Spring is all over the place now. We feel it in the air, see it in our flower beds and hear it in the birdsong, telling us to forget the long COVID winter. It’s a tonic, laced with a shot of hope offered by the vaccines. The itch to feel normal and fully active in the world again is in the breeze and it is very contagious.
But. We are still quite a ways from the post-COVID era. We’re perhaps out of the harshest phase of the pandemic, yet not to the point of full safety. Buddhists call a situation like this a bardo, or liminal state. That which was, no longer exists, and that which is to be, has not yet shown up. This particular bardo, even with its newly reopened cinemas and arenas, is still kind of a mess. We are still sticking Band-Aids on the wreckage and only just starting to come to terms with the scope and scale of the losses. The leaders and institutions who are calling the shots seem to stumble and grope their way forward, as we ourselves may do.
As we find ways to get on with our lives, it’s helpful to work with this liminal state, not against it. A year ago, our world went from 100 mph to stationary faster than we could have imagined. Since then, many have learned strong lessons in patience (and others have not). Our hyper-speed society, with its promises of instant gratification at all times, has often shoved patience to the margins in pursuit of whatever comes next. We have accepted impatience as the mark of the achiever, or perhaps as the rant of a spoiled child. But it goes deeper than that, because impatience is really an attitude that who we are and how things are right now is not sufficient, and that things must change somehow for life to be ok.
Pema Khandro Rinpoche has said, “We keep postponing our acceptance of this moment in order to pursue reality as we think it should be.” If we keep trying to get back what we had, or obsessing over the future, we get stuck. We’re pushing against reality. But if we let go and realize we can only be as we are and things can only be as they are, something new emerges. Then we shift to what the teacher Bodhipaksa calls trying gentler, not harder. We can reverse-engineer our conditioning to get off our sweaty hamster wheel, and let life come to us as it will. If we can do that, new possibilities open up.
The scholar Robert Thurman has written, “The time in-between is the best time to affect the process of evolution for the better. Our evolutionary momentum is temporarily fluid during the in-between, so we can gain or lose a lot of ground.” Thurman was talking about the bardo state that occurs after death. But we experience bardos our entire lives, frequently finding ourselves betwixt and between. The principle is the same and so is the opportunity.
With the right mindset, we can use this time to anchor in new ways of being that accompany us into the future.
There is a knack to this, making the push-forward energy of the season work with the just-stay-here constraints of the liminal state. We do it by relating to a bigger, changeless reality that stays steady and holds when the winds of change blow through. We let those winds fuel our creativity and evolution rather than lament that they came. The effort is worth putting in, because it can transform the experience of our lives right now, and give us useful skills for whatever awaits us in the months and years to come.