Sometimes instead of moving forward, we need to back way up, strip things down, and work with the oldest and most basic layers.
That's what's been happening at my house as we tackle some major and long-overdue projects. Of course, like every project in an old house, things are much more complicated than we expected. And to replace the flooring we (and by 'we' I mean my husband) have to strip things back to the joists and deal with structural issues that have been hidden under our junky floors.
It's also what's been happening in me inwardly over the past many years. I wanted to just get better--to calm my temper, get along with my family, have better boundaries, be happier and kinder. But the only way to get there was to get down to the structural issues, the old patterns, the underlying pain, the deep down underlying stuff.
I've been working on those deeper issues for many years, and I'm kind of surprised when I realize that I have changed profoundly. The structural work has taken patience, courage, perseverance, and lots of help, AND it's make a big difference.
Are you digging deep, getting under the surface changes that you want to make? Trust me, it is worth the effort!
Again and again, we face the choice.
Someone is doing something irritating/loud/disgusting/wrong/selfish/pathetic/fill-in-with-what-bugs-you and we want to turn away. We want to unfriend them on social media. We want to send them to their room. We want to tell our child to stop playing with them. We want to move out of their neighborhood (or country). We want to cut ourselves off from what bothers us.
I am learning and relearning the wisdom of investing time to connect, listen, and (most of all) speak my truth. The change we need won't come from all of us living in separate compartments, isolated from each other and our conflict. It also won't come from reacting and judging.
So I'm noticing. Going inward to feel what I feel. Sense what's under my feelings--is there a story or judgment? Do I have some history or 'habit energy' with the issue that's up?
Then I can choose what to do. Is my voice needed here? Do I need to speak up in a public way (either for myself or for others)? Would it be useful to speak privately? Is gentleness and tenderness called for? Clarity? Cold, hard truth?
As with all of my learning, it's a trial and error practice.
Can you imagine what that river would look like? Sound like? Feel like? Smell like? Taste like?
Would it flow freely or be stagnant?
Would it be fast moving or meandering?
Would it be clean or polluted? Cloudy or clear?
Would it be dammed or blocked? Pushed underground?
Could you love the river's beauty? Or would you be comparing it to other rivers, wondering why it wasn't faster or slower, warmer or colder?
Is there a gap between how you are and how you want to be? Change and healing aren't as simple as just wanting to be different.
There's this thing Thich Nhat Hanh calls 'habit energy,' It's the automatic, unconscious energy that can sometimes get us into trouble. Like when your child makes a mess and you overreact. Or when you're running late and start yelling at people who slow you down. Or when you feel sad and reach for a brownie or glass or wine or even a book without even noticing you are trying to distract yourself from the sadness.
With mindfulness, we bring deeper awareness to our habit energy. Looking down at the wine glass, we wonder, 'Why did I just pour this? Am I looking forward to how it tastes with my dinner? Or could I be distracting myself?' Realizing we are criticizing or scolding or gossiping about someone, we stop and get curious about ourselves, 'What am I feeling?'
Rather than pushing ourselves harder to be 'good' or disciplined, it can help to soften and bring curious, loving attention to the things we do that we wish we didn't do. Letting go of the judgment that may be pretty entrenched, we cultivate gentle attention. Not 'What am I doing, dammit?' but 'What's up in me right now that is causing this thought or action or feeling?' And perhaps a pause to feel and contemplate.
Just home from a week-long retreat with Adyashanti, I'm huddled in, recovering from a fever and chest cold, and processing.
One of my most immediate post-retreat understandings so far is something Adya talked about a few times, 'failing better.' He talked about it with his own teaching, that he can't put the true teachings into words. He described getting the feeling every few years that he was ready to do a really deep teaching, then going at it, realizing that he failed miserably, and pulling back to regroup.
Isn't that meditation in general? A week of intense meditation, 6 or 7 or even 8 meditation sessions a day, each with the intent to be open and present with experience as it is (even though, of course, my mind doesn't do that easily) gave me many experiences of failure. There are moments of insight and openness, yes, but overall I'm just trying to fail as well as I can.
It's deep work to fail again and again without giving up.
To know that the benefit is not in doing it perfectly, but in showing up again and again.
To engage in a practice rather than the perfection that my Virgo rising was after.
If you don't know what to say, listen.
Why do we think we should know what to say and how to handle problems that come up? There's no reason we 'should' know how. And people rarely need our ideas and answers, they need our caring, our interest, our curiosity, and our attentiveness.
It can feel empty, to listen without suggestions or solutions. Like we aren't enough, aren't bringing enough to the situation. But with courage we can learn to do it, to sit in the fire of an issue. Maybe a coworker is angry that we messed up a project, maybe a child is scared of the dark, maybe a partner is sad that we spoke sharply. To listen without defending ourselves, without explaining, without responding from the mind can be our practice.
And if you don't know what to say to yourself, listen inwardly. Just get really quiet, stay in the present moment, and listen to what comes up. Don't let the thoughts and feelings and sensations carry you off to the past or future or the and of 'what if's,' simply listen to them all with genuine interest.
When you do this, I think you'll surprise your loved ones and yourself. Let me know how it goes!
My life and work are guided by the these core understandings: that all beings (including me!) are capable of transformation and joy, that healthy parenting matters profoundly, and that simple practices can support each of us.