Equanimity comes and goes
Sand mandalas are beautiful works of Tibetan spiritual art. Over the course of several days or even several weeks an intricate mandala is created on the ground by monks using colored sand or crushed colored rock. Once the mandala has been created it is destroyed and the materials used in its creation are returned to nature.
The sand mandala is designed to represent the transitory nature of the material world. The material world looks solid, permanent, yet things are always in flux. One never knows. Life is both stable and unstable at the same time.
Life for me is good in this moment, it seems. It is early on a Sunday morning. Things are quiet here at our home. I am sitting at the dining room table typing on my laptop enjoying a good cup of freshly-brewed coffee. Carol and Eli are still sleeping. My cat Neo and I have enjoyed some playtime and now he is resting on the rug in the den, watching birds and squirrels in our back yard through the sliding glass doors. I am well-rested. I am feeling optimistic about my future.
71 days ago things changed radically for me when our home was destroyed. It seems like so long ago, yet when I write ’71 days’ that doesn’t sound like a long time at all. We are becoming more stable, finally. I am glad it is happening so quickly. I wish it had happened more quickly.
Two of the oldest residents of our neighborhood, our house and a great old oak tree, had coexisted next to one another since the house was built in 1936. On April 4th a high wind arose and the tree fell onto our house and destroyed it. Before the tree fell it seemed as though the house and the tree would stand forever in relation to one another, in stability.
But, as the sand mandala teaches, nothing stands forever. Things come together in a colorful dancing pattern and then return to nature.
The house lasted 75 years. It was apparently very well built. One insurance professional who evaluated our house told us that if it had been built using typical modern materials and construction techniques that it would have been totally flattened when the tree fell on it. Instead, the house is still standing, a testament to the materials and construction techniques used in 1936.
Modern building codes require that the house be demolished- it is too structurally unsound to rebuild, they say. If times were different some enterprising individual might figure out how to repair it and live in it.
The oak tree that destroyed our home was much older than the house- it was older than pretty much every living or man-made thing in the immediate vicinity. Estimates are that the tree was 150-200 years old at the time that it fell. That sounds pretty old to me. That means that the tree might have been around for the War of 1812. It might have been growing when the great New Madrid earthquake shook the earth so strongly that tremors were felt in Washington, DC.
What ended temporarily for me that day was a stable lifestyle which was good for me and which was good for my psychotherapy practice. I had a routine that I really liked. My routine produced equanimity for me most of the time.
I had no idea that my routine would end. In retrospect that sounds silly- of course it would end as do all things.
The personal equanimity that my routine produced influenced my professional psychotherapy practice in a very positive manner. When I sit in a chair to do psychotherapy, my own mental state is critical to the process. While there were things about my routine at the old house that were not perfect, in general I was living a life that was not disturbed very often. It was a good base to work from as a mental health professional.
Equanimity cannot be forced—it is a product of both personal and external conditions. When conditions are favorable, equanimity arises day after day. But conditions change. Even equanimity cannot stand forever.
If one desires equanimity, there is wisdom in emulating some of the elements of a monastic lifestyle. A good monastery runs smoothly, like a simple uncomplicated machine with very few moving parts. Daily monastic routines are simple, reliable, and create support for equanimity. But even in the monastery disruptions occur, forcing a rebalancing process.
Since the house was destroyed external conditions that support equanimity have been missing. Routine has been nonexistent or, at best, fleeting. That all feels like it is finally starting to shift. We have been in a rental home almost two weeks. While there is still a lot of unpacking and sorting to do, I feel like healthy routines are starting to emerge for me as an individual and for us as a family.
We have decided to build a new home on the same location. The building process will take 4-6 months or so. We have plans and a builder. It feels like we are on the downhill side of the mountain.
We will strive once more to create conditions that foster equanimity. Will we be successful? I guess it depends, at least a little bit, on how the wind blows.