“If you don’t get what you want, you suffer;
if you get what you don’t want, you suffer;
even when you get exactly what you want,
you still suffer because you can’t hold on to it forever.
Your mind is your predicament.
It wants to be free of change.
Free of pain, free of the obligations of life and death.
But change is law and no amount of pretending will alter that reality.”
I read this quote and re read this quote and read it yet again. In theory I get it. Our minds our constantly grasping for what we think we want or need and clinging to what we are afraid to let go of or tenaciously trying to hold onto an experience that is ephemeral. Trying to avoid pain only brings suffering. In the buddhist tradition there is pain which is inevitable and suffering which can be assuaged if we are aware of our pain and experience our pain fully and completely without judgement and the continual flow of stories we have around the pain. Suffering is akin to feeling pain and then throwing darts at our own selves again and again with each new story we spin.
As new experiences are constantly flowing into my life, more so now than ever, I am challenged by Socrates’ wisdom. How can I open up and experience what is and feel it fully and then let it go without trying to cling or push away? Change happens to be the only thing i can count on happening. Like the part of myself that watches me and is aware of what I am doing and feeling and thinking, change is always present.
And it is true, at least for me that when something “good” or exciting comes along, some inner or outer experience that jazzes me, I want to hold it and covet it, an action which prevents me from truly being with and in my life. When something distasteful or sad or frustrating happens my inclination is to try and ignore or struggle against these feelings or experiences ilke a fish hanging from a hook–wriggling and exhausting herself trying to be free.
Yet, I realize, the freedom comes from being with and embracing and welcoming all that I feel without spinning wild tales housed in judgments. Such a simple idea but much harder to practice.
So I decided to just take one experience at a time and work with welcoming it in however it shows up. So when I feel nervous about the workshop I am giving, to go inside and check in. Where do I feel the nervousness and what does it feel like? A tight ball, a bunch of flutters, a dull pain? And then when I notice my breath is staccato and shallow to take time and pause and take those 3 breaths that I coach people to take. Pause, notice, breathe repeat.
Pause, notice, breathe and repeat is a practice, like going to the gym or practicing a skill, a mental work out is what I am doing. I am noticing that although I can still fall into stories and sometimes get hijacked by my inner critic, I move back into being with what is, as it is, more frequently. As the wise Sylvia Boorstein says, “You really never know what the next minute is going to bring, so living fully in the present moment is the only constantly reappearing option for happiness.”