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Releasing The Boulder

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We go on into July! I have never had to employ the skills of practice so much as in the last few months. I've been noticing how easy it is to forget that the world we knew not long ago has been completely shaken and changed, and likely a completely new world is coming in its place. Our natural tendency is to try to cling to what feels safe and familiar. We want to immediately restore a sense of order when things feel groundless. One of the great blessings of Buddhism is learning to embrace a fundamental truth: Life is always groundless and uncertain. Whether we realize it or not, we're always floating in midair. This can seem scary at first, but it also opens us up to life in a very powerful way.

 

A teacher of mine said once, "the human psyche isn't interested in happiness, it's interested in comfort." We tend to look for what felt good at a certain point in our lives, or what we imagine would feel better in the future, and then orient our attention in a way that tries to get whatever that is. It creates a sense of "if only it had been" or "if only I had xyz." I distill this down into "if only" thinking, a version of what The Buddha called "craving." If we pay attention, we'll notice that in every moment there is a subtle or overt sense of restlessness within us. When we're in pain, we want the pain to stop. When we're in joy, we want the joy forever. In both instances, we suffer. We imagine a place where it will all be balanced forever, a place where there is solid ground. This place doesn't exist. We all know we've achieved many things in our lives which we thought would bring us peace and after a brief settling, we're right back to "if only." It's never quite right, there's always another hoop to jump through.

This craving is an expression of our deeper wisdom that things are constantly in flux. We know that things are inherently unstable and attempt to gain control over it all by getting all the ducks in a row. But haven't you noticed there's always a rebellious duck? There's one duck that no matter how much we plan just goes off and does its own thing. There's always something that is out of place. We get a great relationship but our job is draining us. We have stable finances but our anxieties take us over. We finally finish a project and right after the pride we feel a let down.

One of the reasons I believe there is so much resistance to the world right now is that we generally have a very low capacity for discomfort. Right now, we are having our faces shoved into the reality of instability and impermanence. We are also learning an axiom that it is our job to embrace the truths of life, not life's job to change so we can feel comfortable.

Spiritual practice almost always is showing us to do the opposite of our tendencies. This sounds simple, but putting it into practice is incredibly challenging. It takes years, sometimes decades, to come to the point where we are ready to relax into the truths of life. Maybe the most challenging of these is the truth of instability. It's at the core of that deep omnipresent restlessness. The restlessness is trying to wake us up not by getting us to attempt to make everything stable and secure, but to help us go with the current of the change. The restlessness is our attempt to hold onto the boulder in the middle of a fast moving river. We scream and yell and kick to stay in this one spot while the river pulls at us. But when we finally let go, we don't die, we feel alive, we feel free, we feel the exhilaration of adventure and freshness. Rather than fighting the restlessness and stuffing it down, we relax into the truth its trying to awaken within us. As a Buddhist teacher said so well, "relax, it's always uncertain!"

We can do this a step at a time. We can notice in meditation or contemplation when we feel the restlessness. Where do we feel it in our bodies? How do we react to it? What do we do to try to stamp it out? I often have clients make a list of all their "if only" thoughts and sit with them to see how they feel in their body. We almost always notice doing this work that the "if only" is a way of trying to keep the solid ground where there is only space. Then we meditate on just feeling spacious. We feel the space around us and inside of us. We feel there is space for it all to exist right now. We slowly and methodically build trust with that space. We remember that it is the truth, that every moment arises from and falls back into space. And then, we don't feel so afraid of all the change, because we know that we are not that which changes, we are that in which the change arises. We cannot fake this realization, but we can practice towards it, and when we have it our basic view of the universe changes forever.

The opportunity right now my friends is to to open space and allow change within that space. To finally let go of the boulders in the river that we think keep us safe and stable. When we do the whiplash might be intense and uncomfortable, but we will heal and in doing so help others to heal as well. The world as we have known it is gone now and a new one is arising. It is a macrocosmic expression of what is happening in ever second within and around us. It's always fresh and it's always different.

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