Two minutes walk from where I live is a bluff. It is not immediately obvious that the bluff is accessible, being as it is down a short path at the end of a cul-de-sac. For those who do find their way there, they are afforded a view of a great part of the North Shore of Maui - across Paia Bay to Baldwin Beach, then further in the distance to Kahului, Wailuku and the sweep of the West Maui mountains. On a clear day the Hawaiian island of Moloka’i is visible.
One never knows how this view will greet you - clear weather, storm clouds, the ocean flat, gentle and calm, or heaving with the power of a swell bowling in across the expanse of the Pacific Ocean. In thinking of the many moods of this view, I am reminded of a quote by Lama Anagarika Govinda in his classic book, “The Way of the White Clouds.” The book is Lama’s experiences on a pilgrimage across Tibet prior to the 1959 invasion of the country by China. On reaching the sacred mountain, Mt. Kailash in far Western Tibet, he writes,
To see the greatness of a mountain, one must keep one’s distance; to understand its form, one must move around it; to experience its moods, one must see it at sunrise and sunset, at noon and at midnight, in sun and in rain, in snow and in storm, in summer and winter and in all the other seasons. He who can see the mountain like this comes near to the life of the mountain, a life that is as intense and varied as that of a human being.
I feel the same way about this view from the bluff. I’ve seen it on a still, clear, quiet morning where everything is in sharp relief and the ocean is resting quietly. I’ve also seen it with waves breaking everywhere, the size of some of them looking terrifying, meanwhile the hilltops are shrouded in cloud and sit there dark and ominous. In visiting this place over the last two years I have been greeted by pretty much everything - well almost everything. I can’t claim to know the complete character of this North Shore yet. That’s for a lifetime of presence and observation.
There is a story that when some students of my Buddhist teacher were looking for a property to purchase as a retreat center that he instructed them to find a property on a hill with expansive views. The land that they ultimately bought did indeed fit these criteria.
His suggestions were informed by the Buddhist teachings. When we engage in meditation, focused study or work, in time our mind can feel tired, small and constricted. When this happens the advice is to take a break and look out over an expansive view. It clears the mind and gives us a wider perspective than our exhausted mind is holding in that moment. Taking in that larger panorama gives our mind the space and permission to rest, our concerns getting lost in the vastness of the space that we are looking out over. It’s almost as though the mind just drops the baggage it is carrying, sighs deeply and slides into a relaxing rest.
In speaking about meditation and an agitated mind, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche said,
Meditation is giving a huge, luscious meadow to a restless cow. The cow might be restless for a while in its huge meadow, but at some stage, because there is so much space, the restlessness becomes irrelevant. So the cow eats and eats and eats and relaxes and falls asleep.
~ The Myth of Freedom
The vastness of the expansive view makes the noise in our mind seem so small that in the end the mind just comes to stillness. In time and with the benefit of much practice, we come to recognize that view as a mirror of our mind. The vastness of the vista reflects the true nature, spaciousness and vastness of our mind. Within that space, the volume of noise that our thoughts create, gets lost and falls quiet in the space that they have to dance in….just like the cow in the meadow.
After I finished my morning meditation this morning, I went outside with a cup of coffee and stared up at the sky. Meditation can sometimes feel like a workout for the mind and gazing up the sky can be thought of as resting and taking in the effort and experience of your session before getting on with your day. The expanse of the sky allows the mind to rest in its experience.
Do you know where the panorama is that you can turn to when your mind is feeling tired and constricted? If you do know where it is, are you making use of it when your mind is calling for a rest? It is very easy for the constricted mind to take control and constrict our movement as well.
See if you can carve out the time, indeed make it a priority to let your mind relax in that spaciousness - I’m heading there right now…