Vernal Equinox Meditation
Meanderings On & Off The Noble Eightfold Path
Please note- I am not a Buddhist Scholar, and the following essay is a journey through my experience. If you are looking for an in-depth treatise on Buddhism, the Four Noble Truths, and the Eightfold Path, please consult tricycle.org, lionsroar.com, or the like.
Buddhism is straightforward in explaining how to walk the middle path—eight beautifully concise guides for a well-lived life. The problem lies in practicing those noble lessons.
A high school history class was my first introduction to Buddhism and its unique views. I was intrigued by the concept that all suffering comes from craving, but the chapter was short, and we were on to other things, and I forgot about the four noble truths. That is until about four years later when I developed an interest in meditation.
Meditation led to yoga and a desire to learn more about the history of these practices, eventually leading me to Buddhism’s middle path. Already familiar with the four Noble truths, I delved into learning about the eightfold path. It reads like a code of conduct if taken superficially, but the subtleties of the interconnectedness of being are laid out before our eyes.
The path implies the concept that nothing exists on its own. “Everything is “inter-is.” Everything is part of a dynamic cycle, and we are a part of that cycle. We suffer because we struggle against the natural process and flow of life, and we can avoid suffering by following the eightfold path.
So first, the four noble truths:
The noble truth of suffering
The noble truth of the beginning of suffering
suffering arises from craving
The noble truth of the ending of suffering
suffering can be ceased
The noble truth of the path to the end of suffering
end craving, end suffering
The Noble Eightfold Path leads us toward the cessation of suffering, and I have meandered on and off the way for years. Following my trail, one would notice dead ends, the talus of anger, ancient glacial deposits deep within my heart, the pinnacle of compassion, and the valley of despair. There are two dominant patterns to the wanderings off the path- stress, and illness. I have not always coped with grace in the past. I can do better. I hold the guidebook, and the trail is marked.
Let us glance at our desired approach to the wilds of life; The Noble Eightfold Path.
Right Speech – if you have nothing nice to say, then say nothing. Be mindful of the impact words, tone and inflection can have.
Right Effort – applied will to prevent insensitive or impure thoughts, deeds, and actions, and the will to create an environment where compassion and integrity naturally arise.
Right Mindfulness – be attentive to the body, mind, emotions, thoughts, and the world around you.
Right Action – be attentive to one’s behavior, actions, and treatment of others and all sentient beings. Be kind and helpful.
Right Thought – wisdom arises naturally when one’s thoughts are selfless and full of unconditional love.
Right Concentration – bliss may be attained and sustained when the mind is clear and one-pointed.
Right Livelihood – how one makes a living shall not harm others or our environment.
Right Understanding – everything thing is as it should be.
So now prepared to move toward a new year with a compass to guide my way, will I meader and lose the trail? Absolutely! I have no doubt I will have moments of intense anger, panic, or worry, which mindlessly allows me to react from a place of fear instead of acting from a place of love. I am not perfect, nor will I ever be. I am learning, day by day, moment by moment.
Through meditation, yoga, or reiki, I can slowly dissolve my attachment to outcomes and expectations, allowing for a more natural life, and exploring the wildness inherent within.
May your new year be filled with compassion and mindful intent, allowing joy and contentment to blossom with every step.
Another year has passed, and for me, it was, at times, a painfully slow roll. It reminded me of a class in college almost 25 years ago. The professor was a mild-mannered, aging hippy, complete with a ponytail tied, not with a rubber band, but a piece of old leather cording. I was a geology major and just as granola as the professor. He was very knowledgeable, and the cadence of the class, stratigraphy, was on par with how long it too for the strata we looked at to have morphed from sand to stone.
The classes and field trips were well-planned and enjoyed by most. (As I am sure, dear reader, you are aware that there are always a few humans who need to complain no matter what.) Anyway, about two weeks into classes, as we were learning about the law of superposition, our quiet, peaceful professor suddenly turned from the chalkboard (yes, there were chalkboards in college; that’s how old I am) and began a rant about his ex-wife, loudly, emphatically with gesticulations and maybe spittle.
Then just as fast as it began, it was over, and he turned back to the chalkboard, continuing the lesson as if the whole diatribe had never happened. Clearly, he was a catastrophist! A uniformitarian would never explode like that!
These outbursts happened randomly in every class I had with this professor. Initially, it was shocking- was he crazy? Were a few screws loose? Over time we adjusted to it, and it became a regular part of his classroom experience.
The effusive eruptions didn’t make him a lousy teacher; on the contrary, it showed depth, a story- more than meets the eye. He wasn’t just an aging hippy teaching a bunch of ungrateful kids. This man had a life, hopes, fears, and dreams. The outbursts were breadcrumbs leading the inquisitive down the path of human experience, just as the eruptions of pain and confusion I encountered this past year led me deeper into the mystery of my deteriorating health.
By following the trail, patterns began to emerge; both with my health and the life of my professor. Allowing a patience to settle over me- I am able to see more clearly into the patterns of detail. By pausing and stepping back, becoming the witness, I can see the forest through the trees, blossoming with awareness.
The shifting moods, subtle yet complex, were easily noticed by anyone paying attention. My professor suffered from bouts of depression and anxiety. The outbursts were his coping mechanisms when not wanting to take meds; a full release of energy- and a prompt return to normal.
Was there a clue here for me? My confusion, tremors and other symptoms had to be breadcrumbs leading me to the path of healing. I only needed the patience to persevere and not play the victim to my heath. With the belief firmly established that healing begins within, I used these random outbursts of bizarre symptoms to discover the patterns.
If the pattern of trees makes a forest then my pattern of symptoms would lead to a diagnosis. So like any good geologist, I got out my field notebook and began sketching out the layers of life that were impacting or being impacted by my symptoms.
It’s amazing that it takes catastrophe to look at the stratigraphy of our lives . Where is the fault? Where have we allowed the pressure to build to the breaking point. Where can we find small moments of release as to not completely shake loose our moorings later?
These insights along the rocky shore of healing has led me towards deeper inner wisdom and a softening of spirit. Patience, it seems, has been born of cleaving layers of sediment crashing through me. What else can you do with tremors, but ride them out, knowing this too shall pass and calm will be restored once again.
And in the calm lies stillness and elucidation; for from the pressure of living comes forth the diamond clarity of truth – all of life is an ebb and flow of pain, joy, suffering and love; leaving traces of each story to become fossilized in memory.
And in the calm, what I discovered classifying my pain and suffering was a pattern of excess and scarcity. It is between these two extremes a balance can be found. Overdoing it, taking on too much leads me down a path of deterioration. Doing too little leads to stagnation and eventually down the same path of deterioration.
However when conditions hover in the sweet spot between the two extremes; this yields a slow yet steady pace, allowing for the unexpected & reveling in its mystique. Set backs are no longer boulders blocking my way, but a chance to meander creatively around my inner space getting a fresh view, creating new neural pathways.
When we can witness our story, layer built upon layer, lessons and meaning emerge from the patterns. We can learn from our past, adjusting our patterns to create a path of fertile soil which holds within it the sediment of our memory, allowing for new growth and experience to ripple through our lives.
Wishing you a peaceful 2023.
Winter Solstice Meditation
The Winter Solstice is the return of light. We endure through the darkness to be reborn in light. Journey within to meet the darkness with love and compassion as we take a moment to forgive ourselves and discover our inner light ever present.
Music by Maura ten Hoopen. Licensed from restfulmind.com