The last few days it feels like everything is falling apart. The virus surge, my son, work is nuts, my cat being attacked by rogue dogs...All of my holiday plans are now different than they were two days ago. Normally, I would be a mess. There would be some critical part of me feeling like:
“NO! Stop it! This is not supposed to be happening!”
Yet, I remain calmly resigned to the changes that I cannot stop, do not welcome or disappoint my own plans.
What is the deal?
Am I just numb?
Have I given up?
Am I surrendered to the idea that everything is really up for grabs?
Perhaps...catch me on a downward mental spin and I would tell you this whole year has really sucked...this week in particular!
But it hasn’t sucked. It has been hard at times for sure. But that is just life...all the time. It sucks, it is amazing...often in the same hour. I feel somewhat inured to it because I think this year, more than any other, I have been more present with my life so I think that I notice the rotation between things that I label good and bad, right and wrong, preferred and non-preferred. This year has slowed me down and it appears that I am getting a slow down again as the virus rages and drives us all back into our homes. But this like everything else happens for me as well as to me.
I think that despite the difficulties of the last week, I am not numb but really aware and present with the feelings du jour that captivate me, shake me to my core and wake me up. I can see that life is an endless series of opportunities to practice my habitual reactions to suffering...or not.
It is amazing how much I used to be swept away by events. My whole attitude and outlook upon life would cause me to spin violently out of control, derailed and spiraling in some sort of emotional defensive posture designed to protect me but all it really ever did was bleed off energy I could have used more wisely.
I believe this last few years I have gotten super intimate with bearing difficulty. I have come to know it well: heartbreak, loss, death have all become more intimate. And I have been able to see that as neither good or bad...just a part of life that is neither escapable or avoidable.
The hedonism of my youth finally coming to rest in middle age resulting in genuine laughter that I once really believed that I could avoid suffering and be happy all the time. Realizing now that all that I am, my innate humanness, requires, that I in fact, suffer as part of my life. How I feel about it and how much I try to avoid it really the best indicators of how much I will have to endure.
His Holiness The Dali Lama said:
"It is only natural that we don’t like suffering. But if we can develop the willpower to bear difficulties, then we will grow more and more tolerant. There is nothing that does not get easier with practice."
After this last year, I can say that is true. I have been able to turn my life into a never ceasing practice of bearing difficulties and finding some grace and benevolence toward the hard things in my life that cause me to suffer. Bearing these things and not seeking to avoid them when they arrive, has alleviated my overall suffering. Dealing with hard stuff has gotten easier.
Of course my fear and ego jump in right there to say, “well, you have had enough suffering and have learned to deal with it better so now you can have less...” But I know that is not the way it works. The only thing that is sure to bring more suffering is the practice of avoiding what is happening now.
My best and most useful life is lived in the moment, regardless of whether I like that moment, find it happy or sad, painful or delightful. All I can do is practice staying with whatever is happening and using it to wake me up.
I am never going to be the person who is overjoyed when hardship comes...but I do see it as a pathway towards peace and that has made my life richer, more satisfying and easier overall. I think that is why this last year feels more like a blessing to me. The hardship has been great but because of my practice, there is truly nothing that doesn’t get easier with practice...