Summer has gotten off to an odd start in my part of the world. A very cool and rainy spring seems loathe to leave the Pacific Northwest and only grudgingly allows us a sunny, hot summer day every now and then.
One of the effects of this is that three times in as many weeks, I’ve headed off for a walk under clear skies and been completely soaked with rain at some point on that walk. In fact, one memorable afternoon I managed to get both sunburned AND soaked.
Having spent most of my life in the Midwest, I’m instinctively nervous about changeable weather. A cold breeze on a hot summer day is often the harbinger of a thunderstorm at least, or tornadoes at worst. Looming clouds mean lightning, wind and the need to seek shelter posthaste.
In Oregon, they’re much more likely to portend a brief rain shower before the return of blue sky and the sun. You’ll barely even have a chance to put your sunglasses away before you’ll need them again.
Here, it’s just weather.
My meditation teacher often asks us at the end of a session: “How many of you felt boredom during the session? How many felt sadness? How many were daydreaming? Content? Restless? Anxious? Sleepy? Joyful?”
Hands go up with each question. In fact, most people raise their hands for most or all of those states. In that quiet room, storms raged, wind howled, fog roiled through our minds. But moods are just the weather of our internal landscape. They come and go without our invitation, to be luxuriated in or endured until the next one takes its place.
The practice of meditation allows us to realize that moods and feelings, as intense as they might be, don’t last. We can learn to sit with grief or despair, discovering that as painful as it may be in the moment, it will not overwhelm us. When we allow ourselves to feel it, it can pass through, like a violent, lashing windstorm. When it’s done, we may be tired and a bit disheveled, but we’re also calmer and aired out, ready to move forward.
Joy will not last any more than grief will. One of the hard lessons for long-time meditators is that bliss sometimes happens… but usually it doesn’t. And we show up to sitting practice anyway. Like a perfect fall day, when the sun is warm and the air is crisp and the whole world is wearing its true colors, it will not last. There is nothing you can do to make it longer. You can only enjoy it while it happens, savoring what you can.
Today I’d walked nearly 5 miles, enjoying the warm sunshine and cool air, when I walked up the last hill before my final half-mile and saw this sky ahead of me. There was nothing for it but to head into the darkness and rain. It wasn’t fun, but I knew that it would only last until I reached home. I reminded myself it was just weather.
Our lives are too short to allow a mood, or an inopportune rain cloud, to hold us back. Getting unexpectedly soaked by rain isn’t particularly pleasant, but it also isn’t tragic. You breathe, you keep walking and eventually something changes. The same goes for the dark moods, sadness, anxiety and other storms of our internal weather. Breathe, keep walking, and eventually, it will change too.
I feel the need to add a postscript. Some moods are more than transitory feelings. Depression, anxiety and rage can be all-consuming, destructive forces that need more powerful interventions than mindfulness alone. Please seek help if your internal weather has been bleak for too long. You are not weak. You are not broken. With the proper tools, advice and medical interventions, your internal weather can become more varied and moderate, making life better for you and for all those who love and care about you.