Wonder and Poison
Sometimes things don't go in the direction you expect.
A couple of years ago I was doing some prep for a meditation gathering, and I was considering doing something about the change of the seasons. It was about this time of the year, which as you know I love, and about how we work with the change in seasons - again, if you have read a few of these letters you will know this is something I like to use for inspiration.
As I was contemplating this a newsletter from Tricycle landed in my inbox. It was a short teaching by Hai-An, a nun in the Plum Village tradition. The article was titled 'Inviting in the Wonder of Spring,' and I immediately thought 'great, something I can use for our meditation.'
The teaching started with the promise that 'Seasonal change is an opportunity to be present in the world—one dandelion at a time.' She starts by encouraging us to develop wonder in the following way:
Anyone can learn to appreciate the changing of the seasons with a few simple practices.
First, choose a spot that you’ll pass on a regular basis, like a tree, park, or cracked spot in the sidewalk where dandelions tend to grow. Make a habit of pausing there regularly, even if only briefly.
Second, bring awareness to the sensory experience of the spot. See the color and texture of the last pile of salty snow melting and the buds beginning to emerge. Listen to the breeze and the birds flying overhead. Feel the bark and leaves with your fingers, and the sensations of your feet in your shoes on the ground. Smell the air and notice when the flowers start to bloom. This can be as short as a few breaths, if you practice with full awareness.
Third, invite wonder in. This cannot be forced, but can be encouraged by attitudes of curiosity and gratitude. Thinking “How amazing to get to see this leaf unfurl today” or asking “Is there room for some wonder right now?” can sometimes be enough. Even if the answer is “no,” the questioning itself can bring you to the world more fully alive.Perfect - this gave a lovely, practical example of how we can practice presence and awareness, and how we can use the change in season to cultivate wonder.
But then the teaching went in an unexpected direction, and - to me - became far more profound. Having brought us to this place of inviting wonder Hai-An explores what it can be like when you really do this practice. She continues:
This practice is simple but also tricky, because the mind can quickly slide into what the Buddha called the three poisons, or the root of all suffering—craving, aversion, and delusion. When wonder manifests, it can switch into craving—wanting the experience to last or wanting more of anything. When wonder doesn’t appear, aversion might be present in a judgmental, comparing mindset, or delusion may leave you distracted or confused.This reminder of how the 'three poisons' - craving, aversion and delusion - can arise even when cultivating wonder was a real wake-up call. Sometimes we crave the wonder. Sometimes we have aversion for the mundane. Sometimes we delude ourselves that things should always be wonderful - or will never be wonderful. We can use the practice of cultivating wonder to explore both how we can succumb to the poisons, and how we can free ourselves from them.
Hai-An follows up with a fourth step in the meditation, where you work with the three poisons to explore how they feel in the body. Rather than quoting it here I would encourage you to read the original article and practice it yourself.
I would like to express my gratitude to Hai-An (now Melina Bondy) for this short but pithy teaching, and I hope that you feel that it is valuable to you too. I have linked below a recording of the fully-guided meditation on wonder and poisons that we did two years ago after I first read the piece. A few of us have committed to press 'play' at 7pm PT on Sunday 18th April - you are welcome to join us then or use this in any way that you wish.