Archive for March, 2004
“When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be
And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom, let it be”
– John Lennon
As human beings, we have a natural tendency to move away from suffering. We tend to close ourselves off to things we don’t like to feel or experience.
Our mind supports us by devising various strategies of avoidance and denial to push away those things we don’t want; resisting painful sensations and emotions; resisting difficult people and unpleasant situations. One way we avoid painful experiences is by ignoring them and pretending they don’t exist. A common variation of this means of avoidance is to remain frantically active so we are distracted from the distress we feel. Although this may work temporarily, eventually the pain may become too great to ignore. Another tactic we may take is to be willing to be with the pain, but only in order for it to go away. This is also a form of resistance, albeit a more subtle one.
How much of what we do in our lives is simply an effort to avoid feelings or experiences that we don’t want? Unfortunately, the unwillingness to be with and experience these feelings keeps us always reaching or grasping for something else. It is often difficult enough to be with the original pain, the discomfort that we are attempting to push away. Yet, ironically, through the dynamic of our resistance to the pain, we are actually adding optional suffering into our lives.
How much simpler it would be to just allow these painful feelings and experiences, letting them arise and pass away without struggle or resistance. Ultimately, our willingness to be with the original pain, without trying to deny it or push it away, enables us to let go of the optional suffering that we add to our lives when we resist our actual experience.
Reference source: Seeking the Heart of Wisdom, Joseph Goldstein & Jack Kornfield, 1987
Original pain: Finding yourself stuck in bumper to bumper traffic when you feel time pressure to arrive somewhere. Some frustration or anxiety may arise.
Resistance (Optional suffering): Escalating the disappointment or anxiety into anger. Tensing your muscles in reaction to the frustration of not being able to change your circumstance. Ultimately, you might yourself developing a headache from the withheld tension, or transferring your anger onto others when you arrive at your destination.
Letting it be: Acknowledge your frustration at being caught in traffic. Recognize what you do and no not have influence over in the situation. Shift your attention to an abdominal breath to maintain physical balance. Combat any negative thoughts by giving yourself a reality check and reframing the distorted thoughts into more realistic ones.
“In the end, these things matter most:
How well did you love?
How well did you live?
How deeply did you learn to let go?”
— The Buddha