Mind in March (written 2018)
March in Alberta. What I notice as I scan the sky, check the outdoor thermometer, look up weather forecasts and pause to take in the bright beauty of a supermarket bouquet centered in my kitchen, is that March is emblematic of desire in this northern clime. We'd like March, in Alberta, to be a verb, moving steadily forward in a tidy and disciplined manner toward the longer days of sunshine and ease. Days without boots or slush or parkas. Days of pussy willows and tulip shoots and sleek does with spotted fawns at their heels. March makes me lean forward.
What is it about such anticipation that is so bad? It's not sinful or evil in some intrinsic way. The problem is simply that indulging it leads to dissatisfaction with what the present blessed moment holds. Recently I heard a wise teacher talk about anger. She said that while a spark of anger is OK and may even lead to skillful action, such as working to correct an injustice, the problem with anger is dwelling there, taking up residence in the story, becoming the anger. This insight applies as well to desire.
The Buddha names three poisons that creep in to undermine the potential happiness of a human life: greed, hatred and delusion. Anger would fall under the general category of hatred, strongly negative states of mind, often referred to as aversion. Desire falls under greed, the reaching we all do, more often referred to as clinging or craving. Delusion refers to the mistakes we make when we do not acknowledge what is. It always seems to me that delusion accompanies both greed and hatred. There is something we are overlooking, by deliberate design or from ignorance when we allow ourselves to dwell in one of these painful states.
It's the dwelling that makes it a problem. If I scan the sky and then return happily to my breakfast, check the thermometer and then choose my parka for another day, look up weather forecasts and then change the plans I had for the day when I find a storm alert, there is no problem. Even purchasing and enjoying the colorful flowers on my counter is only a source of joy, so long as it does not lead me to grumpiness about the lack of nature's color beyond my window.
The key to doing what we need to do in the day and allowing joy where it arises, is strong mindfulness. I may lean but I return to center. Just as I watch the breath in meditation, notice that an external sound has drawn my mind out to contemplate its source, and then deliberately return to the breath, I touch the petals with pleasure and resist the pull of fantasy and whining that could follow, staying here in this moment of joy. I see the dull sky but also the bounty on my breakfast plate. The thermometer allows me a moment of gratitude for the cozy warmth of the parka I'll soon don and the pleasant temperature of the building I live in. The forecast provokes sensible choices, encouraging letting go of plans that are not appropriate to the conditions of the day.
Not taking up residence in some future place desire has created and not ignoring the way things are at the moment, permit a swift return to this place and time and the gifts right here. Strong practice in a mindful March will inevitably give way to an April of continuing awareness.