Crossing a Nameless Ocean

I find myself turning more and more to the Buddha’s teachings in difficult times: I’ve always found the first of his ‘Noble Truths’ comforting, how he said that “life is suffering.”

It sounds odd that such a gloomy statement can bring comfort. But it feels like a hand reaching across 2,500 years and saying, “I understand.” Life can be painful, and there’s no need to sugarcoat it.

The cause of our suffering, the Buddha continued, was because we cling. We cling to ‘the ten thousand joys and the ten thousand sorrows.’ We cling to our likes and dislikes, our ideas and beliefs, and we cling to the lives we have always known.

Like it or not, Covid-19 has forced everyone to be explorers: to leave the lives we had and pass into new ones, the shapes of which remain uncertain.

The Tibetan Buddhists call this crossing the Bardo; journeying in the space between spaces, a nameless ocean between home and destination.

I’ve been meditating almost daily from the start of quarantine, longer and longer per session as the days pass. The lengthening practice isn’t a measure of how much better I’m meditating, rather, it tells me how much more time I need to soothe my angry, anxious heart.

There are days I blame myself. After meditating for so many years I should be better by now. Happier, calmer, wiser. But I can only be imperfect and to continue practising imperfectly. The days when I meditate are easier than the days when I don’t, so I continue sitting, day after day.

The Buddha said that to let go of clinging is to let go of suffering. The hardest thing to let go has been the life I lived before Covid-19 — my hopes, fears, and the most ordinary things, like visiting friends and family without fear.

But holding on to the past turns it into a heavy anchor. To set sail, I have to learn to let it go, one breath at a time, into the current of the in-between spaces.