I was chatting with a friend recently who was lamenting our current focus on finding “silver linings.” She said: “If you find yourself always focusing on the silver linings, it means you’re living in a cloud. I can’t always pretend I’m not living in a cloud… and it’s a dark and rainy one.”
With the Pandemic lockdown continuing, many people are feeling as if they are living in a cloud. Days are running together, parents are adjusting to styles of childcare coverage that they never imagined or planned for. In my own personal circle, everyone from high powered career types to stay at home parents to single people living at home have felt like they are struggling at some point through this. That is normal, that is okay; this is a hard time for a lot of people.
After talking to this friend, I found myself reflecting on the Buddhist teaching of “Eight Vicissitudes” of life. The Pali Canon – the oldest teachings of Buddhism – contains a sutta (or teaching) about the Eight Vicissitudes, also known as the “Eight Worldly Winds.” Lined out, the eight are: gain and loss, fame and disgrace, praise and blame & pleasure and pain. Personally, I’ve always liked the idea of these pairs as two sides of common coins or like winds that blow through our lives. These eight worldly winds blow clouds passing across the sky of our lives; some are nice and fluffy while others are dark and stormy.
As we go through our lives, we all experience these conditions. Just as the weather changes from pleasant to unpleasant day by day, week by week and season by season, so too do the conditions of our lives. What the ancients have taught us is that every condition is transitory and will change eventually over time. Some things stay the same for a very long time but eventually time does bring change to the our lives, one way or another.
In the “Worldly Conditions” Sutta, the Buddha reminds the monks not to get too caught up in one side of a coin or another. “Ordinary people,” he says, try hold on to gain and push away loss; falling into despair when the negative conditions arise and trying to hold on to the positive ones instead. He advices his students to take each condition in the same way: remember that it is fleeting, it contains suffering and is going to change. He instructs the monks to not favor pleasure and oppose pain. Instead, accept all the worldly conditions as they are without pushing some away while trying to hold tight to others. In this way, freedom is possible.
Many of us feel like we are living in a dark cloud right now. We didn’t set up or plan our lives for the reality of this global pandemic and all of the impacts it is causing for us. I had my two year old in daycare, my six year old in kindergarten and my husband and I work full time jobs that, yes, pay the bills but also give us a sense of purpose in our lives. Suddenly losing the childcare we rely on so far from family support was unexpected and even though both of us have practiced and studied meditation for many years, that doesn’t mean that this time isn’t hard for us too. We still feel the pain and loss that goes with these life disruptions. But, recalling the advice of the Buddha to his monks thousands of years ago: we can remind ourselves that this time is fleeting, it contains suffering and it is going to change. Eventually, the winds of our lives will change and a new cloud will blow in.