When there’s something new expected in your life, just around the corner, during those minutes or days or weeks of anticipation, how do you feel - inspired, excited, anxious, apprehensive, curious? Of course, the context will have a bearing. Are you in touch with the present moment at all or is your mind totally filled with the story of how it will be, what you will do, what others will think or say? How it was last time, maybe? Concocting a whole scenario, often in detail, which may bear little relation to how things will actually turn out to be.
There are some instances where mental or physical rehearsal can be beneficial. Finding the fire exit from your 5th floor hotel room, watching the cabin crew safety demonstration before your flight takes off and locating your nearest door, learning how to do CPR, could all save lives. You never know! Imagined actions are easier to reproduce in an emergency than starting from scratch while there’s a state of panic, yours or others. And you’ll hope that your surgeon has rehearsed your heart surgery, that your pilot has trained on a flight simulator!
At a much less crucial level, we Amida priests rehearse our ceremonies so that they can flow smoothly and the focus can be on the other participants - the new refugee, the ordinand - and to allow Amida to take over. And we learn that, if things change in the moment, that’s OK too. It adds a human touch. Ceremonies aren’t clinical.
Reactions to our story
But most times this churning a story over an over in the imagination is a waste of time, or worse. Oh, how we can wind ourselves up into quite a state, built on a foundation of pffft……nothing of substance! How do you feel, viscerally, when you are anticipating so vividly? Dry mouth, accelerated heart-rate? Your imaginings causing chemicals to swirl around your body, whether you are imagining something delightful or terrifying. The body reacts, whether there’s an actual event or an imagined one.
I’m anticipating something that will probably happen in a few weeks. In the meantime, there are books to read, new principles to learn, some purchases to make and plans to be arranged, that all depend on other people. I’m trying not to get swept away or totally invested in an image of the way it ought to be. I was relieved to discover, when the first steps in the plan fell through completely two weeks ago and when an arrangement disintegrated last Sunday, albeit for very good reasons, that I was able to let go, regroup, re-think, without being swept away with disappointment. Again, you never know. You never know what will actually happen, no matter how prepared you think you are. As the saying goes, “Man plans, God laughs!” You never know exactly how you will react - although you can hope and practice. It’s only at the time that you’ll discover how flexible you really are. You never know, until they are tested, whether those Buddhist ideas are just nice principles or whether they’re actually functioning, at least some of the time, in your real and juicy life. I don’t feel this is under my control so I was able to watch those fairly moderate reactions with gratitude - Namo Amida Bu. And if, on other occasions, I don’t do so well, I get a little het up, despondent, thrown by uncertainty, whatever - well, that’s how it is for us bombu people - so, a wry smile and a little shrug and, yes, Namo Amida Bu, again.