Sometimes the confluence of experience and learning is splendid. Recently, I journeyed to Calaveras Big Tree state park in CA and admired 2000-year old giant sequoias. A tree that old may live through more than 100 fires, which benefit the trees by opening the cones to release their seeds and clearing the ground of litter so seedlings can reach mineral soil and receive sunshine. At their bases flowered mountain dogwood. The contrast between the solid, towering, rusty brown trunks and the floating, lacey white flowers spoke powerfully of male and female, yin and yang, the vast spectrum contained in and expressed by the Creator.
During a mindfulness class the next week, we were led in a meditation where we envisioned an image of spaciousness, like ocean, mountains, or God. Through this expansion, we delighted in an infinite vista, an everlasting care. Then we were asked to hold up against the first image another: of suffering. Placing the problem or sorrow in a larger context helps neutralize or defuse it. Buddhists use the comparison to a spoonful of salt placed in a water glass: the salty taste will be strong. But if that same spoonful were poured into an ocean or lake, the taste would be negligible. So, too, the suffering is real; we don’t deny it, but we don’t let it overwhelm us.
The meditation showed that we can stay present with difficult things, not immediately default. Most people are inclined to flee suffering, stuffing it or denying it. But consider how trees breathe in carbon monoxide, poisonous to humans, and transform it to life-giving oxygen. Humans breathe in cooler air, and without any effort, breathe out warmer air. So my image now for unlimited spaciousness will be the giant sequoias, some estimated at 2600 tons, the weight of 18 blue whales, and the delicate white dogwood blooms. Placed beside that spaciousness, any problem seems less formidable. We’re not only about the small self; we’re also part of a larger picture, a more radiant brightness.