The other week, I was running in the woods and half way through my run, there is a long, gravel, uphill path. On this day, as I started the ascent, I saw two men clearly working out. They had found two logs and set them up on the hill as stumps to jump on and off of or something to that effect. As I ran by, using all my stamina to simply get me up the hill, I passed them and said, “what, the hill is not enough?” We all laughed as I kept going out to the smooth, paved road that would begin my descent home. I ran on and thought about the ways we sometimes make things harder for ourselves. For these guys, it was intentional. Though there was already a hill there, they wanted to add more challenge. I think we often do that very thing, but unintentionally and it doesn’t feel very good. If we dealt with the first challenge, the hill, and truly took in what we had before us with compassion and support, then we wouldn’t have the additional challenge, a stump, to also deal with. The stump comes in the form of self-judgment (for not being good enough, getting it right, etc.) or blaming (if only the other person, thing was different) and it feels like anger, depression, despair. When we add that stump on top of the hill, we have two challenges and it usually snowballs as we add on more.
But, there is another way. It’s taken me a long while to understand this one and I still forget at times, but the more I practice, the more easily it returns and it has to do with tenderness, compassion, and staying with myself. Whenever I hear myself spinning about how I am not good enough or spinning about something someone said or did, I stop now and go right to the feeling. What am I feeling? And once I find the right word that describes it, I stay with it and say, “yes, of course I am feeling that” and I feel a gentleness come over me that knows that the only thing to do is to feel that discomfort, pain, loss, sadness, and be tender. If I stay there, no snowball effect happens. I don’t add on layers, the way you would add stumps to jump over on a hill. What action comes next comes naturally and comes from a kinder, more grounded place.
I wish for us all to be able to stop and feel where we are before we react and add on more layers. Answers come more easily then. Answers about what to do, how to do it and if there is no answer yet, the ability to wait with the unknown, trusting that it will reveal itself. It takes practice, but once we get it, life’s stresses take a different tone. They’re still difficult, but they don’t last as long and don’t take as big a toll on ourselves and others. And even greater, we begin to laugh more. I’m serious. Sounds like a leap to go from stress to laughter, but it happens. It makes sense, really. If you think about being kind to yourself, anger then dissipates, frustration lessens and our vision opens to what is around us. When we slow down and take ourselves in, we ultimately take in the sights and sounds around us in a new way. It’s an openness, a softness to all experience. Joy naturally arises from that place.
As I see the difficulties people are facing and my own, I send us all wishes for presence, the ability to slow down and feel and to stay with ourselves tenderly.