‘When the transient stream of life is frozen into a block of ice, the frozen block of ice no longer knows that its true nature is water. It becomes hard and unyielding and clashes up against other ice blocks. Practice is about melting the frozen block of emotion/thought in the fire of attention. When we do this we return to our original nature, the stream of life – soft, transparent, bubbly, fluid and adaptable. This moment to moment stream is happiness itself.’
Geoff Dawson (Zen teacher and psychologist)
When we are confronted with the joys and challenges of our existence, we always have a choice – we can harden ourselves against the experience, or soften into it. Different circumstances call for a range of responses, and it would be naïve to think we can always be soft and gentle. Yet even situations which require us to be strong and tough can still be met with a sense of fluidity. As the Tao Te Ching says, nothing is more fluid than water, yet nothing is stronger – over time it can wear down whole mountains.
Gradually, as we tune into our experiences through mindfulness, we might become aware of our default position towards life. We like to think we always choose the most logical and wise response to any situation, but in fact many of our behaviour patterns are habitual, and have little to do with the circumstances at hand. We may have gone through difficult times which caused us to harden up, and this might have become the way we now approach life. It takes trust to soften into each moment, and perhaps that trust went ‘walkabout’ a long time ago.
And yet, as Geoff Dawson writes, by imagining ourselves as blocks of ice, we are constantly clashing up against life – against others, and also against ourselves. When we bring the warm energy of mindful awareness to our life, some of our sharp edges begin to soften, and we no longer need to spend so much energy keeping our block of ice frozen and solid. We become more responsive to life as it is, instead of constantly hardening ourselves against imaginary threats.
The American meditation teacher and psychologist Tara Brach offers a beautiful meditation to help us in this. She invites us to become aware of parts of our bodies which are tight, such as the shoulders, and to imagine that this part is like ice. As we rest our awareness there, we can feel the ice beginning to melt to become like water, and then to evaporate into gas. We are left with a sense of lightness and ease – of being able to soften into the experience of meditation – which we can then take into the rest of our day.
Weekly practice idea:
When you become aware of tension in a part of your body, visualise it as a block of ice, which begins to melt as you bring the warmth of mindfulness to it. Over time, we can also soften into the rest of our lives, both the joys and difficulties.