Is it possible to notice the arising and passing of mood states, to notice the scene change with a push of some internal remote-control button? It’s why I like to unplug every so often from the Matrix of Busyness to watch the mind, to find answers.
Hiking today, the mood began with sadness after seeing how much this tree had changed. A few weeks ago, it was lush with green foliage illuminated by warmth. Now it’s branches were heavy under thick, gray fog, its leaves destined for decomposition.
There was no place to hide from the truth. Just as this tree would shed all its leaves, I would lose everyone and everything I loved, before or after they lost me. My heart was as heavy as the tree branches.
Sadness soon dissipated like some of the thick fog and gave way to aversion. I made sure not to step on the poopy pellets from turkeys or dogs marking various points along the trail.
Soon, a young couple and I exchanged smiles and nods. Joy was present as I listened to some of their conversational exchange, and remembered what it was like to lift the heart’s veil slowly with a friend who might become a lover.
Joy’s companionship continued with a forest symphony of creature sounds punctuated by moments of silence. I noticed joy walk away as soon as the I heard cacophonous coughing and sneezing. Dammit! I’m not alone. So much for the forest symphony.
Joy was trying to make its way back when I reached a meadow. The forest symphony resumed after the rude interruption. The stillness was so palpable. I could hear my breath, feel my pores opening to exchange elemental awareness with Mother Earth. I was plugging into Her beauty, Her wisdom.
“Aaaachhooo! Cough, cough!”
There was an internal tug of war between joy and aversion. Who would win? Did I need to pick sides? Another sound joined the forest symphony and the other hiker’s respiratory vibrations, the Satipatthana refrain. Like a chorus to one of the Buddha’s most famous songs, I heard the words whispered from some unknown place.
The invitation was clear. I didn’t have to pick joy or aversion. I didn’t need to pick sides. Noticing, making space, and understanding my internal mood, I could sense what the external mood for the hiker must be like (based on prior experiences of body misalignment).
I could communicate a mutual love of hiking, compassion for her illness, and a willingness to share sacred space on Earth with her through the light shining from these eyes, the warmth from this smile, the exchange of breath with trees and each other. I could contemplate that both of our moods and mind states were conditional, would arise and pass like everything does.
Could I earnestly bring this contemplation to all relationships: at home, at work, in social circles, with strangers? Can I sense where my moods and mind states begin, where yours ends? Is it possible for possessive pronouns to disappear because there is no longer any ownership? (This does not imply an avoidance of responsibility for any harm inflicted upon others. It’s an invitation to acknowledge, to accept responsibility, to begin reparations, to forgive and heal both sides.)
The implications for relational peace are not impossible, but infinite. May I remember this as I prepare for the second Dedicated Practitioner’s retreat at Spirit Rock, where dynamic beings of varying color, class, and creed will come together for the benefit of all beings everywhere without exception.
The sun may be hiding this season, but love is never lost. It’s just a little harder to find.
(For further contemplation on the Satipatthana refrain, please visit Joseph Goldstein's insightful talk.)