Being human is such a crazy ride. We have these tumultuous emotions that seem unique to our species. We are animals that dream of the divine. We generate art and healing, but also war and slavery.
Samsara is an old Sanskrit word used in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. Generally, it refers to the cycle of death and rebirth to which life in the material world is bound. The word samsara can be translated somewhat poetically as wandering or flowing on. For me, it has come to signify human confusion, this unique mess we humans seem to be making of our worlds—the environment, democracy, society.
Trungpa Rinpoche used to speak about the spinning of samsara— the way our thoughts spin wildly from hope to fear, through past, present, and future, barely pausing to distinguish reality from fantasy. We can take a quiet, simple moment and spin it into a samsaric nightmare in seconds. My grandson’s toy left out on the kitchen floor, a slip, a fall, a shatter, a splatter—in seconds, my contemplative lunch break transforms and I am lying on my back, cursing inanimate objects.
And then there is the clinging. Once we have whipped ourselves into a frenzy of spinning, then we pick some dimension of the situation, and cling to it like crazy. This seems to increase the velocity and the lethality of any situation. Finally, we solidify our wild state of mind and believe that this is just the way we are, the way we must be to survive, the permanent catastrophe. I remember as a young mother dinner time was often extremely chaotic. At one point I realized that I had unconsciously adopted a mantra, “This is horrible. This is horrible. This is horrible.” Once I realized that I was reciting this mantra, I could see how much worse I was making and the situation for everyone.
What to do? Here are some things I find helpful in working with my own mind:
- Recognize spinning and clinging. If we’re lucky enough to notice that we are engaging our world in a way that makes things worse, that is a blessing.
- Pause and settle. If upon recognizing that we’re making things worse, we have the wherewithal to pause and settle into the moment, we are doubly blessed. Feel the sensations in your body, listen to the rhythm of your heart or your breath. Look out at the world around you. Listen to the sounds.
By recognizing, pausing, and settling, we contribute to the peacefulness of the moment. Once we are more present and settled, perhaps we can find some small way to help our world go further in that direction.