I’m sitting in a Petaluma coffee shop, headed home from three days camping solo on the northern California wild coastline. Celebrating that I can still pull off something like this as I turn 73 next week. Bowing in reverence to the powers that be that have granted me this lengthy lifetime. For someone who is in long term relationship and also thrives on being in service, it is refreshing and illuminating to follow only my own energy. Since I’m a life long learner, part of the time has been devoted to study. I’ve been sporadically reading about and reflecting upon Right View, one precept on Buddah’s eightfold path, a virtual layman’s guide to moving out of suffering.
I’ve been a sporadic student of Buddhist practice for many years. Ages ago I picked up Funny You Don’t Look Buddhist, a Sylvia Boorstein book, since I was curious why so many well-known Buddhist teachers are Jewish. Sadly, I don’t recall the book content. But the title stuck and I still sometimes wonder how Buddhism, that speaks so patiently way below my own surface, nestles in with my genetic Judaism, a cultural bias nourished in farm homes at my grandparent’s feet. Old folk who immigrated from the old country and kept some of the old ways.
I don’t really know enough to explain or understand the intersection of these two ancient teachings. It’s just that they feel like they’re both in my blood. That they both harbor a tolerance for living with and mining the momentous questions. And that the mindful and ethical action we take in life is somehow a way of answering those questions. Right View is just such an inquiry. Except I would re-name it Wide View. Because it invites a quietly considered step back. A broad perspective whenever we suffer from getting tangled up in our messes. Right View is really just a fundamental description of precisely how things are:
Dukkha calls us out on our constant inclination to fill in these blanks: If only_____then____. If only it weren’t raining, we could go on that picnic. If only new neighbors hadn’t moved in, I wouldn’t be listening to a barking dog. If only I’d known you felt that way, I never would’ve asked. You get the gist. We all move in and out of wanting things to be different than they are.
Anicca reminds us over and again that nothing stays the same. Things change. Trees fall down. Babies are born. Climate shifts. Wildflowers bloom. We die. Impermanence is what we sign up for as soon as we are conceived.
Anatta points to how we affect our world and, in turn, are affected. Infinite conditions shape the world and the world is shaped by boundless conditions. It’s a continual interdependent cause and effect dance.
So I was laying on the sandstone pictured above, looking out at surf and sky and birds, rock warmth emanating up through my bones. All at once I felt that wide view. If only the jagged piece of rock under my right hand were smooth I would be perfectly comfortable. But things change. If I laid there for 500 years that rock would smooth out. And at the same time, I felt how the impact of my body weight and heat was part of that erosion process and simultaneously felt how the unique cut of stone was shaping me as I laid in the sun on it’s surface. Dukkha, annica, anatta.
When confusion arises or there is lack of clarity or chaos is ensuing…right view, wide view, encourages us to step back, simply stay with and allow whatever is arising. Because it will change. It always does. And the choices we make in that moment will have consequences. They always do.
So I suppose its time to get my butt in gear and toodle home. I’ve taken a quiet step back and feel the effect. If you feel the need to cultivate a wide view, I’ll be out there holding some space for precisely that in the next three days. I hope you can join me at some point. After all, we’re all fumbling along in the very same ways on this very human journey. And it does help to take a quietly considered step back, benefit from a broad perspective. Especially when we suffer from getting tangled up in our messes.
And that wide view totally happens in those dedicated moments on the mat or the dance floor….