Late this afternoon, after many distractions, I went down to our local lake for a swim. Although the air was a touch cool by 5 pm, the water was warm once you got in. Anyway, I couldn’t turn back because there was a gorgeous smiling baby girl under 1 year old being dunked by her parents and laughing a big infectious full baby laugh: “Your baby girl makes me feel like a coward, plunging right in like that,” I said to her parents. “Ah, but she has no choice,” her beaming father said. Hmmmm.
She couldn’t chose whether to go in or not, I thought as I swam out to the floating raft for one last time this summer. Yet, as I dog-paddled around in my flippers, doing a kind of slow water yoga, I had an experience I’ve had a few times recently. I really had no choice to be in that lake at that time. Unlike that smiling, splashing baby, I had an illusion of choice. A veil of thought was spread over the simple yet mysterious fact that I was there.
Through some combination of conditions– late afternoon sun dappling warm water, green trees beginning to turn, being alone in the lake, myriad other conditions known and unknown, I had the experience of dissolving into, well, just experience. It was as if the “self” I usually carry with me–a self that feels as if it has soooooo many miles on it by now, yet is constantly being tinkered with, updated–well, it had temporarily fallen away. It was a glimpsed of what the Buddhists call “no-self,” an opening outward towards life. Recently, I’ve been reading a book called Turning the Wheel of Truth, a commentary on the Buddha’s first teaching by Ajahn Sucitto, the abbot of a Buddhist monastery in England. In it, he describes the “middleness” of the Middle Way: “The ‘middleness’ of the way a Buddha teaches and exemplifies points then to a balance of presence and nonattachment. Through this we are encouraged to see clearly and insightfully what is happening now rather than reject of adhere to experience. And the results? They are peacefulness and true understanding, nibbana (nirvana)–the cooling of the fire, the calming of the wind, the settled quality, and the sensitivity of still water.”
I’m beginning to realize how we much we are, like it or not, inextricably stitched into life. As the Buddha said, there is a way to be free from suffering, from stress and dissatisfaction. It is not unlike the way I was dog-paddling today between raft and shore–not unlike that baby, just being there, not avoiding, not grasping, feeling well but turned outwards….
And now the beach is closed for another year.