It’s easy to notice how much extreme weather is affecting all parts of our planet recently. Humans have always been close observers of weather patterns, but something seems to be different now. Perhaps it’s that we have better measurement tools, or that communication of danger and disaster is so swift and visually striking. For many of us, intensifying weather patterns are just one indicator of global climate changes that are already affecting the health of our planet. How can we manage forces so powerful and complicated? Plainly, we can’t; and yet we sometimes have powerful emotional responses to our predicament.
The first of the Buddha’s four truths is dukkha; not getting what we want and getting what we don’t want. Usually we adjust when things don’t go our way, but it takes a large scale adjustment when forest fires foul the air with smoke for weeks on end, or when floods compel us or our neighbors to leave their homes. When extreme cold or heat forces people to stay indoors indefinitely, it can feel apocalyptic. In several major cities in the Asia-Pacific, the air is harmful to everyone’s health on more days than not. We humans are adaptable, but there are limits.
Sometimes we’re concerned for ourselves and those close by, sometimes for friends or family in distant places, and sometimes for whole populations we have no personal connection to. All of these feelings are natural, but when they become intense, we need to recognize them and mindfully manage them.
One possibility is to use the R.A.I.N. approach, that is:
(1) Recognize what is happening – Maybe we’re watching the news or reading an article and having a strong reaction.
(2) Allow life to be just as it is – Take a deep breath and let go of our physical and mental resistance to what appear to be facts. It is what it is.
(3) Investigate inner experience – What does our skin feel like? Our heartbeat? Our breath? Is our jaw clenched? Are there tears? What is registering within the body?
(4) Non-identification – This is the tricky step. If our heart is pounding, how can we NOT take it personally? First, breathe. Then notice that breathing continues regardless of how upset we are. If we turn our attention to what is actually happening in our bodies and minds – the physical and verbal contents – and sustain that attention, we will perceive that the phenomena we’re experiencing are changing. Rather than reacting to external information, we can bring our awareness back, again and again, to the direct experience of our bodies.
Of course, when we’re in a calm state, we can investigate possible avenues for positive action, local or global, and schedule planned communications or activities into our days.
In any moment, we can turn our attention towards compassion; compassion for ourselves, for people affected by weather dukkha, for folks we can help and those we can’t. Real compassion doesn’t require a particular result, it just flows freely over the deserving and the undeserving; it doesn’t stop and start, it radiates.