Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Why Practice? The Darkness Always Falls

This morning we had a contractor scheduled to come to our house to take a look at a couple of leaks that we have been putting off dealing with. Up until he arrived at 11:30, I was working on the outline to a possible presentation I will be giving on hope and mindfulness. Though I tend not to use the word “hope” very much, I was curious about the subject and so I spent the morning hours exploring ideas around it and how it relates to mindfulness and Buddhism. I wanted to find what rings true or not about my experience with hope. I was on a roll and felt inspired as I worked. I found relevant quotations from teachers. It was starting to feel like a fascinating subject when the doorbell rang. The contractor had arrived. I put the computer aside and invited him in. He took a look at the bathroom and, more or less, said the pipes are very old and likely shot. They are leaking into the concrete and though we could patch it, ultimately, the whole bathroom needs to be gutted. This means plumbers, electricians, permits, inspections, a non-functioning bathroom for 3 weeks (and our only full-bathroom) and the worst 

I have two vulnerable spots. Well, probably more, but two that I know well. Places where I can go dark most easily. Finances have always been one of them. When difficulties like this arise, I can’t imagine how it will work out; I feel alone with it, though I am not; I see no possibility; I can’t reason or think logically. Basically, I go to a despairing place. After the contractor left, I watched myself sink into that hole. It was dark. Was this the same woman writing on hope 30 minutes earlier? So much for all those words, right?

Not really, because this is what I found next. Mike and I went to the woods to go do our usual Sunday ritual. I went running on the trails, as I do. It wasn’t a mindful run by any means (no being in the moment feeling the ground underneath me, experiencing the trees, etc.). But, as I ran, I did watch my emotions gradually shift. Endorphins were being released, energy expelled, thoughts worked out, and by the time I met up with Mike, I was much more like myself. I was still overwhelmed, don’t get me wrong, but not despairing and not dark. In the past, that might have taken me out for days, not just the despair itself, but then the shame about being in despair (which was even worse!).

I share this to remind us of two things. 1) We say it often in mindfulness and meditation, all things change. Our emotions which feel so strong, so permanent, do shift. This is what we are asked to observe again and again when we meditate…not to attach to our thoughts and feelings, not to push them away, but to experience them with kindness and compassion and let them move on. We can trust that they do. Circumstances change, people change, our bodies change, minute by minute. 2) This one, I can’t emphasize enough. It is so easy to think that what we are after in our meditation and mindfulness practice is to get to a place where we don’t get so dark, where we don’t feel things as hard as I felt them this morning for an hour. But it is not true, we will always hit these lows, these bumps, these places that feel impossible. That is a given. It is life. This is good news. It helps us stay humble and it connects us to our common humanity. And when we haven’t had any bumps in a while, it is easy to think, we moved passed them, until something rears its head and we find ourselves knocked down again. A sickness, a job loss, a divorce. But there is a difference between practicing a mindful life and not practicing and it is a significant one. What we are doing when we practice is training ourselves for these moments. Because even when, in the thick of them, it feels as though all that wisdom is gone, what we find is that we move through the mud more quickly and it doesn’t scar us. This work we do in meditation, work that can seem so subtle like…“I’m just sitting here and watching my busy mind,” is actually much deeper than that. The training is underground working and will help you when you need it. Not help you always feel peaceful, but help you find your way back to what peace is. So keep sitting. Hope is at work when we do. 

"In practicing meditation, we're not trying to live up to some ideal -- quite the opposite. We're just being with our experience, whatever it is. If our experience is that sometimes we have some kind of perspective and sometimes we have none, then that's our experience. If sometimes we can approach what scares us and sometimes we can't, then that's our experience. 'This very moment is the perfect teacher, and it is always with us' is really a most profound instruction...Awakeness is found in our pleasure and our pain, our confusion and our wisdom, available in each moment of our weird, unfathomable, ordinary everyday lives."  --Pema Chodron, When Things Fall Apart

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