Sometimes (yesterday) I feel like I'm in the ocean a little out of my depth and a big wave is about to crash down upon me....there are names for this like “depression” or “migraine” but let's stick to the story. Feeling out of my depth and element, the wave crashes down and I struggle to keep my head above water. Just as I've gotten my footing, another wave comes, and another wave....despair.
This morning the doom had lifted (impermanence!) and I walked down to the ocean by my house. As I was descending the stairs to the beach, I thought of this narrative of drowning. I imagined actually being in the water with the impending wave coming. And, then my training in swimming kicked in. When in this situation, it is recommended that one:
Take a deep breath
Duck under the wave
Wait until it passes without panicking
If after the wave has passed, one has been swept out into deeper water, what then?
Do not panic
Rest and float in the water as much as you can
Tread water in intervals
Tread means to “walk in a specific way” and refers to the surface of where a foot or tire touches the earth. So to tread water means to stay at the surface and remain active in a specific way.
Then, I went back to the story and imagined again holding my breath and ducking under the wave. I opened my eyes in the vast water below and then felt this, “I AM the ocean, I am not separate from the ocean”. And, then remarkably I could breath under water!
This is where the rubber hits the road (or wave); where our practice begins. Not how to avoid the water or a big wave; not how to effectively tread water; but how to BE THE WATER. To cultivate depth and width to hold everything in experience.
Wonderful in aspiration! Difficult in practice...
Yesterday I rode the BART to Berkeley. There was an older woman who looked around seventy years old passed out and curled up in a ball on one of the handicap seats. She was tethering her wheelchair to her so it wouldn't roll away. She had soiled the towel on the seat of the chair and it smelled like urine. She was breathing but I was concerned for her. Naturally, she had taken refuge on the train but she clearly needed help.
I called the BART conductor on the intercom and said, “There's an older woman passed out and she's soiled herself. I am concerned for her well-being.” He replied, “Oh, yes, she's a regular who does this all the time. We can call for support but....”
I was drowning, she was drowning, there was no help on the way. I texted my good friend and told her what was happening. She “listened” (over text) and the connection itself helped me to start to tread water. Still I had to watch the other woman “drowning” without being able to save her. And I knew this...
I must save myself first
I am no use to anyone else until I am “saved”
There is no outer refuge
There is only inner refuge
Therefore, the only thing I can do is tame my own mind....
I walk into the studio where I am teaching and the "regulars" start filtering in....I feel their warmth, their friendliness and realize, I am not alone. We are all treading water, but we're doing it together, and in that field I begin to float.