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The Folly of the Weather Forecast

Not knowing the future helps PICO IYER keep his hyperactive mind at bay. Then, whether it snows tomorrow or dawns radiant, every moment is a happy surprise.

I never read weather forecasts. As soon as I read one, tomorrow is clouded for me, even if it is sunshine thatís predicted. A part of me is making plans, or second-guessing the heavens; a part of me is saying, ďI should be able to get in a second walk tomorrow, though by Sunday night itís going to be cold again.Ē When it turns out different, as it often will, all my thinking is in vain.

It isnít that weather forecasts mess with my mind. Itís that the mind is so ready to mess with everything it touchesóto make theories around it, to draw fanciful conclusions from it, to play distorting games of projection and miscalculationóthat even the elements are not safe from it.

I never look at my wifeís schedule for the month. Iíve learned not to read the jacket synopses of any book I pick up. I donít read reviews till after Iíve encountered the movie or book. Itís not that I donít trust them; itís that I donít trust my mind to make good use of them. It has a supreme gift, Iíve found, for complicating the simple and muddying what could and should be transparent. It can take the tiniest detail and turn it into a drama or a universe of needless speculation. I donít want to hear about Anneís life before I meet her, because then Iím meeting someone elseís subjective image of Anne, or my agitated response to someone elseís subjective response, and not the wondrous and confounding reality of Anne herself.

All Buddhists know this, I think, but it took me the longest time to learn. I remember, years ago, inviting an old friend up to a beautiful retreat house I had found. As soon as you get there, I told him (violating my own rule, and possibly spoiling the experience in advance for him), all thoughts of past and future fall away. Youíre entirely in the moment and in a great bowl of ocean and stars, in which you disappear and become as large and spacious as the universe around you. You canít fret in such a place, I said, and you canít play neurotic games. Itís as if a filter is placed in your system, and all impurities dissolve.

Needless to say, he was intrigued by my description and wanted to try it for himself. He made a reservation, months in advance, for a time when I would be there. Every day when I woke up in the silence, awaiting his arrival, I saw things with his eyes. I prayedóas I never would usuallyófor the days to be cloudless and warm. I worriedóthough worry was nearly impossible hereóthat it would be louder than usual when he came, or the wrong monk would be on duty in the bookstore. I fretted that the road would be closed off, or a group of raucous schoolchildren might be visiting. I even began to fear that it would not be the place that heíd imagined from my accounts.

For day after day of radiant silence, I threw myself out of paradise by living inside his possible responses and not inside the transparent moment. I corrupted my own paradise while worrying it would not be his. So of course there was a poetic justice when, near the end of my two-week stay, he called up to cancelóand I realized that my invitation had not deprived him of his selfless calm (since he never came up to the monastery at all), but me of mine.

A trivial example, but itís through trivia that I experience my follies and learn to correct them. Most times that I fret and chafe about an upcoming engagement, someone cancels; most times I dread a coming moment, the moment never comes. Itís not the world that I need to change, I see, but the mayhem that my overactive mind makes of the world. Itís more than capable of seeing a blue car, stationary, and constructing out of it a six-act melodrama.

The mind has a purpose, Tibetan Buddhists tell me; if harnessed correctly, it can be the greatest instrument we have for finding in the world the potential and lessons that other mammals miss. But itís wonderful at being a five year-old mischief-maker, and not a calm adult. Itís much more eager to play than to work, to feed on gossip than on wisdom, to get ahead of itself and then look back, to run around like a tired child at 10 p.m., screaming, when all it really wants to do is go to sleep.

Iíve been lucky enough to grow up in many traditions, with Hindu parents and Christian schooling. But I donít think any discipline has so taught me the limits of the mind as Buddhism. What Iím seeing when I meet Ellen is not her, usually, but all the ideas Iíve created around her. What I read when I pick up Proust are all the volumes of what I know Iím meant to feel reading Proust, and all I donít want to feel because everyone feels it, reading Proust, and what Iím not sure Iím finding at all, in Proust, and how Iím about to describe Proust to my friend (with an eye on myself, not Marcel). And then a car screams toward me on the road, the driver having lost control, and every one of these ideas is forcefully banished, as folly.

I donít read the weather forecast, usually, and I donít turn on my laptop at all, because I know all the snippets, diversions, distractions, grand theories, and data that are waiting for me inside that innocuous-seeming little white cover. Itís not what I imagined when I was young, and so eager to throw open the pages of any encyclopedia or book. But not-knowing is the happiest state I know. When it snows tomorrow, when it dawns radiant the next day, every moment hits me with the force of an inarguable surprise. Not reading the weather forecast is actually a way of ensuring that the prospect for many days (though never all) is sunny.


Pico Iyer is the author of many books, including The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama.

Originally published in the January 2011 Shambhala Sun magazine.

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