The Long Distance Swimmer



Something bad has happened, and we are all reeling from it. It isn’t important what happened- it’s sad and terrible, but the details don’t matter. What I’m looking for is what happens to the world when these terrible things arise.

I know enough now to know that although it often feels like the end of the world, the initial response is always heavily influenced by the ego and its rampant fear. The thing itself is terrible- I’m not trying to say that everything is happy and wonderful and it’s only our failure to see it- no, some things, many things, are objectively terrible. Suffering is such a huge part of our experience. But there’s this storm that, in my experience at least, rises up around the bare facts and looms over everything, full of fury and rage and despair.

This storm is totally orchestrated by the ego.

I almost always now have this immediate knee-jerk reaction to my own self-arising shitstorm of fear- I layer on the judgment that I shouldn’t be experiencing this egoic reaction if I’m an experienced practitioner. It shouldn’t arise, and if it does, then I should be able to immediately correct it by application of one of the remedies.

But at my stage in the game, the storm pretty reliably arises. I’m still a creature of samsara.



I do have this road map now. I can pull it out and look at it, and, so far at least, I keep finding it to be helpful. Just knowing that the storm is an illusion, that it is manifesting but there is a reason it is manifesting- that it seems big and scary and awful, but that it can’t maintain itself, that it doesn’t possess any solid reality from its own side- these understandings help to weaken it, even when I am still in the grip of my fear. Causes and conditions arise inevitably, and collapse just as inevitably. We do not control the play of forms. What we experience now is the result of unbelievably vast and interconnected threads of prior thought, action, relationship, literally everything that ever was interacting with itself and giving birth to this moment- it’s a miracle even when it creates a massive amount of pain and suffering. But it’s a miracle that isn’t dependent upon you to come into being, or to pass away again. It all happens.

Everything happens.

And this provides a measure of relief, a measure of comfort, that then begins to relax and expand in me, and allows for the storm to begin to weaken, to subside.

Gratitude creeps in. Compassion arises and softens the landscape. The thing itself, whatever it appears to be, is revealed to be not quite one thing, not quite the disaster that the ego is screaming about.

Maybe it’s draining all of the color out of life to seek equanimity, but I don’t think that’s quite right. Equanimity to me, at least at this stage of my development, seems to be more about accepting the variability of conditions, rather than imposing or seeking the experience of no variability.

Things go up and down. Pain and pleasure swap places like restless children. I guess what I’m learning to learn how to do is to decouple my identification with all that is going on- everything is going on all the time. Sometimes I see and experience this aspect, but then the view shifts and I see that aspect. Over and over, with unending complexity and ferocity, the facets glint in the sunlight of awareness and then disappear into the darkness of ignorance.

And if I can’t always watch what happens without freaking out about it, I can just watch myself freak out instead, and not freak out about that. I can go up a level, and find a place where I can bear witness to what is without having to control the outcome. I can find the sore soft spot in my heart and live from there. And once I can find my seat there, in the heart of tender compassion, then I can go back down as many levels as I need to to get to the thing itself, or what I think the thing itself is. And I can examine it. I can hold it in love and compassion, no matter what it is or looks like or means or does or fails to do. And as I look, I see.

Everything is everything.


And for me, there’s a measure of equanimity there. There’s love there. There’s the love and the error, the sharp blade of pain, the blank wall of fear, the buzzsaw of anger and denial, and there are ripples that expand out and ripples that go the other way, in and in and in. And none of it can be extricated from the warp and weft of everything.


It’s ego who lies to us about this. Ego sees something happening, and immediately freaks out about it. Good or bad, doesn’t matter. Ego really believes in the forms, believes in them as solid and real, kind of like a kid who hears a noise at night and knows there’s a monster in the closet.

Our job is to kind of be the parent to that terribly frightened and confused kid. To bring it a glass of water and to soothe it and caress its hair and kiss it tenderly. To not tell the kid that he’s imagining things, but to actually go examine and explore the fear directly. Go open the closet and look. Maybe there’s no monster, but there might be a big nasty rat that you need to deal with. There are real problems that need real actions to address. It’s just maybe that it’s a rat, and not a huge, fangorious swamp beast with burning red eyes and a taste for human flesh. Things might not be all that bad.

And often, it’s nothing at all. A book fell off a shelf, or a breeze rattled the doorknob.

Ego doesn’t understand the way things really are. Ego freaks out and points and screams and throws a fit. That’s what we experience in the first rush of something terrible. But we don’t have to jump up on the bed with the frightened kid and scream along with him.

Okay, we can do that for a second.

But then we really need to remember how things are, and we need to gird our little loins and go turn on the light and open the door, and see what’s what. Clean up the poo, get rid of the rats, put the book back on the shelf.

Of course, one day it is going to be the fangorious swampbeast with a taste for human flesh. We can’t forget that.


I offer this to you in the hope that it may give you a little bit of solace when your own life seems to be unbearably cruel and unfair and too difficult to endure.


May you be happy, may you be at peace. May you love, and be loved, without limit, as is your due.