Other People’s Writing: Dec 31st

I had a different piece of writing picked for today but then I got a piece of news yesterday that sent me to Pema Chödrön’s writing in When Things Fall Apart. Pema Chödrön is a Buddhist nun that writes so intimately about groundlessness, that moment when we can’t find anything solid to stand on to pretend we have it all together. Oh, how I love my life when I’m not experiencing groundlessness – but wow, how much I’ve learned when I have.

And here’s what sent me to this place. First, before Christmas my son caught the bug going around daycare so he had to be out sick a couple of days. Next I got sick. Then we were all well and the scheduled holidays with no school and daycare happened. Fine – I’ve now missed about 6 days of work in December but some of those were expected and I’m rolling with it.

Then it snows in Seattle. And Seattle is ridiculous when it snows so 2 more days of daycare for my son this last week were canceled. Then, and this was the latest, Seattle Public Schools just announced they are canceling school for my 1st grader on Monday, January 3rd so they can hand out COVID tests. <scream>

How the heck am I supposed to be responsible, professional and earn a living when the ground beneath my feet is always shifting? The fact that I know I’ve typed that question in practical terms in order to gain the most sympathy tells me that I’ve at least gained some consciousness about my situation. Groundlessness is like a patch of ice on a mountain – the trick is not to dig in and try to plant your feet but instead walk lightly across letting your momentum work for you.

For me, this COVID era has been one big patch of ice. I’ve always figured out a way through before and I know that I will again. Re-reading Pema’s words reminds me that in moments like these that I get to learn so much as I do so.

Basically, disappointment, embarrassment, and all these places where we just cannot feel good are a sort of death. We’ve just lost our ground completely; we are unable to hold it together and feel that we’re on top of things. Rather than realizing that it takes death for there to be birth, we just fight against the fear of death.

Reaching our limit is not some kind of punishment. It’s actually a sign of health that, when we meet the place where we are about to die, we feel fear and trembling. A further sign of health is that we don’t become undone by fear and trembling, but we take it as a message that it’s time to stop struggling and look directly at what’s threatening us. Things like disappointment and anxiety are messengers telling us that we’re about to go into unknown territory.

…How do we work with our minds when we meet our match? Rather than indulge or reject our experience, we can somehow let the energy of the emotion, the quality of what we’re feeling, pierce us to the heart. This is easier said than done, but it’s a noble way to live. It’s definitely the path of compassion – the path of cultivating human bravery and kindheartedness.

In the teachings of Buddhism, we hear about egolessness. It sounds difficult to grasp: what are they talking about, anyway? When the teachings are about neurosis, however, we feel right at home. That’s something we really understand. But egolessness? When we reach our limit, if we aspire to know that place fully – which is to say that we aspire to neither indulge nor repress – a hardness in us will dissolve. We will be softened by the sheer force of whatever energy arises – the energy of anger, the energy of disappointment, the energy of fear. When it’s not solidified in one direction or another, that very energy pierces us to the heart, and it opens us. This is the discovery of egolessness. It’s when all of our schemes fall apart. Reaching our limit is like finding a doorway to sanity and the unconditional goodness of humanity, rather than meeting an obstacle or punishment.

…If we’re willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation. This is the first step on the path.

When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chödrön

(featured photo from Pexels)

The What If Game

The real happiness of life is…to enjoy the present, without any anxious dependence on the future.” – Seneca

I was dropping my daughter off for an outdoor class the other day and she was already a little nervous because her friend that is also signed up for the class wasn’t coming. Then we arrived and she saw that there was a substitute coach that she didn’t know as well and he had an Eastern European accent that made him a little difficult to understand. The perfect storm. Her anxiety was real and she started with the what if questions: What if he asks me to do something and I don’t understand? What if I say something and he can’t hear me because of my mask? For each question I answered, there were at least two more.

When I awoke this morning, my mind was filled with it’s own what if’s. Questions because it’s August and as I mentioned in this post listing the lessons I learned over 20 years of owning my own business, my work is always slower in August. Questions because the school year is about to start for my daughter. Questions because the Delta variant is surging.

All valid questions and the anxiety is real. But as my mind raced through all the troublesome scenarios that could happen, each of them scarier than the previous because they were building, my foot started to itch. As I reached down to scratch it, I realized that it was the only thing that was happening at that moment that I needed to attend to. From there, I just needed to find the next thing to do which was to make a cup of tea and meditate. As I write this, I still have all the questions about what the future will bring but the awareness that in this moment right now, life is actually just fine. In a few minutes I will wake up the kids and keep finding my way through the day by identifying the next thing to do.

When I was dropping my daughter off and the questions kept coming, I said to her, “I’m not going to play the what if game. You are resourceful and capable of handling this class and no matter what, it only lasts one hour.” It worked and she had a great time. I’m finding it works when I give myself that speech too.

The Current Underneath

The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.” – Dolly Parton

Last night I was out with my kids as they biked, my 5-year-old on her new big bike and my toddler on an old-school Radio Flyer tricycle. I suggested to my daughter that she go all the way around the block on her bike while my son and I worked best on how to make progress on his trike. This was a new freedom for my daughter, riding away from us on the sidewalk and being on her own for a whole block albeit one she knows well because we walk it all the time. She’d done it several times and was exhilarated by the freedom until the time when she came to the long back straightaway and didn’t see us. My son and I had made enough progress to get around the corner. By the time she got to us, my daughter was scared. I soothed her the best I could and we made our way home. I thought all was good until I asked her to clean up something and she grumped at me. It wasn’t until later that I realized she had some carry-over from being scared.

When I sit on my meditation bolster in the morning, I expect to find peace, happiness and clarity. I am always surprised by the occasions that I find instead a lingering disappointment, anxiety or sadness underneath. I frequently think that I can use my optimism and positivity to pave over the feelings I’m less comfortable with but in those quiet moments they let me know they are still there. I am learning over and over again that I have to feel things all the way through. The worry about a friend going through a hard time or the disappointment that I didn’t get a particular project stay insistent that I acknowledge them before I can settle in to my peace.

This reminds me of a story my meditation teacher told me. She was teaching a 6am yoga class on a dark fall morning. People were settling onto their mats and she was walking around the room quietly talking the class through those opening exercises when she noticed someone outside looking into her car. Without thinking she opened the door to the studio and yelled, “Move on, MotherF*&#$r!” This still cracks me up every time she tells the story but also reminds me that what’s going on in me and around me sometimes has to be acknowledged before I can find peace.

Last night after I’d put my toddler to bed and was sitting with my daughter to read books, we finally got to the feeling of being scared and were able to talk it through and put it to bed too. Then it felt done and we were able to find our quiet and rest.