Last Sunday evening, I drove straight from staffing a weekend meditation retreat in Salt Lake City (Shambhala Training Level 2 – Birth of a Warrior) up to the top of Guardsman’s Pass above Park City. With camera and tripod in the back seat, my plan was to grab some pictures of the famous “blood moon” eclipse that was to happen that night. Rich with visions of the solitude of the mountain ridge beneath a disappearing moon, I was more than a bit surprised by the mob scene that greeted me at the top. Cars and people were EVERYWHERE, hundreds of folks brought out by the relentless press coverage of this “once in a lifetime” celestial event. Oh well, the sky was still the sky, so I beached my car (which later yielded a modest parking ticket…) and headed up the hill in the dark.
Below us, the entire Salt Lake valley was shrouded in clouds, but up here, all was clear, except for one thin band of clouds that seemed designed to obscure the rapidly eclipsing moon. Bright as this overly large moon was, it was completely hidden. Looking at the rest of the sky, one could tell that the cloud would eventually move on and that the rising moon would eventually emerge, but the crowd around me wasn’t in a waiting mood.
The local press had publicized the exact time of the total eclipse, and dang it, this moon was late! Cars began to pull out and families to leave. As the clouds began to part, there was still more disappointment – “I thought it would be bigger” I heard. “It’s not very red, is it?” said a teenage girl standing with her friends. Slowly, the hill began to empty, the air growing colder as it neared 9 pm.
In the Shambhala teachings, we talk a lot about hope and fear. In the Sacred Path teachings on the qualities of an enlightened being, it is said that the Garuda, symbol of outrageousness, of freedom and authentic response to the world, can only be captured by driving it into the valley of hope and fear. These narrow valley walls, each the inverse of the other, are how we struggle to constrain the future into the specific outcomes that we desire.
Through hope and fear, we’re basically saying I’ll be fine if THIS happens, but not if ANYTHING ELSE happens (hope, as used here, doesn’t mean optimism, but rather a kind of greed for a specific outcome.) Over time, I’ve become acutely aware of how this mechanism of hope and fear, of expectations, is clanking along almost constantly in my subconscious mind and coloring my experience of the world.
Like a mental map of acceptable possible futures, my mind is always scanning this imagined future and comparing it to whatever is actually arising. Like so much dharma, I think this is probably an evolutionary adaptation that serves us well sometimes, but often gets in our way in a modern world. Specifically, it gets in our way by triggering a sense of poverty, or disappointment, when the real world fails to comply with our often-unstated preconditions of hope and fear.
Just becoming aware of this machine can be huge- the other day I had a real sense of disappointment about something that happened, but I couldn’t put my finger on why that was. Only when I stopped and asked myself what it was that I thought I expected could I see how I’d created a narrow valley of hope and fear and then tried to push the rich world of experience into it. Didn’t fit.
Back on the hill, the night was growing cold and the moon, doing what it would, was now in full eclipse. The hillside was nearly empty with only a few of us still there to witness the moon’s eclipse and its gradual emergence from the shadows. My earlier thoughts of solitude on a mountain ridge beneath a vanishing moon were coming to pass. Camera shutters clicked. The wind began to blow and the moon to brighten. It was big, and very red, and very much worth the small parking ticket.
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