“We have complete control in the special sense that we do not need to control anything. Whether emotions and circumstances control us or we control them no longer matters. Either way, Great Knowledge is there.” TSK, Page 254.
The other morning I was feeling helpless in the face of circumstances and was immersed in my emotional reactions to a number of situations over which I felt I had no control.
This is a familiar state of consciousness for me and I seem to wake up most mornings needing to reassemble myself into a more comfortable mental space. Along with several cups of coffee, I read something life affirming and try to design a path forward by writing in my journal.
But today, I have a more specific set of concerns that I want to write about. My strategy of trying to ground myself in the cradle of a new day usually has a positive effect so I see no reason to call it into question. Indeed, why look for a one-time remedy to that feeling of incompleteness when the one I apply each morning seems to be working? Especially since I suspect that the state of consciousness with which I wake up is one that many people have to deal with.
My mind seems like a sieve from which positive residues from the previous day seep out overnight, and what remains each morning are the unaddressed ‘problems’ with which I fell asleep. In the past few days, my ‘problem’ has felt like an allegory for a fundamental tendency in the way I live.
Last Thursday I had a follow-up orthopedic appointment at which my three-week cast was taken off, my ankle X-rayed, and a new cast put on for another three weeks. I chose a different color (green), in place of the previous blue one, so that I would have an outward sign of progress as I hobbled home.
It wasn’t until the following morning that I identified an alarming discomfort in my foot, which hadn’t been present during the previous three weeks. Perhaps the orthopedic technician—the same one who wrapped the blue fiberglass around my foot three weeks earlier—neglected to pull the toe box wider before the cast hardened in place. In any case, my small toe was being forced to press against its neighbor and it felt like I was stuck inside a too-tight shoe; one which I couldn’t take off for another 21 days.
I’d like to explore this predicament a bit further; I’d like to subject my routine anxiety with a more balanced understanding of this situation, together with my response to it. And I think that the Time, Space, Knowledge vision can shed some light on this ‘problem-mentality’, which so often dominates my mind.
Time is clearly at play in my concern that discomfort and even potential damage will now have 21 days to do its worst.
Dimensions of space are clearly present in the basic predicament of my foot feeling confined by the cast and, specifically, of my little toe being forced inwards by an unforgiving shell of hardened fiberglass.
And as for knowledge, clearly my thoughts lacked the balanced awareness that is always the first casualty of panic and alarm.
I found myself bouncing back and forth between a desire to escape and glimmers of awareness, as I recognized that I was not trapped by the cast as much as by a mind that sees life in terms of “problems” that need to be solved.
I found myself becoming aware that my tendency to see ‘problems’ is often an indication that my state of consciousness is out of balance; and not that my life will be intolerable if I don’t fix something right away.
So there I was, on the one hand, contemplating returning to the Orthopedic department and requesting a new cast, and on the other hand, a bit shamefaced, recalling “Man’s Search for Meaning”, in which Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Fankl writes about how he found meaning, compassion and wisdom, while imprisoned in a concentration camp.
There I was, strung out, like a clothes line on which hung my mental and emotional reactions to being an insignificantly-inconvenienced human being living on a planet where so many have to deal with the lack of basic necessities of life.
I expect that many people alive today experience a similar, uneasy alliance between the need to address problems and the desire to live in a thoughtful, balanced way among all the opportunities we find around us if we only look. I know that I feel more at home in ‘reality’ when I settle into the stillness of acceptance; and when—like the wind in the trees, a sudden rain shower, or a bird landing on a nearby fence—I don’t need to take so seriously those flash cards with their urgent message: “The sky is falling; do something!”
There’s a Zen story about a man who climbs down a vine in order to escape from a tiger standing on the edge of the cliff above him. Hanging in space and looking for a way to climb to safety, he notices a second tiger regarding him from the base of the cliff.
With no escape in sight, he sees a ripe strawberry growing on the cliff face beside him. Popping it in his mouth, and tasting its succulent flavor, he thinks that nothing has ever tasted so delicious.
Footnote (a few days later): my foot feels comfortable enough in the new cast, after all!