is there all along, irrespective of your circumstances.

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