I hit the skids yesterday. I’m betting you can relate to the following scenario:
Like everyone else, I have my troublesome “little issues”. I have Unsettled Conflicts, Gnarly Conundrums, Pesky Questions, Unresolved Challenges, Carefully Guarded Sadnesses… Normally I manage to keep these issues in tidy little separate cages somewhere deep inside my psyche, separated so that they do not cross pollinate and reproduce, one problem somehow increasing another’s importance or influence. I pad these cages with layers of Wise Sayings, Philosophical Points of View, Positive Self-Talk, yada yada.
My truce with my issues works much of the time. I stumble onward with varying amounts of grace and optimism, but the point here is that I do manage, most of the time, to keep positive forward motion. However, every once in awhile those tidy “cages” crumble under the weight of just one too many disappointments or setbacks, and all those issues mix and mingle and become Meltdown Soup. That’s what happened yesterday.
At such times, my spirit careens into despair. Predictably, exaggeration and generalization set in, and suddenly everything seems impossible and untenable. Grasping desperately for equilibrium, I’m hard put to know how to clamber and claw my way out of this unexpected abyss.
The answer is, of course, that you can’t get out of it until you accept that you are in it. This sounds banal, but it’s true: there is no way out without acknowledging and allowing the pain. It’s a scary, out-of-control feeling, but one must be willing to see it and feel it first.
And so it was a rocky day, every interaction a potential land mine, my tears barely contained, or – egad – overflowing. My goal was small. I just wanted to get to the end of the day when I’d be able to pack it in and hope for sleep. Fortuitously, however, my day included a meeting with my meditation group. Ironically, the topic of the day was “being lost”, an accurate description of my state of mind. My beloved buddies had some helpful insights to share, ideas that were not new to me, but ones I needed to hear again: We can’t know what lies ahead. We need to give in to a “cloud of unknowing”. We need to trust in forces we cannot control or understand. Sigh. Easy words to write or say, but hard words to truly embrace and live.
None the less, I left the meeting more peaceful than I’d felt all day. I went home, made a simple dinner, and concentrated on being kind rather than berating myself. True: my problems are NOTHING compared to Ebola. Or to the story I read about a woman who lost her parents and her three children in a house fire. I’m not homeless, I have family and friends. Even so, blessings do not preclude sadness, so there is no sense beating myself up for succumbing to discouragement now and again. I say it again: the only way out is “through.” One must face what is going on in order to move through it to a better state of mind and heart.
Mercifully, I slept deeply and well. (Despair is exhausting.) I woke early, made coffee, and sat down to greet the new day with my customary early morning quiet time. A thought came to me suddenly, unbidden: When “lost,” or unhappy, or seeking, or (fill in the blank), wanting not to be that (whatever “that” is) only adds to the discomfort. Thinking about it, worrying about it, trying not feel whatever “it” is does not solve anything, it just keeps me stuck. I suppose the temptation is believing that if I think hard enough, I can either find a resolution or make the problem go away. The reality is that rethinking things over and over again accomplishes nothing positive. All it does is to prevent a peaceful attitude and forward motion.
Ergo, I can be lost and agitated to be so, or I can be lost and accepting of that state, meaning that I acknowledge it with a sense of detachment and peace. Clearly there is less pain with acceptance, allowing me to move on to what’s next in my life. Hafiz, the Sufi mystic poet, says “Some pendulum, which you bought a ticket on, rocks this way and that. You can get off…”
Today, I choose to “get off”. I will acknowledge despair without adding my opinions, agendas, or action items to it. It is. I will recognize that I cannot control it. I will choose to refrain from trying to control it. This shifts the locus of my perception and allows me to be able not to need to know exact outcomes. I will let them unfold. Instead of wasting my energy on anxiety and despair, I will use it to be curious about possibilities. My progress is likely to be two steps forward and one step back, but I’m think I’m on to something here. There’s plenty of pain and heartache, but I don’t need to increase their power with denials and wishful thinking.
My son puts it quite simply: “You can’t push a rope.” We need to stick to the things we can do, and that starts with recognizing the truth of the moment, whether it’s happy or sad, easy or hard. “Let it be” — sage advice from sources as varied as Paul McCartney and the Beatles to Zen teacher Ezra Bayda. Note the difference from “Let it go”: Bayda points out that “let it go” is more a philosophy, often, than an option. It’s just not that simple to — poof! — wish something away. “Often,” he says, “our only real choice is to let it be.” Let life be life, in all its messy disorganization. Ironically, the very freedom we seek through efforts to control things appears magically when we decide to ride the train we find ourselves on instead of trying to switch tracks. Not to mention how much less exhausting it is… Let it be. L’chaim!