There are times in any life that are very difficult. Perhaps we are struck with a dreadful illness, or chronically painful condition, or severe job/career loss, or overwhelming financial calamity, or societal injustice, violence, defeat. All of us face times of tremendous trial.
During these times of trial there is the inclination to escape. These times in our lives bring a chronic state of bodily stress, that can wear down the body, mind and spirit. We reach a point where we turn away from our difficulties and say “enough!” “I can’t take this anymore!”
In these times of trial I have seen many relationships fray around the edges, sometimes even deteriorating to the core. In our suffering we lose patience, and with it our capacity to express our love. The same is true for caregivers witnessing the suffering of a loved one. Anger, fear, shame and guilt, sadness. All of these emotions overwhelm, and quickly we can say and do hurtful and regretful things.
Our mindfulness practice teaches us a counterintuitive and somewhat paradoxical response to times of trial: leaning in. Rather than avoiding the difficult, the uncomfortable and unpleasant, the painful, we lean into these trials. In so doing we intend to form a new relationship with our suffering. Yes, it may sound unusual to put it that way, but you and I both have a relationship with our suffering (as well as with our joy!). This relationship with our suffering is one based on the attitude we choose to have with pain and difficulty. Often, as if on autopilot, our attitude toward our suffering is antagonistic. Noticing our suffering and our attitude, we can form the intention to bring acceptance, receptivity, and equanimity to our relationship with our suffering. And that can change everything!
Today’s meditation is a body scan. I can only speak for myself, but every time I do the body scan I inevitably come across parts of my body that are tense, uncomfortable, or painful. And that is where I get to practice “leaning in.” You can do that too! Using your breath as your anchor, your foundation, turn to those parts of your body that hurt in any way, and see what you can learn from them. You might be surprised what they have to teach you.
So here are some words of wisdom from Pema Chodron. Below that is a poem from Mary Oliver. It’s a very pleasant poem filled with very pleasant images. Sometimes we need a little food for the journey, especially when the journey is difficult.
When Things Fall Apart (Excerpt)
Generally speaking, we regard discomfort in any form as bad news. But for practitioners or spiritual warriors, people who have a certain hunger to know what is true, feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we are holding back.
They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.
Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate therm. We run like crazy.
We are use to all kinds of escaping — all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it.
There are so many ways that have been dreamed up to entertain us away from the moment.
— Pema Chodron
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean –
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down –
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
Mary Oliver from New and Selected Poems, 1992
Here is the video of today’s meditation:
Here is the audio of today’s meditation: