There's nothing that does not grow light,
through habit and familiarity,
putting up with little cares,
I'll train myself to bear with great adversity.
Shantideva-"Way of the Bodhisattva"
These lines have been with me for a good three years now. I memorized them during a fall practice period class, and now silently chant them each night as I brush my teeth. Why then? Well, it's an everyday activity, so I know I'll hear those words running through my mind at least once a day, no matter what.
Why these lines? Well, "little cares" are everywhere. Even on the best of days, something tends to happen that isn't "what I'd want."
Lately, I have noticed how those "little cares" tend to be tied to wanting something or someone, and not getting that. Something goes wrong, or delays me, and I'm not able to achieve some goal I have in mind. Someone doesn't respond in the way I'd hope they would, and I feel a sense of loss. Something I own falls apart, and I have to fix it, do without, or get a new one. The weather changes, and I have to adjust my clothing, or way of getting around. Really, the opportunity for little cares to come up is almost endless.
How does one "put up" with little cares? Not getting hooked is one response. Another might be to suspend the love you have towards the particular storyline you bring to the moment. A third approach might be to simply accept that you don't know what the little care of this moment - the broken pencil, the unreturned phone call or e-mail- means in the grand scheme.
Another thing I've noticed lately is how the mind likes to conjure up the "great adversities," that we're probably hard wired to do so. And since the mind leaps to the big, dramatic place so easily, then the little cares of any given day get attached to the bigger narrative.
Each of us seem to have our own particular grand dramas that we go back to again and again, attaching the little cares of each day to them. When I am able to fall out of love with my particular dramas, those little cares cease to be cares at all. They are no problem really. The unreturned phone call isn't about me as a person. The broken spoon is just a broken spoon. It all grows light in this way, and you can feel that lightness in body, heart,and mind.
What is "great adversity"? Do you know? Sitting hours and hours of zazen might be great adversity for some, but for others it's just a source of pain and suffering. Chronic illness might be a form of great adversity for some, but for others it's just a road to hell. Loosing a job might be a form of great adversity, or just another tick on the "I'm fucked" clock. The death of a loved one might arouse great adversity, or it might be the tipping point of loosing your own life.
It's quite helpful, I think, to recognize that adversity isn't your enemy. That you need not apply the conventional meaning of any word to your experience. We can suspend that habit as well, and become familiar - perhaps - with whatever it is that's actually there, in this life of ours.