Riding Life’s Ebb and Flow with Mindfulness

The turning of 2020 into 2021 brought with it many new beginnings – a new year, new leadership, and new hope for the pandemic in the form of vaccines. Yet, the emergence of new possibilities on the tails of endings is merely part of the ebb and flow of existence. Soon enough what seems new will be mundane, what feels familiar will come to an end, and fresh possibilities will arise.

I’ve found it useful to compare these arisings and passings to waves in the ocean, because as long as we are alive, they’re ever-present – and they’re also dynamic and ever-changing. Ocean waves are no more than a transfer of energy from one point to another through the medium of water. Just like the cycle of life and the turning of the seasons, they move in a circular motion. They’re never ending and no two waves are the same. The most common waves are caused by the friction of wind on the water’s surface. This type of wave can appear quite dramatic above the water line in a storm, but there can be profound silence and stillness deep below. Tidal waves, on the other hand, are caused by the gravitational pull of large celestial bodies within the Earth’s orbit. Yet even these waves are relatively shallow.

We might liken wind-blown waves to the external forces of people, circumstances, and things on our thoughts, feelings, body sensations, and urges creating friction in our everyday lives. The tides might represent the larger forces of culture, upbringing, formative experiences, formal education, norms, beliefs, etc. on the orbit of our lives. Some of the biggest problems we face as a human race are, at their core, related to this deep conditioning – habitual and largely unquestioned ways of thinking and being in relationship with ourselves, others and the planet.

Just like waves, the push/pull and the friction of these forces within our orbit and at the surface of our lives transmit energy through us – but we must remember these forces are not us. There always remains a refuge of stillness and silence deep beneath the surface, when we’re awakened to it and if we practice how to access it.

Mindfulness can help us resource ourselves for navigating the daily frictions. It can also help us build foundational skills for the long and effortful experiment of examining harmful habits and conditioning and making changes in service our own well-being and the greater good. May our mindfulness practice help us learn to ride the waves of experience with curiosity, kindness and ease.

The spring flowers, the moon in autumn,
The cool breezes of summer, the winter’s snow;
If idle concerns do not cloud the mind,
This is a person’s happiest season.

–Mumon Ekai

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