The Worldly Winds of Uncertainty
By Valerie Mason-John
The ocean of reality has unsettled many of us to the core. Many of us were sailing comfortably in our boats, riding the waves of pleasure and pain, gain and loss, praise and blame, and fame and disrepute.
And then came the huge storm. Some boats have toppled over; people were rescued, others died. Some people have lost everything in the storm and managed to grab onto a raft to help tide them over for a few months. And others are living on shipwrecks; every bit of income has dried up, with no access to money or food. And then there are people like me who were blown off course, and still have everything we need.
This pandemic that has besieged us came like a huge tsunami in some countries. In other countries, there has been a disparity in the way populations have been impacted. Those in senior homes, migrant workers, and Black, Indigenous, and People of Color are the ones who have suffered the most sickness and death.
This virus clearly is not the equalizer as many people have purported. The term “social distancing” has been an opportunity for some people to blame and attack the Asian communities for the virus. In Europe, people were attacking the Italians. Social distancing is what some of us feared would become the new white flight. People moving away from black and brown bodies. And so we must reframe this urgent health strategy as “spatial solidarity.” We must begin to compassionately move around people without fear, blame, or stigmatization.
This Covid-19 is reality. It’s part of the human condition. For as long as we have been on the planet there have been outbreaks of illness and disease. And today in 2020, most of the world has come to a standstill. Planes have all but stopped and pollution has cleared in the skies. People have stopped moving around and human contact has been restricted. We cannot go out to the parks, play sports, eat at restaurants, hug our family and friends.
Some of us are fighting with reality. The privileged are out with their guns demanding that things go back to “normal.” Some of us are calling lockdown an action against our civil liberties and freedoms.
This time of explicit uncertainty has put the world into a liminal stage. It’s in a holding place. The world is on the verge of something unknown, its human inhabitants in a phase of disorientation and ambiguity. It could be seen as a new rite of passage. An opportunity for us to surrender everything we have known.
We must be aware of the trap we have been living in. Rather than trying to save the planet, many of us have just been trying to save the way we have always lived on the planet. Right now there is the neurotic behaviour of trying to save the way we have been doing things. For example, we have rushed to place everything on Zoom, GoToMeeting, and WebEx, rather than taking the time to pause.
Everything has always been uncertain. Many of us have lived our lives as if everything is certain, as if nothing changes. And yet uncertainty is primordial. It is reality. Stop and pause; ask yourself what in your life is certain? What in your life is permanent? In the latter, you cannot find one thing that is fixed; everything changes. Okay, so we may say that death is certain. And because we have managed to delay the onset of aging, sickness, and death, most of us have forgotten that these things will come to us. As soon as we are born, we are old enough to die. Yet we argue with reality and lament it’s not fair — they were too young — and blame others.
The time of aging, sickness, and death is uncertain. Some of us live to be 80 and have the energy of a 60-year-old. Others who turn 13 or even younger have bodies that age and die. During this pandemic, many people have died from starvation, heart attack, cancer, murder, and many other things that took some families by surprise.
So how do we navigate this time of uncertainty? Like any other time in our lives we must learn to breathe moment by moment through the worldly winds that toss us around the ocean of reality. Many of us have gone into distraction. Alcohol consumption in private households has gone up by 75% in some countries. Others have used blame to cope, and are harming their spouses and children in the home. Some of us have gone into self-pity, and old coping mechanisms have come to the forefront. We resist the 8 worldly winds...
1-2) Gain and Loss
During this pandemic, many all around the world have had to cope with gain and loss. It means we have to let go of our attachment to the way we have always lived our lives. We have to accept the loss of income and learn to live within our new means.
3-4) Pleasure and Pain
Some of us have had pleasurable lives up to now and never had to worry about anything; yet during Covid-19, we’re dealing with a lot of pain. Some are in protest about it: “It’s not fair!” You too have to let go of the attachment of your comfortable life, and accept that wherever you have attachments to pleasure, there will be pain once it has gone.
5-6) Praise and Blame
For many of us, our identity has been based on what we earn, our job, and with people praising us for the good deeds we do. Now some of you can’t do this, and people will be blaming you left right, and center. You will be angry. When the praise sticks like Velcro, blame will come to you also. We have to learn to let everything slip and slide off of us like we’re a teflon frying pan.
7-8) Fame and Disrepute
During this pandemic, there has been much blame towards certain groups of people. In India there have been mob attacks against some Islamic groups. Some well-known Muslim families, who had a certain amount of recognition, are now experiencing disrepute due to being blamed for the virus. It’s unfair, and still they will have to weather this change of recognition.
This teaching of the worldly winds is telling us that we must stop arguing with reality. Accept that everything changes, live as if all plans are provisional, breathe as if this is your first breath and the last breath.
Yes, we can be happy again if we don’t get caught up in the worldly winds of dualities. Happiness and Unhappiness is right here, now. You can live your life during this pandemic as if you were in a monastery or in prison. Resisting reality will keep you in the prison of your mind. Turning towards reality will give you a mind filled with the spaciousness of a monastery. Wise attention is what is needed during this time of great change.
In the words of Bernard Berenson, ‘Wisdom is the understanding that things are worse than they used to be, but better than they are going to be.”
Note: The 8 worldly winds is a mindfulness teaching from the vast canon of Buddhist sutras. The 8 worldly conditions are referred to in the Lokavatti Sutta, where the Buddha refers to these conditions that the world spins after.
Dr. Valerie (Vimalasara) Mason-John, MA (hon. DR), is an award-winning author of nine books, including Detox Your Heart: Meditations for Healing Emotional Trauma and Eight Step Recovery Using The Buddha's Teachings to Overcome Addiction.
She is a TEDx speaker, the co-founder of the 8 Step Recovery peer-led community, and the chairperson of the Vancouver Buddhist Centre. She is also co-founder of the accredited 8-week course, Mindfulness-Based Addiction Recovery (MBAR), and is developing a mindfulness-based course specifically for people of color. She is an international speaker on mindfulness approaches for addiction and trauma, and offers training in the fields of leadership, anti-bullying, restorative justice, mindfulness and addiction, and kindness. She is the President of the Buddhist Recovery Network, and works as a senior facilitator and practitioner/therapist in Compassionate Inquiry, as taught by Dr. Gabor Mate.
Click here to visit Valerie’s website.
Click here for access to Valerie’s free self-directed online course based on her book, Detox Your Heart, and featuring meditations for emotional trauma. You’ll receive:
• Five Guided Meditations led by Valerie Mason-John
• Five weeks of materials and exercises to reflect on
• Three segments in weeks one to four, and four segments in week five
• Valerie is available by email to answer questions
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This article appears in: 2020 Catalyst, Issue 11: Mindfulness & Meditation Summit