Spinning Wheels, By Michelle Welch

Spinning Wheels, by Michelle Welch

The January issue of Shambhala Sun featured an interesting article by Carolyn Rose Gimian about what are often called the three poisons: passion, aggression, and ignorance. As these qualities are sometimes represented by a rooster, a snake, and a pig, placed at the center of the wheel of life, the article was entitled “The Animals Inside You” – and Gimian was quite upfront about the fact that these creatures are inside people all the time, whether or not we think we’ve gotten somewhere on the path to enlightenment:

“I wonder about people who talk about their emotional upheavals in the past tense, as things they used to experience when they first started meditating…. If your meditation is like the garden in winter, and you think you’ve eradicated all the weeds of negative emotion, just wait for the spring. Turn your back for one minute and there will be thousands of weeds waving at you, mocking you. ‘We’re back!'”

It can be very easy to think you’re getting nowhere on the path of meditation, if my experience is at all typical. I recently attended Level V, and as an introduction on the first day we were asked to summarize our experience of the first four levels. My response was that I felt pretty confident and optimistic in Levels I and II, but as I went on I started feeling like I wasn’t getting it at all. In the beginning I’d had the hope of conquering those unruly thoughts and difficult emotions – maybe not all of them, not right away, but soon – but as time went on, those stubborn thoughts just kept sticking around. Every time I thought I had a handle on them, I’d excavate a new layer and find even more waiting for me.

So Gimian’s article comes as a great relief. This is normal. The weeds only go away for a season, waiting to reemerge. The wheel keeps spinning. The animals come and go. As Gimian says, “…these characters show up for a long time – even if you’re the Buddha.”