Reflecting on the weather (as we Brits like to do!) in recent weeks we’re seen a mix of sunshine and rain – frustrating perhaps for those who have planned tea parties and outdoor events – but good for the gardeners amongst us. And the mixed weather seems to reflect the mixed emotional ‘weather’ of our times. The good news is that businesses, shops, entertainment, tourism and places of worship are slowly reopening, and we can meet again with family and friends in small groups. The not so good news is that the pandemic is far from over. We are not back to ‘normal’ – and unlikely to be for a long time.
On the back of opening up, we see localised lockdowns, and on the world stage in some countries the numbers of covid 19 cases are increasing. Pondering the news, it can feel like 1 step forward and 2 steps back – and perhaps this is inevitable given the many unknowns about this virus. Going back to my April service on Rainbows and the story of Noah; the waters may be subsiding – we may have finally touched land, but the water has not totally subsided and a slow exit from the ark of lockdown is needed. It’s a process that calls for both cautious optimism and realism, if we are to stay safe as individuals and a Chapel community.
It’s not surprising in times of such uncertainty, that many people are finding it hard to maintain emotional equilibrium. In our meditation sessions these past 2 weeks we have been exploring the ‘weather’ that assails our minds when we sit down to practice – in Buddhist tradition referred to as the 5 Hindrances: Craving/wanting – Ill-will/anger – sloth/laziness – restlessness/anxiety – doubt. They have been lovingly nicknamed as 5 troublesome dwarves: ‘Grabby – Grumpy – Dozy – Jumpy – Maybe’!
Just as these hindrances arise in meditation practice, they also show up in our everyday lives. The lockdown – and the path out of lockdown – may simply exacerbate these normal human tendencies. We may find ourselves craving the old ways of life, longing to get back to how things were – that’s Craving – ”Grabby’. We might find ourselves assailed by ‘Grumpy’ – with a shorter than usual fuse – irritated by small annoyances – whether long queues at the shops, or Zoom hiccups. If lockdown has been a quieter than usual time, we might feel a sense of torpor – not really wanting to go out, get moving, or take up responsibility again – that’s Sloth or ‘Dozy’. It’s natural some of us may be experiencing ‘cabin fever’ after so many weeks cooped up – a sense of restlessness, perhaps coupled with anxiety, or feeling the ‘scattered energy that results from too much time on screen – we find ourselves assailed by ‘Jumpy’. And then there’s Doubt – or ‘Maybe’ – when we are plagued by indecision and uncertainty – and find it hard to trust our own innate wisdom and capacity to take appropriate action.
Whilst it’s not easy to simply turn off these hindrances, even at the best of times – naming the difficulty can be useful as a starting point. If we recognise and befriend these troublesome dwarves when they show up – we can stop them getting out of hand! Another thing that can be helpful in meditation – and perhaps in our lives – is to practice what’s called ‘Big Sky Mind’. We imagine our mind is wide and spacious like a huge wide sky, where there’s enough space for the hindrances to arise like clouds and disperse in their own time – like passing weather.
And even if we don’t have many days of blue cloudless skies, if we are lucky, amidst the clouds, we may catch a glimpse of a rainbow – like this full arch seen from our back garden 2 weeks ago – a symbol of promise and hope.
In faith and hope, Sheena