This is anger, I think, when an injustice slams unexpectedly into my life. But when I explore, look into my body, the label changes. No, this is helplessness. This has happened for me often. Often enough that now I regard all “anger” as a consequence of helplessness. Something occurs which reminds me the world is not in my control. Not just a roadblock or a misstep or a mistake, that reflection and re-strategizing will fix. But out of my control. Can I be with that?
Too often the initial, reflexive reaction to a sense of helplessness is to get louder or faster or both...to act and act and act, as if each action, or one of the actions would turn things around. To rant, to explain, to write letters, to do something. As if I think the world is blind and deaf and I just have to find a way to get the message through. But there are events, big and small, that will not change despite my shouting and pushing. And each subsequent “failure” to correct the problem adds to the sense of helplessness. A feeling that is crawly and uncomfortable in the extreme, so intrinsically repulsive that acting out seems like the only way to distract the mind from the feeling. This is what I have to learn to be with.
I keep at it. So far what I've managed is a small step forward, I think. The sense of helplessness is born in me now with a marker that reminds me to be mindful. It's a bit like having a built in bell, an alarm like the one in my house for carbon monoxide...that silent, deadly gas. Helplessness wears a bell. There's still that awful creepy crawliness, that truncated scream in my chest, but there is also an immediate reminder to investigate rather than push away or distract myself. Because though I may not be able to set things right in the world, I know that I do not have to add to the harm to myself and others by way of hasty and unskillful actions and words. One breath won't do it, though it is a beginning. Recently I took some training in Somatic Stress Release and I'm discovering other ways to discharge the scream and release the ants under my skin. And I'm loving how this fits so beautifully with meditation in any posture, with silent sitting, mindful walking and gentle yin. Sometimes I transfer the need to push, to the wall; or the need for voice, to singing; the need to shake loose, to dancing. New tools. Because the breath is my accessible home already, it's waiting, like a chair in the shade, when the hotter, sweatier work of release is done.
I want to be clear though. This isn't displacing anger. I'm not pushing the wall because I want to push someone or something in my way. I'm pushing the wall because my body is telling me there is something here to acknowledge. I'm pushing the wall and letting it push back. I'm acknowledging the feelings rampaging through my body. Feelings with too much movement to clamp down on.
The Buddha gave a metaphor for agitated mind/body in the story of someone running. To go from a run to stillness is too abrupt. So the runner slows to a walk. And then from a walk to standing. And maybe from standing to sitting. And then perhaps from sitting to lying down. When we clamp down on the emotional surges in our body, they will continue to move in the small container we've closed them into and they may break their bonds when our vigilance lessens. Instead, mindfulness lets me assess the level of agitation that has arisen and to choose a skillful way to keep my attention there. Somatic Stress Release training teaches me to stay in relationship to the obstacle, the discomfort. So I press into the wall and feel it pressing into me. As agitation tapers off I am able, perhaps, to move away from the wall and stand, coming to the breath. If agitation is still there, I may walk, or move back to the wall if I still need a stronger sensation. I keep contact in this way with the feeling itself and do not tell myself stories about what “caused” the feeling.
Mindfulness requires continual effort and skillful means. Teachers tell us to use “what works” and I am grateful for the discovery of new tools for addressing a persistent experience.
I am thinking about identity. The who-I-am-ness that moves us to action, that prevents other actions, that is the drink in the glass that the straw of action and speech draws on. What if the glass were empty? The straw would fill with air, the very air it would draw on were there no glass at all. And now suddenly I see “selves” that way. Each body like a glass, fragile boundaries that seem to be separate and distinct. And over a lifetime we each fill our particular vessel with a sense of identity. We don't notice how identities spill out and over the edge and how, in time, the contents of the glass is entirely different than it was only a while before. Put a glass under a tap and leave the water running and when the volume of water is more than the glass can hold, it just spills out. If you were to add a drop of dye at the beginning, you would at first see the dye fill the glass with color and then fade and fade until what fills the glass is only clear again. So it is with this self. The student I am in one phase is replaced by the teacher at another. And the student shares space with daughter, sister, friend. In the recipe for “me” these are a pinch only, examples of all the identities that make up what I call me. These few are easy to name because they seem point-at-able and concrete. But they are no more “me” than are other labels that appear more abstract: control-freak, book-lover, introvert, non-dancer, independent, solitary. In fact, the list is so long and so seemingly in my bones that I live from it without being able to define it. So what would happen if I broke the glass?
If the glass is the body, then one day it will break apart. And the “I” I thought was real will disappear. But what if the glass is imaginary? Rather than the body, what holds together all that I think of as me is only an idea, a projection, something without substance.
A Dhamma friend once suggested a list that she uses to work through the moments that are “difficult” in life. It begins with recognition by asking the question “Am I suffering in this moment?” In a difficult moment, the answer, obviously, would be yes. The suffering may be large or small. Mourning a death or feeling annoyed about a scam phone call. This morning, the suffering that caught my attention, was a wave of tears saying goodbye to my son as he left for another stint of work that will go on for several weeks.
The second question is “If I am suffering now, what am I attached to? Has a thought of my/I/mine arisen?” This morning, the significance of the second part of this equation became crystal clear to me. What am I attached to? Well, at first it seems, the answers are obvious: my husband (in the case of mourning), my privacy and peace of mind (in the case of the scam call), and my son (in the case of this morning's tears). But clearly, when I list the moments this way, “my” is the common factor in all three of these instances.
The questions now lead to a response: “Make an effort to let go the attachment.” Previously, I might have said that I am attached to a person in two of these cases and to a feeling in the other. And the idea of letting go of these attachments, especially to the two beings involved, causes another lurch of suffering. But suddenly in this moment of insight I see that I am attached to the personal sense of “me”, to the possessive pronoun “my”, to the idea that forms the container for the ideas that fill it. Everything inside this glass is me and mine. This glass contains me as wife, me as a person with rights and a sense of justice, and me as mother. My actions and words draw on this. But like the illusion it is, me/my/mine dissolves when looked at directly; shift perspective and the transparent glass is nothing at all.
It is the attachment that should be let go. That tiny, seemingly insignificant pronoun. Not the memory of a beloved man, not privacy or peace, not a much loved son. Letting go of “me” brings a crystal clear moment of freedom.
I've likely referred to this piece of wisdom before. I know it comes to mind often. Have it under a magnet on my fridge: Expectations are premeditated resentment. This is a gem that turned in the mind reveals more depth than at first imagined. Lately I've been thinking that expectations are sneaky things. They become habits of mind that are difficult to root out. Difficult to see. They form a template, in fact, for viewing the world.
This comes to mind in a specific way for me as June, a month of significant dates, approaches. It will be four months, one third of a year in linear time, since my husband's death. In June too there will be what would have been his 58th birthday. And barely afterward the public marking of Father's Day. I expect to be shaken and sad, I've discovered. And my body is what reveals this to me. Mornings I often wake in a cloud of ennui. “Sweet ennui”, Peter Townsend called it in the lyrics of one of his songs, but this does not have that taste. This is ennui without the sugar of the second syllable, without the “we”. It's cloying. A bit unpleasant but inescapable. Mindfulness allows me to notice it. Right mindfulness reveals that this heavy state of mind is not “healthy”. And I do the work of both turning toward and uprooting, but with a great reluctance that makes this less than effective. It's like asking a five year old to weed your garden. Only the really in-your-face invaders are dealt with and then, the roots are likely left in place.
Now I don't imagine that this is the sort of expectation the author of this pithy saying had in mind. Previously, I've mostly applied it to such things as expecting a happy Christmas, or expecting help with the dishes from the kids after a meal, and then noticing what happens when those expectations are not met. But here I see that expecting something dire means that the resentment of what seems inevitable colors the landscape even now. Looking through the warping lens that tells me bad times are ahead, today is also distorted. Ah, what a convoluted thing the thinking mind is.
Why, I wonder, should a day that has Jim's name on it, so to speak, be anything different from all the days that are permeated by his absence? Some confused expectation that is knitted from old patterns of anticipated happy times and the still emerging patterns of loss.
So I took my undisciplined mind for a walk. Literally inviting it into the body, I put the leash on my dog and headed down our road. Feeling the heaviness that rested around my heart in a physical way, I let that drain through my torso and into my shoes, in the same way I ground on a yoga mat. Let the negative energy disperse into the reliable earth that supports me, not just physically but psychologically and emotionally too. Walking in the dust and gravel, I could sense each step releasing a little of the negativity my body held. As I became lighter I was able to raise my eyes from the ground to the high clouds, the budding trees and the antics of my happy dog. And then I could hear the frog songs and the bird choruses that were threading through the air. Letting expectations of any kind go meant a space for what was here. Ignoring pushy mind, I let my body talk to me, tell me what it needed. And for this I was rewarded.
The most reliable treatment for a heavy heart, and a contracted mind, is to open. The only channel this embodied being has for that is the body. Whether it is a walk, Tai Chi by my biggest window, yin on the living room floor, or using a bow saw to cut up a fallen tree, I'm learning more urgently than ever, to listen and to let the body talk.
The room isn't very large. It's a classroom in a small college, and its usual purpose is revealed in the whiteboards, chalk boards and pull down film screen. A number of chairs have been moved out into the hallway and a few to the back of the room to form a couple of closely placed rows. In the cleared space, all manner of folk, young and old, sit almost shoulder to shoulder, in varying postures on a variety of cushions and blankets, zabutons and meditation benches. In one front corner a low table is graced with a small Buddha image, in the other a second table with a basket for dana (donations for the teacher). Large pots of flowers sit beside each table. Front and centre a more elaborate arrangement of blankets and cushions where the teacher sits, often draped in a black shawl, as windows are pushed open to the cool spring air.
This is my first formal retreat in the nearly two years during which what had become the pattern of my life was abandoned to a new pattern, as my husband and I navigated the unpleasant and often frightening landscape of his illness.
Meditation and daily mindfulness practice sustained me in that time in a way that was mostly solitary. A return in some ways to early years when I began this path on my own. Yet, I have now a network of Dhamma friends and a commitment to a wise teacher at a distance, as well as a small but vital and beloved sangha here in my hometown. Yet, I had a heart longing to sit among many, known and unknown to me, sharing the intentions and the journey toward a peaceful heart, a harmonious existence, and, ultimately, liberation from suffering. To be exclusively held awhile in this practice, without the multiple things-to-do that are inevitable in daily life.
Retreating again was in some ways like revisiting a favorite place. The rhythms of retreat, the formalities, held me easily. Bells, walking, sitting, silence, community. Often I was aware of the lift of spontaneous gratitude to be here. Not only to hear Dhamma wash over me in the teaching and guided meditations, but to breathe it in in the shared intentions of our group, to carry it with me back to my silent hotel room at day's end where I journalled and sat more. In the mornings gratitude infused my waking breath and carried into the yin asanas on my bright orange mat, and through my breakfast of muffins brought from home, an apple from the reception desk bowl, and strong tea made in the wee suite kitchen. Then I walked the chilly morning streets of the area before making my way back to that small college room and my particular place on the floor.
But retreating again was also new territory. This is the first retreat I have ever sat without the invisible thread that connected me to my husband holding our home for my return. Without his blessing as I left, his hug to return to. Without his care for the living things our life enfolds...at one time small children who have grown and flown over those years...always a host of plants and a changing roster of pets. This time there was a need for a neighbor to feed the cat, for a good kennel for my dog, for a rush of plant watering when I got home. This time there was a different tone to the leaving and to the returning. My only debriefing in the pages of my journal, and later with friends and family in small bits and pieces. No collapsing into a kitchen chair across from him with a mug of tea, exploring aloud the entire experience. He would often laugh at the avalanche of words that the silence held back and after long retreats of weeks, this was formidable.
The practice which has sustained me through shock, through caretaking, through loss, has itself been changed by these experiences. There is a greater tenderness at its heart, more spontaneous arising of the Divine Abidings, particularly love and compassion. Small inroads in the development of equanimity. This is what life offers, the first Noble Truth : there is suffering. But the dominoes fall. I have awareness of the cause in my clinging and selfing; I know the effectiveness, the wisdom of the path; and the promise of release shines more clearly on the horizon.
At least once a week now I take a Jeep load of “stuff” to the Thrift shop drop off location. I put an empty box in a corner of my bedroom and through the days, I sort. Some to that box directly, some to piles in the living room or hallway, or even my husband's former office. These piles are designated for kids to look through or for other family members or for possible sale. Eventually much of the stuff in those piles also makes its way to the box and eventually to the Jeep.
When we moved here about eight years ago it was from a much larger home, and we sifted and down-sized considerably. So it is a bit of a revelation now to see not only how much we held on to but also what more has accumulated. Even without the will to do so. Hmmm.
So all this has me thinking, of course, about simplification and renunciation. I have a friend who gave away all his possessions upon ordaining as a monk. Some of those things are now in my own home. Most of the stuff my parents accumulated over their lives was dispersed, but I have a few things, small and large, among my own possessions. Will they matter to my kids who might not recall their origins or who just won't have room in their lives for fancy teacups or an antique desk? Hard to say. At some point, it's obvious, someone will inherit things that have no emotional pull for them...this generation or the next or the next.
Stewardship. Not just of land, of homes and treasures, but of all manner of things large and small. This process of sorting is more poignant for me than the process my husband and I went through together upon retirement. This time, I see not only “his stuff” but “my stuff”, the stuff I hang on to, with different eyes.
What matters to me among my husband's possessions? Some I believe were especially dear to him and so for me there is a bond of trust that makes them “sticky”. But even then, I find myself reflecting. If it were reversed, if he were sorting my things, I can imagine what he'd think I had attachment to. And from here I want to whisper: it doesn't matter. The stone Buddha, the handmade crafts our sons made for Mother's Days, the rows of journals. In the end it isn't “stuff and nonsense” as the popular idiom goes, but “stuff is nonsense”, isn't it?
What matters to me are the memories, the years. Despite their sentimental value, even the photographs we have mean so much less than some of the moments engraved in my memory which were never recorded in any other way. And that, logically, reminds me that those last only as long as this body, this mind, this memory last.
Impermanence as an incentive to renunciation makes more sense to me now. That doesn't mean I'm ready to “give it all away”, though I'm giving a lot of it away, little by little. But it does mean that even if I hold to things physically awhile longer, years maybe, I am not holding to them in the same way. Thich Nhat Hanh talks of drinking from the cup that is already broken. Knowing stuff is just stuff, and not only breakable, but, finally, pretty insignificant in the big picture.
Pharaohs' tombs were filled with stuff that languished until carried to museums, to languish some more in storerooms a lot of the time between periods of display. When I was a child I found “treasures” in garage sale bins of half broken things; as I grew I became more discerning, or so I thought. My emerging perspective is to see that “treasure” isn't anything I might hold in my hands, only what I hold in my heart.
There are pussy willows in the gully at the front of our property. Mud holes for the dog to play in. Mice about for the cat to catch. Mounds of poop to scoop near the pasture fence...till now hidden in the snow. It does feel like spring.
My heart lifts, but like a balloon it has a tether. It was a long winter for my sick husband, huddled by the fire most days, wrapped in layers. And the ice was treacherous too. Now he's not here to see the turning of the seasons.
It has felt sort of like one long day. The legalities our “advanced” and systematized society requires have taken and continue to take a lot of my time. Paperwork, phone calls, numbers, letters, and files. So much of that. Here and there I'm also beginning to sort the “stuff” we all accumulate, finding loving homes for many music books, warm coats and vests, almost new shoes, and so many other things. Setting aside stuff for the kids. Running across ordinary items that break me open with memory, so that I am stopped in my tracks and retreat from the effort to cry awhile, and then to breathe.
How does practice fit in with this process? Not a piece in the puzzle. Not something I take up now and then in order to find peace. But as with everything, this path both encircles and opens, forming a container that holds this, as it holds all my life. No moment in the day is without a sense of loss. No moment in the day is without a sense of this as a human truth. Not merely my personal loss, but the impermanence of all life and all phases and things, obvious in the seasons, and made manifest in this leave taking too.
Solitary life means a dropping of the schedules that we develop in shared times. As a culture we agree on hours for business, the convention of weekends and yearly vacations, certain days designated as holidays. In households we set patterns to accommodate the members...mealtimes, waking times, bedtimes. We develop certain ways of spending leisure and of dividing work. I've lived alone only briefly, ever, in my life. But there is already an ease here that I see as akin to retreating, something I've done a lot of though never for the extended months and years some practitioners do.
So what is happening without planning is a dropping into meditation as a punctuation in my days. Not sitting when bells ring or at certain designated times, but as a place to center and restore between this and that. In the way that I settle for a few minutes into each posture in yin practice, I find a need to drop into stillness in my day to allow mind, heart and body rest and opening. Maybe after a bout of tears. Maybe after a long and difficult phone call about legalities and processes. Maybe after a meal or a walk. Or before beginning a task. Before sitting at the computer. I sit 10 minutes or 20 or 30 or without any marker at all. My life has fewer markers and this is helping me to understand the arbitrariness of time.
Why shouldn't this period feel like one very long day, or like years though it's not yet two months? Time is a concept we invented that pays homage to change. The movement of the earth around the sun. The changes in the light. For me right now, the changes of light and the movement of the earth are less apparent than the shifting of shadow and light in my heart, the sense of monumental internal change happening at the rate that icebergs melt or grass grows. Perhaps not visible yet, but present as something unnameable below the level of a vibration or tremor. Would time lapse photography catch the way my life, my self is changing, dissolving even? Not in a bad way. But as something felt, rather than as concepts in my head. No core. Only change.
Spring. It colors loss in pastel colors and softens the edges. I am making deep bows of gratitude to the example of the Buddha, to the Dhamma manifested, to the precious support of the Sangha. I understand a little better the fragile and fleeting nature of this life, and I love perhaps with a more open hand and heart, not pulling to me so tightly what I cannot hold. Change is in the air I breathe. I am only change.
What is your relationship to silence? This is an incredibly individual thing, yet I've noticed not only that people have a personal pattern but that deviations in that pattern are reflections of important change.
I didn't know I had an affinity for silence until I began to attend retreats more than 20 years ago. In my home growing up, there was usually a radio playing and my father sang throughout his days. Although television was absent from my life for many years, I liked to have favorite music playing softly in the background, except when I was trying to concentrate...then I needed and sought quiet or something non-invasive...music that was gentle and barely there and no lyrics to pull me in.
In our shared household, I discovered that my husband liked music and he liked it loud. We worked it out. And over decades of living together we naturally seemed to incline to the centre...finding a balance that worked for both of us. In retirement years, that meant his saxophone playing through a couple of closed doors as I took refuge in my office.
When he got sick, sound of any kind became a comfort, a companion maybe. He would leave several windows open on his computer with competing soundtracks and voices playing over each other in a way that left it all mostly unintelligible. Noting how this put me on edge, I eventually took the advice of a friend and took to chanting softly to myself, providing my own personal space soundtrack.
In the first days following his passing, the house resounded with absent sound. While I normally took comfort in silence, I found myself scrambling through a dusty pile of CD's and retrieving a few favorites...some with lyrics, some without, some with chanting, some with nature sounds. And for maybe a week or so, I would press the numbered button corresponding to the type of sound I needed in the background for whatever activity I was engaged in. Then, one day, I didn't do this. It wasn't a conscious decision. But inside I felt ready for the silence again.
A dear one said to me that the space around you in grieving is sacred. This resonated with me. The silence has a different quality to it now. It holds me...it holds my pain and my memories. But it is also part of a necessary spaciousness that holds this life moving on. There are all kinds of things we say to try to express the inexpressible when a loved one is taken. That they are not gone, that they live on in our memory, that they have gone somewhere better, found peace, their suffering is ended. Many of these have been spoken by people who care about me and I feel the love these words are intended to convey. But I've been reflecting on this sacred space, this sacred silence that contains my life now. The days are a bit retreat like ...though I still walk the dog, text with family and friends or chat with friends who call or drop by or whom I see in the variety of places I move through in my days. I have not gone into hiding with a dark veil in the manner of widows in other cultures or other times. Yet there is a bubble around me. This holds a “Jim” space, and a space for “Jim and Bonnie”, who we were together. But it is also enclosing who I am now and will become. It pulses not only with hurt but with life and with possibility.
Surprise meditation each morning reminds me that death comes to all of us and I do not know when mine will be...today or 40 years from now. But leaving room for the gifts of silence and space will be important. Not to fill up whatever time remains with the distraction of sound or of busyness, but to be here, aware of my breathing, of this body, of the spaciousness of mind, of emotions that sweep through, and of the thought clouds that arise: aware of the way it is now, moment to moment.
Who do you think you are? Not a new question for me to pick up, but one that is much in my contemplations these days as I watch my inner responses to my own decisions and actions. I love teaching yin. My state of mind throughout the day may be bumpy and I may feel torn going out the door, wishing perhaps not to have to go out in the dark and the cold of an Alberta winter night, my heart yearning a little toward hearth and home, knowing how I am needed there these days. But these emotions are sublimated in the calm that suffuses body, mind and heart, in the process of sharing meditation practice in motion with those attending a class. It is a bit like the way the sea calms as a storm or even a brisk breeze dies down. Same water. Same emotions. But they are not surging and dangerous anymore. Instead, as I talk through my own inner processes from asana to asana, coming to the breath, releasing resistance to gravity, resistance to what life offers, these emotions smooth out, sparkling and mysterious, without pounding surf. Even this, this turmoil of emotion, moment to moment, can be gentled when the heart is open.
But even this, this role of mine as a leader of practice, is not permanent, not to be held onto. My heart is torn because of two roles I simultaneously grasp...wife and caregiver, yin and meditation teacher...and right now I am noticing the dilemma I create because of who I think I am. So even this is to be noticed, to be be felt fully, to be opened to. Even this can be let go of.
There are many skillful yoga teachers in our midst. I have only one life partner. Change is inevitable. Everything is connected. Our choices, our suffering.
I am grateful for every day, my husband says, and I see his sincerity in his tired eyes. Even so, I am grateful for the time we're being given to discover a new dimension of a longtime love.
“Who do you think you are?” my mind asks, and my heart answers, “This. Even this. Each moment of pain and peace and joy and gratitude. The unfolding of experience that this consciousness holds.”
Stepping away from some labelled slots neither enhances nor diminishes who I am because there is nothing of substance there. The choices I make are only an ongoing effort to nudge the stream in a skillful and wholesome direction. To bring ease to this heart and the hearts of others. To choose sometimes where the choice is not just guided by what “I” might want, by the craving for what is pleasant and aversion to what is painful.
A wise woman suggested to me, in words I cannot exactly remember, to consider pauses instead of endings. She may not have known how I took this in to reflect upon. Things end. Things go on. There are pauses in our breath...at the top of each in breath and the bottom of each exhale. There are pauses in our work, our days, our ongoing doing. Even when we ignore them. The thought of an ending is a dramatic delusion we create because of our aversion to change. I have not lost those who grow up and away from me. I have not lost those whose material and energetic bodies change form. There is a pause, a space, and “something” goes on. The enticing mystery is to be open to “not knowing” what that is, what that will be.
This is about personal change in my life journey, but it also, I hope, speaks to everyone since we continuously create, or are bombarded by change and we are often frightened, often feel in the midst of a storm of emotions in these times. Exhale. Allow the pause. Allow the inhale again. Each moment is necessarily new and we only falsely believe in something continuous and stable. Change isn't to be feared for this is the essence of life.
In the yoga world it is often emphasized that we should learn to “be” rather than to “do”. Good advice since many of us are caught up in an endless round of doing...achieving, producing, marking items off of some list we keep mentally if not written somewhere But in Buddhism, there is also an important and subtle distinction between “being” and “becoming” that's worth exploring. I'm doing a lot of that in this space I've begun to carve out in my life as I allow and even encourage the list of “things I do” to atrophy.
Images I bring to mind to help me with these distinctions are simple. I visualize a hand. A “doing” hand is busy. It is cooking and driving and writing and shoveling and pushing a grocery cart. This is a metaphor, of course, for the state of mind that accompanies a lot of “doing”, ticking things off a list, accomplishing stuff. It can be a stressful state of mind when the list is endless and the drive to do it all is persistent and habitual, and it teaches the mind to keep leaping forward to the next thing on the list, hurrying through the present.
A “being” hand, is open and relaxed. I picture the palm soft and open to the sky as in svasana. But I also imagine this hand under a stream of running water. The water is all that the moment contains, whether it be meditation in a yoga class, pushing my cart down the supermarket aisle, sitting at my computer writing, sorting laundry, or puzzling over a technical phone glitch. The hand is allowing the moment to be what it is, flowing through. Dealing with what can be dealt with and allowing frustrations, impatience, writer's block and all the rest to arise, be noticed and pass through. This state of mind is open and spacious, kind and at ease.
A “becoming” hand is tricky. It is the hand that begins like the hand of “being”. But somewhere in the flow of moments, it begins to close. It might be jerking and restless as it tries to hang onto or push away what is passing, or closed in a fist that resists and denies the moment. The becoming state of mind holds on to a desire. It is caught up in self-making. It might be an old and familiar self, “I am someone who accomplishes a lot in a day” or it might be a strange new self, “I am someone who can let go.” The clue to “becoming” is that first phrase: “I am someone...”. This state of mind is tight like the fist it moves in and out of, it is a little anxious, a little driven, it wants ease but views it as an accomplishment. Becoming is possessive. This is mine, this is who I am.
Lately, I often wake in a gentle state of lassitude. Often I am able to carry this or return to it for most of the day. I have pared many things from my “do” list and my “due” list, and I'm moving towards more. But the lassitude isn't quite ease: it's like a bland cheese that contains hidden bits of hot jalepeno peppers. From time to time I am sliced through with panic when I bite into one of these. The peppers that surprise me are the places of becoming. Partly it is a creating (I am a caregiver) and partly it is a resisting (I am no longer someone who...) Fill in the blank with any role I've stepped away from or am considering stepping away from, or even some role that has simply been lost to me through change.
It's all about how you feel, my teacher often says. When I feel those adrenalin shots, I know that “being” has been lost, at least for a moment. It's ongoing work to find my way back...not to pry the fingers of the mind's hand open but to move my attention to the breath and to my intention to be present and to allow the fingers to fall open, as they will do without a supply of mental energy.
Having made space in the day, if I choose to sit and breathe while my husband naps, rather than leaping into doing, this is a small step. But if I choose in that space to sit at the computer to write, and in watching the mind that is “becoming” a writer, I soften so that writing happens or does not in the flow of the moment, I am also making this step. Years ago, playing my violin, I learned the distinction between “trying” and “allowing” and discovered the effectiveness of the latter. When I allow the moments to flow, life has its own sweet music no matter the mood of the melody.
Addictions. This morning a loved one whose behavior worries me is on my mind. Practice reminds me that the behavior of others is not within my control. I can love, support, care for and about, but I do not make their decisions. Practice also reminds me that addiction, which has its beginnings in the reflexive patterns of habit, is a human tendency. When we do not examine our behaviors, take note of what we do and take note of the consequences of our behavior, then we may fall into patterns that are negative in impact...both for ourselves and others. And so I begin by examining my own addiction to worry.
Worry is like riding a stationery bike without even the benefit of burning calories or building stamina and strength. It's a stationary bike with no resistance. The wheels spin in an effortless way, and I sit in the seat pedalling without conscious effort, carried by the momentum of habit. I'm on autopilot and the wheels spin. What happens when I allow this to continue, when no effort is put toward mindfulness? I am carried into a place where worries compound, where my helplessness becomes a painful burden and where I may lash out in anger or despair, or collapse into indifference. Whether it's in response to the behavior of someone I love, or the actions of government, or the vagaries of the weather, worry does not positively impact change.
It is useless, however, to tell oneself, or another, not to worry. The only solution is for the worrier to see what is happening and where it's leading. If you've been riding this bike a long time, you have plenty of accumulated experience to examine. Did anything change for the better when you put in enough hours? Did the actions that anger or despair drove you to solve the issue? Did indifference help the situation?
Honestly acknowledging the consequences of this addiction allows the possibility of changing the pattern. But it's my pattern. I have to make the changes.
This is true too for the loved one I woke thinking of this morning. What positive things can I do to increase the possibility of more awareness on their part? How can I make them feel loved and supported? If they abandon the behavior even for a day, how can I contribute to a sense of goodness in that day, a goodness they will feel? What can I say at the right time, in the right place and in the right words and tone that might open their own awareness even a little, to the behavior that is harming them and negatively impacting their life? These are not easy questions to answer but awareness of them keeps me from behaving impulsively from the roots of my own addiction to worry.
This culture both fears and promotes addiction. To substances, to things, to stimulation and variety. We are taught to want more and to want different. Desire in itself is not some kind of evil. But when we believe the story our mind tells us about something else or something more being better, we're set up for addictive behavior. Drinking, over-eating, spending, hopscotching through relationships, and worrying that things won't go the way we want them to.
If my own desires were met, all these problems would go away and like the jokes that go around on Face Book, we'd be able to eat what we want without losing our health, drink what we want without being dangerous or foolish, spend what we want without going broke, and love who we want without censure or pain for ourselves or others. And worry would not arise. Yet, it does, and desires are endless. The best way of living with a heart that finds ease, in the world as it is, is to see this truth and to act from goodwill and strong awareness of what the mind is doing.
Stepping off my stationary bike for a moment here at least. Finding some space to reflect and abandon my own habitual patterns. Wishing this for my loved one and for all beings.