I live in an incredible beautiful part of Australia: down south, near Wilson’s Promontory. It is so beautiful, and also so windy that Shallow Inlet, curving around behind the town, is considered one of the best places in the world for wind surfing. This same wind sweeps up the street and swirls around my house. Whatever the wind’s direction, it pulls off the leaves, throws the plants into a frenzy and wails around the chimney. This is not conducive to sitting outside under the veranda unless one likes wind. I installed bistro blinds. What had been a desolate, wind-swept veranda was instantly transformed into a large and congenial space.
Sometimes we need to face the elements, but sometimes they are too much.
As I increasingly experience the suffering of old age, my need for protection has become more important. My skin tears and bruises more easily. My hearing and sight are no longer accurate. Then there is my mind. Like many older people, I fear the possibility of dementia; I actually should be more fearful for the imprints, the karma, I create. Our positive karmic imprints can be fragile and need protection. The winds of desire with its graspings and aversions begin to howl and complain more loudly as our bodies crumble towards death. What to do?
My mind needs its own bistro blinds ‒ something that allows it to see the outside world without being tossed around by it, a way of staying in touch without being overwhelmed. A strong equanimity that can withstand the raging heat of desire and the painful hailstones of aversion would be good. But I cannot buy equanimity. It is something I have to make myself. It is made, so Buddha told us, from judging rightly, without bias, without attachment or aversion.
It is equanimity which gives us the chance to see the elements raging from the recesses of our minds with clarity. Our ego says, “I want everything good for me.” The stronger the ego, the more grimly we hang onto what we want, despite its impermanence, or franticly reject what we don’t want. The fierce heat of grimness, the hailstones of panic rage around. Equanimity is the first line of defence against the self-centred, self-grasping ego. Equanimity arises only when we are not concerned about our egos.
We need equanimity in so many ways. In meditation, equanimity refers to the balance between too much mental activity (excitement) and not enough (mental dullness). When we train in compassion we begin by developing the equanimity that sees all sentient beings as the same in the sense that we all want happiness and not suffering. We judge them rightly, correctly, without our tendency to label sentient beings as friend, enemy or stranger. With our clear equanimity bistro blinds, we are no longer thrown around by the turmoil that comes from such labels and our emotional reaction to the labels.
Since I cannot put up the inner bistro blinds alone, I need help, a qualified contractor. I am not alone. I call in the contractor. If we do need help, then it makes sense to ask for it. Here is a real life story:
“During my fifth year at primary school I began to experience strange voices inside my head,” Josh explained. “They seemed to replace normal sounds, such as wind in the trees or the noise of a person climbing a staircase. It was like a collision of thousands of human voices, which were aggressive and very frightening. It got so that every sound I heard was transformed into these voices, sometimes for hours on end and especially when I was trying to fall asleep at night. I felt so helpless and frightened and covered my ears with a pillow to block them out, but this only made them a little less loud. I often cried myself to sleep, but even my whimpering made them come.
“My parents didn’t know where to take me for help,” Josh continued. “Then Lama Yeshe came to Melbourne. I felt apprehensive about visiting him but he greeted me with extreme kindness and warmth. His beaming smile made me feel completely relaxed. He made me sit beside him on cushions and asked me about the voices. Then he poured some special medicine into a bowl of hot water, placed a towel over both our heads and together we inhaled the vapors. It was just like inhaling eucalyptus, and I felt wonderfully relaxed and protected by his presence. We did this for some time, then Lama gave me a big hug and told me I would never hear the voices again. I believed him and from that day on I never did.”1
Equanimity is the internal protector. It is held fast by the external protectors. Lama Zopa Rinpoche has given us lots of advice for protection from external storms, disasters and harmful energies. Much of this is available from the Foundation Store in the form of protection practices, cards, amulets and stickers. If you type “protection” in the search box at Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archives, it will come up with 160 references.