Equanimity [upekkha]

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Vicissitudes of life

The ebb and flow of life

When you read “vicissitudes of life” what do you think of? Do you think of the vicissitudes you’ve experienced in your life? Reflect on some these. Do you think of the vicissitudes all beings experience by their very nature? Reflect on some of these. Which come to mind foremost for you?

Reflect on the truth of this statement in your life. Recall how your life “circumstances” have changed over the past months. How about today? Reflect on the variety of experiences you’ve had, how your feelings and thoughts have fluctuated throughout the day.

When we look at our own lives, we see extraordinary patterns of flow and movement.

Think for a moment about what series of circumstances brought you to be sitting in the particular place where you are now, taking this course. So many different changing events and experiences have led to this moment and this action. At the time they happened, some of those experiences may have seemed very unfortunate, and yet in some way they had a role in this pattern that brought you here to this distinct time and place

We see that life is not really a series of unanchored, chaotic events. Rather, it is like a mosaic; it has a pattern. Each experience has some part in creating the whole. We can see harmony in the bigger picture.

Our challenge is how our hearts—my heart or your heart— can absorb the continual, unremitting contrasts of this life without feeling shattered. Battered by changes, the heart-mind can become brittle, rigid. It can wither and shrink.

The Buddha said that our hearts can wilt as a flower does when it has been out in the sun too long. Have you ever encountered this feeling?

Can we actually experience freedom in the midst of all of these immense changes, as they roll through our lives over and over again? Can we actually be happy in this continuous arising and passing away?

Pain and pleasure, praise and blame…

What the ancient Taoists called "the ten thousand joys and the ten thousand sorrows" come and go over and over again. As the Buddha said, pleasure and pain, gain and loss, praise and blame, fame and disrepute constantly arise and pass away, beyond our control.

When you meet pleasure, gain, praise or fame, do these make you happy?

Reflect. Does some part of you really believe that one — that is, you — you can have praise without blame, gain without loss, pleasure without pain, fame without disrepute?

Do you become disheartened, sorrowful, bitter … when faced with the these inevitable vicissitudes?

There is always blame in this world. If you say too much, some people will blame you. If you say a little bit, some people will blame you. If you say nothing at all, some people will blame you

Life's ebb and flow challenge us accept and embrace the very nature of a life in which no one in this world experiences only pleasure and no pain, and no one experiences only gain and no loss. When we open to this truth, we discover that there is no need to hold on or to push away. Rather than trying to control what can never be controlled, we can find a sense of security in being able to meet what is actually happening.

Why me?
96 year-old woman

When we feel unhappiness or pain, it is not a sign that things have gone terribly wrong or that we have done something wrong by not being able to control the circumstances. Pain and pleasure are constantly coming and going, and yet we can be happy. When we allow for the mystery, sometimes we discover that right in the heart of a very difficult time, right in the midst of a painful situation, there is freedom. In those moments when we realize how much we cannot control, we can leam to let go.