October 17, 2013
“We want to give you an update on our progress,” the captain said over the PA. A silent groan went through the passengers: the word “update” meant the problem wasn’t fixed. The cheery voice said they had “identified” a “difficulty” in a “communications board” for which technicians were “seeking a solution.”
I was on a plane sitting on the tarmac trying to get to the East coast where I was officiating at my nephew’s wedding.
We took off nearly an hour behind schedule. My itinerary gave me an hour in Houston before a connecting flight left. I’d hoped to get something to eat. Instead I barely made the plane. The airline had already given my window seat away. The agent found one on the aisle.
I like to look out airplane windows. The woman by the window closed the shade so she could watch a movie. The woman right next to me had three martinis and laughed constantly as she watched the movie.
I was not interested in the movie. I read a little, slept a little, worked on my computer a little. Nothing was satisfying. There was nothing left for me to do but meditate. I didn’t want to meditate because there was so much aversion inside me about all the things that hadn’t gone the way I wanted.
When I closed my eyes, I was too worn to fight the aversion. So I didn’t try. I just felt the cranky thoughts and relaxed.
The aversion wasn’t that pack of grubby monsters I’d feared. It was like a four-year-old complaining that dad had cut the crust off the bread of his sandwich: it was sad but kind of sweet and endearing.
I remembered that crucial meditation lesson: resistance is futile. Fighting reality – wanting things to be different than they are – is what Jean Houston calls “schlock suffering.” Life has its unavoidable discomforts. But it doesn’t turn into anguish unless we have the hubris to think it should be different just because we want it to be different.
Aversion is like an ocean wave rolling toward us. We can try to run from it. But it’s likely to catch us from behind, sweep us away, or knock us flat. The Buddha recommended turning toward discomfort and getting to know it even if that means diving into the wave. Then we experience its true nature: water that passes by in a rush – not so bad after all.
Sitting on the plane I learned this again for the 1000th time. Old habits of turning away are deeply conditioned. So I have to learn it over and over until relaxing into the wave becomes a deeper habit.
It was almost midnight when my sister picked me up at the airport. I was worn, tired, hungry, and unexpectedly light in spirit.
ps. This blog eventually became part of a longer article on the four ennobling truths.