Last year I went by train to a silent meditation retreat in Washington. No talking, no eye contact, no iphone, no writing utensils, no camera, no books, no food. Just me, a meditation pillow, and a soft blanket to wrap myself in. I thought this would be a great get-away from everything that was annoying me in my life. That was before I spent 10 days with only myself and my thoughts to keep me company…it was then that I realized that my intrusive, whiney, self pitying thoughts were way more annoying than anything I’d encountered in the real world.
Seriously, 25 minutes of just your own thoughts is torturous enough. This is why you don’t see a lot of people just sitting around, staring blankly at a wall or ceiling. This is why there are things like ipods and sketch pads and TV and the internets and youtube and netflix and books and movies and DIY projects and Etsy and pinterest… All these things occupy our thoughts so we don’t have to sit still with them. Except I put myself in a situation where sitting with my thoughts was all I could do–without any distractions–and let me tell you I was ready to try to smother myself with the meditation pillow until I passed out just to get some relief.
Anyhoo, by about day 4 I decided to do some experimenting in my head in order to keep my brain occupied with something other than yapping at me all day long. So, the next time I had an itch or a sneeze coming on I did my best to stop it. Not really stop it, but more like let it run it’s course while observing it but without reacting to it. It was hard at first because if you’ve ever paid attention to a sneeze, it’s a very compelling thing. You MUST sneeze when it demands. It feels like your whole body will go into convulsions if you try to stop the sneeze. Sneezing is the only thing that matters. The sneeze is the singularity…there is nothing before the sneeze and there is nothing after the sneeze. When you attempt to observe and ride out the sneeze, it is eternal. Go ahead, try it. It took me 24 thrilling hours to harness the ability to not sneeze when I needed to. Not only did I stop sneezing, but I also stopped reacting to itches and random pain.
I realized that the only difference between reacting strongly to something vs. allowing it to pass on through is how I personally felt about it. If I felt like the sensation of itch or sneeze was going to last forever (which it feels like it will), then I’d give up and just react to the stimulus. But if I sat still and paid attention, I’d notice that the one sensation…”itch” or “sneeze” was actually a whole bunch of little stimulus that was constantly changing. Eventually it would change itself completely gone and I would remain just as still as I had before the feeling started.
I started extrapolating that one experience into all aspects of my life. Sneezes and itches weren’t permanent. Pain wasn’t permanent. My negative emotions weren’t permanent. I’m not permanent. Neither is happiness, abundance, wealth, positive emotions. I realized that bouncing back and forth between avoiding one kind of experience while clinging to another was a waste of my energy. Instead, I started enjoying the positive things knowing they wouldn’t last, and sat and experienced the negative things knowing they wouldn’t last either. I am neither a permanent sinner nor saint, nice nor a bitch, perfect nor flawed. Rather, I am all those things and they ebb and flow like an ocean tide.
This has anchored me to a very present state of mind. What happened before has very little effect on how I am now…everything shifts. Maybe I was sad before, but time and experience then create something else in that space where sadness used to live. How I am now has very little effect on what may or may not happen later…everything shifts. Because I am happy now doesn’t mean that time and experience won’t create something else in that space where happiness used to live. Either way, the shifting bedrock of experiences and emotions doesn’t change the solid foundation of what is reality right now.
Sit still with your reality. Accept it for what it is. Scary? Overwhelming? Painful? Joyful? Frustrating? Happy? Now accept that it won’t permanently be like that. For some this will be a relief. For others it will be like a robbery. Now accept that what it shifts into won’t be permanently like that either. So hang on. Be happy when you are happy. Be sad/bitchy/upset when you feel that way. Know that no experience will last forever, and no feeling will change your being.
No matter what, your being is freaking fantastic.