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Lessons from a Peacock: How to Transform Poison into Beauty


All of us experience states of mind that cause us to feel anxious, depressed, fearful, uncertain, insecure, envious, doubtful, impatient. These feelings can seem so powerful at times that we try to eradicate them as quickly as possible through the usual methods: we try to repress them, drink them away, shop them away, fuck them away, blame them away, or whatever it is we do when we experience sensations that aren’t pleasing to us.

Following are the first three verses from a teaching called "The wheel of Sharp Weapons", written by Dharmaraksita:

1. In jungles of poisonous plants strut the peacocks, though medicine gardens of beauty lie near, The masses of peacocks do not find gardens pleasant, but thrive on the essence of poisonous plants. 

2. In similar fashion the brave Bodhisattvas remain in the jungle of worldly concern. No matter how joyful this world's pleasure gardens, these Brave Ones are never attracted to pleasures, but thrive in the jungle of suffering and pain.

3. We spend our whole life in the march for enjoyment, yet tremble with fear at the mere thought of pain; thus since we are cowards, we are miserable still, but the brave Bodhisattvas accept suffering gladly, and gain from their courage a true lasting joy.

While preparing for a dharma talk about this subject last week, I learned that peacocks aren't very particular with regard to what kinds of food they'll eat: the brighter in color the object is, the better. They are drawn to a variety of plants and insects, and in fact they will even eat poisonous snakes if they come across one that's colorful enough. What's even more interesting is that just for the sake of amusement they will follow around a slithering, poisonous snake for a while, just observing it curiously before they devour it. And it is said that the poison they ingest from plants and snakes actually makes the colors of their plumage all the more vibrant and beautiful.

What if changed our approach to difficult, poisonous states of mind and met them with the same courage and curiosity as a peacock? 

Instead of running away from every mind state and emotion that feels threatening, we could simply observe the thoughts and sensations attached to these states of mind without getting caught up in the story about how they came about and who or what is to blame. 

Fixating on our stories only serves to inflame the poisonous feelings. Of course it is important to acknowledge what kinds of circumstances in our lives might be contributing and creating the conditions for suffering, and we should work to alter those circumstances whenever appropriate. But eventually we have to take responsibility for our own states of mind and realize that external events should not be able to dictate when we feel well and when we do not. 

We mustn't be our brain's bitch.

We liberate ourselves by simply resting our minds on the challenging feelings we experience without the usual overlay of our thoughts about how good or bad it feels, or why we feel this way, or who is to blame for how we feel. We can drop the storyline, drop the constant inner commentary, drop the ideas and concepts about what we are experiencing and instead directly experience the reality of our life as it is at any given moment. We don't have to obsess over negative emotions and we don't have to chase them away either--we can simply notice them the way we notice our thoughts when we meditate: with bare, brave attention.

When we do this we can further cultivate qualities of love and compassion that we can apply towards ourselves and other people. We can make use of our painful mind states and transform them into something that opens our hearts and allows us to be of more service to others.

By immersing ourselves in the reality of our moment to moment experience we can make friends with impermanence and ride it's wave rather than have it crash over us and cause us to drown.

-Lawrence Grecco


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