The Art of Peace

Wednesday, June 28, 2023

Spinning a story in our head about the scary thing that is going to happen is like painting a picture of a tiger then forgetting it’s not real. 

On Friday night I created such an exquisitely detailed painting of the bad health outcomes I anticipated for a person I care about that I could practically feel the vibration of the tiger’s purr in my nervous system as that big cat stalked me. It was as if the tiger I painted rose off the canvas of my mind and came to life. This was the jungle I was circling around in until Gary, my partner, finally said Hey, you’re spinning out. We don’t know anything.

if we look closely, most of us will find we paint tigers all day long, tigers of all sizes, from the almost cute little cub on up to the full-grown aggressive Bengal tiger. So says Joseph Goldstein, Buddhist teacher and co-founder of the Insight Meditation Society. (Buddhists are exceptionally good at looking closely at the ways of the mind.) Minor anxieties about what was meant by this or that scamper about on the canvas until the fierce full-grown adult pounces with something jolting enough to stop our hearts.

The morning following Friday night’s spiral of doom, it was my good and random luck to hear Goldstein talk about the tigers in episode #166 of The Insight Hour with Joseph Goldstein while out on my walk. In this talk he describes the three deeply conditioned fears human beings tend to have* and explains how to work with them. The first order of business with the Buddhists is always awareness, so the way to deal with tigers is to first be aware that we painted one. That knowledge alone allows us to see the painting for what it is. We can pick it up, turn it around in our hands, note that it is a piece of canvas stretched over a wood frame that has merely been painted upon.

Seeing the truth for what it is can stop a tiger in its tracks. There are always more truths than one, however, and so an additional truth Friday night is that I kind of knew I was spiraling into what ifs but I justified it in the reasonable interest of preparation. Therefore the most important truth of all is how I would have been so much better off painting a scene of quiet waiting stillness, of solid mountains and smooth water, knowing that in time all will be revealed and then, with true knowledge, we will be able to go from there as human beings do, with as much reason and heart as we can tap into.
What about you? Do you know what you are painting?

To truth & peace,

*If Goldstein is right, the following should sound very familiar:
1.         Fear of pain
2.         Fear of insecurity and the unknown
3.         Fear of death
The ways to work with fear go far beyond the first step of awareness. All is revealed in episode #166. 😊