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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Never Judge the Day by the Weather

"Never judge the day by the weather" - Earl Nightengale

I first heard this years ago, listening to one of Earl Nightengale's many recordings, and then, as now, it struck me as very powerful advice.  The weather is a metaphor for that which is not ours to control.  This includes most everything that happens to us.  Mr. Nightengale's message is that, since we can't control what happens to us, we ought not let what happens control us.  If we allow the weather to determine how we feel, then we will feel bad about half the time.  What's more, since there is almost always something to complain about, if we allow what happens to determine our mood, we'll spend most of our time in a bad mood.

Recently I have come to appreciate this metaphor with a deeper meaning than when I first heard it years ago.  It is easy for us to see the uncontrollable effects of external phenomena like the weather.  But, what about our inner world?  What about the "inner weather," as Tara Brach puts it.  Are we any more in control of what happens inside us than we are of what happens outside?  We like to think so, but I am not so sure.  

We cannot, for example, control what happens within our bodies.  Most processes within the body - digestion, circulation, immune function, temperature regulation, waste removal, cell replication, and so on - happen automatically.  We can't control these, even if we want to.  What's more, the molecules and atoms of your body are in constant exchange with the environment around you.  You are completely unaware of this exchange, and it is totally beyond your control.  Your physical body is a gift for you to use, but what happens within your body is like the weather - mostly beyond your control.

We experience more inner weather with the gift of life.  Our emotions are an important element of life's survival mechanism.  We are designed to react to what happens as if our life depends upon it.  In humanity's past, survival depended on the speed and energy (emotion) of a person's reaction.  Now, for most of us, the most life-threatening activity we have is driving.  Yet, we still have the same survival reactions of our ancestors.  Can we control our emotions?  No.  We can surpress them, ignore them, or allow them to control us.  Or, we can simply acknowledge that our feelings simply happen.  Emotions are there to tell us something, and to enhance our life experience.  

All in all, we have very little control of our lives.  We don't get to decide when life begins, when it ends, or most of what happens in between these two times.  Life energy flows through and animates our bodies in ways we barely understand, and this life is certainly not under our control.  Life is a gift we receive, for our joyful experience.  It is very much like the weather.

Well, at least we can control our thoughts, right?  Can we?  Not in my experience.  Thoughts come into the mind-field from a place beyond our control.  Our brains are tuned to receive certain thoughts, and we tend to dwell on some thoughts while allowing others to pass, but we don't control the stream of thought.  In fact, more often than not, the thoughts control us.  Thinking is inner weather.  It happens.

To be clear, I am not saying that we have no choices in what we think, say or do.  Nor am I saying that we are not responsible for our actions.  We have choices, and we are responsible for the choices we make.  We are given these gifts - the physical body, life, and thought - and what we do with these gifts is up to each of us.  What I am saying is this: most of what happens within us is beyond our control.

Here's a story from the Buddhist tradition that can help us better understand.  
The Buddha was talking with students one day, and he asked this question, "if a man gets shot by an arrow, will he experience pain?"
A student answered, "yes, he will."
The Buddha then asked, "if he gets shot by a second arrow, will he experience more pain?"
The student said, "yes, he will."
To this the Buddha replied, "the first arrow is unavoidable; the second arrow is optional."

The first arrow is the weather, outside or inside.  The second arrow is our response.  We don't get to choose the first arrow, but the second is under our control.  Or, as Victor Frankl said, "in between the stimulus and the response there is a space, and in that space lies our freedom and our power".

How do we exercise this freedom and power?  Through the gift of awareness.  

If I stub a toe, or injure the body, I don't get to choose the body's painful experience.  However, through awareness I can choose how my respond to it.  

When you get cut-off while driving, and must swerve to avoid an accident, you will have an emotional reaction - fear or anger.  The emotion is automatic, part of life's survival mechanism.  You can't choose the emotion. Your response, though, is up to you.

Thoughts come into the mind space as a result of many complex conditioning factors from our early life, the culture we live in, and thousands of years of human evolution, all of which is beyond our control.  When we are centered in awareness beyond the limits of thought, we don't choose what thoughts come to us, but we can choose what thoughts we dwell on, and what we let go of.  We can choose thoughts that empower us, and let go of thoughts that limit us.  We can also decide what ideas we expose ourselves to, and surround ourselves with a thought-environment that is nurturing and supportive.  The best news is that, with practice, the gift of awareness allows us to change the conditioning, which, in turn, changes the thoughts that come to us.  Through our practice we can change the inner weather.

Embrace the gift of awareness, the limitless expression of being yourself.  Centered in awareness beyond thought, you come to know that the inner and outer worlds are not separate, but one.  The distinction exists only in thought.  Being whole, you realize that what happens is just the weather, and you can choose how you respond.  And you know that, through awareness, you can change the weather, too.


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