Friday, December 11, 2015

Embracing the darkness

Last winter was hard. It seemed like we didn't see the sun for several weeks, just a vague brightening of the sky as snow fell each day. It was cold, it was grey, it was hard to get around. It weighed on me, like a stone I carried each day as I cleared that day's inches of snow from my driveway.

It was, of course, impermanent, as weather always is. The sun came out; spring arrived, then summer.

But as the days got shorter in October, I felt my anxiety ramp up. The late afternoon darkness was back. I tensed, anticipating the weight of winter. My friend, a Buddhist teacher, suggested I flip my thinking, starting with noticing things I like about November.

That led me to examine my attitude toward winter in general. Instead of dreading the darkness, could I embrace it? Without becoming a Pollyanna who believes the pile of shit must indicate the presence of a pony nearby -- and surely one meant just for me! -- could I at least muster up equanimity about the advancing winter?

Could I learn to love the darkness?

In the bardo, there's not only the experience of light but of darkness. I've meditated on the light, on recognizing that as the ground of being, essential nature, but what about the dark? What about the absence of light? Could that also be a place of enlightenment? Endarkenment? Is there a difference between light and dark in emptiness?

Padampa Sangye advised Machig Labron:

Confess your hidden faults.
Approach what you find repulsive.
Help those you think you cannot help.
Anything you are attached to, give that.
Go to the places that scare you.

So I'm going to Iceland. In December. The sun rises at 11:11 a.m. It sets at 3:31 p.m. Four hours of sun. Twenty hours of dark.

I like to ponder potential tattoos. One of the things I consider is a phrase from a chod practice I do: Enjoy everything without attachment or aversion.

That's the intention. Enjoy the dark. Enjoy the light. Don't let enjoyment depend on external circumstances. Be the bliss.

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