I am talking about the mental and emotional gap between the way we want our world and the way things are at this moment.
This gap is the cause of dissatisfaction, anger and sadness. It is the place of suffering.
How often I find myself in this place—not wanting things to be the way they are. There is much wailing and gnashing of teeth. I imagine pulling the covers over my head and staying in bed.
When I remain unconscious about my attitudes and emotions by habitually pushing away my discomfort and finding comfort wherever I can—old memories, chocolate, a good movie—I continue to live a dissatisfied life.
It’s like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. It’s fruitless, engaging in things that aren’t productive, but it keeps one busy.
It has been taught that action cures fear, but much action is just trying to keep fear at arm’s length, while we run fast in the other direction.
However, there comes a time when we get tired of running. We realize it’s just too much work without lasting results! We really see that our life is still here to face when we stop running.
This is when we become willing to turn around and begin to explore our discomfort and pain.
The first question to ask is, “What my attitude is right now? Am I distressed? Angry, frightened, happy, sad?”
Our attitudes guide us in the direction that our life becomes.
Perhaps I am worried about losing something that I love. Or I’m feeling helpless to change something.
The fear of death looms large for humans. We grasp for illusions of permanence, and push away what we don’t want to face—the truth that all is impermanent and nothing lasts.
Thus we attach ourselves to something—anything—that makes us feel better at the moment.
Attachments and clinging cause suffering.
Death doesn’t have the final word. Death and rebirth are happening all the time. We just don’t notice because our eyes are shut to what we don’t want to know.
Death is our call into the future—into the new.
Working with the five steps of death and dying (as set forth by Dr. Elizabeth Kubler Ross) has helped me immeasurably. They are:
Step 1) Denial
Step 2) Anger
Step 3) Bargaining (if I had only done “this or that” things would have been different)
Step 4) Depression (when we realize the universe doesn’t bargain)
Step 5) Acceptance
The new isn’t born until we work through all the steps. And they don’t occur in any coherent order. We bounce back and forth between them until we reach the final step—acceptance.
Kubler Ross goes on to say that acceptance means we wouldn’t change things even if we could, which can only happen when we have thoroughly worked the first 4 steps again and again.
When I’m not at ease with life, the way my body is behaving, the way others act, or what is transpiring in our government, I am not accepting what is.
Here is the gap between the way it is and the way I want it to be. And here is the suffering.
So how does one accept things the way they are without wishing them to be different?
Among other things (journaling, meditation) I recommend a practice of equanimity.
Equanimity entails being aware of what is happening within and around us, acknowledging our feelings about it, deeply accepting that this is what is happening whether we like it or not, while knowing it will change.
Things happen because of causes and conditions that have been planted through words and actions. Everyone has contributed. Things couldn’t be any different than they are at this moment. But they will change. And they already are.
We have recently had a big winter storm here in Portland. I was snowed in for several days. My wanting the snow to melt didn’t make it happen. It simply caused unhappiness for me. Causes and conditions brought the snow.
Much as I wanted it to be different, being snowed in was the way it was. Snow does melt. But not as fast as I wanted it to. There was my gap of unhappiness.
Sometimes I was able to accept being confined. Other times I was trying to melt the snow with my hot breath.
The truth is that we don’t have control of what happens, but we do have control over how we choose to relate to it.
We have control over the lens through which we look at the world—our attitudes.
We can set our intention to accept what is, and notice whether we are resisting. Then we can embrace our resistance. This is the way it is for now. We can say, “Oh, here is resistance again. I’m wanting things to be different than they are. And I’m suffering because of this.”
When I am unhappy there is a little child within me that is crying. She wishes someone would help her.
What she really wants is to be loved. She wants to know that someone cares. And I am someone who can care!
So in my mind I get as close to her as possible. I hold her. I say, “Honey I know you’re hurting. That’s why I’m here for you.”
We sit together. Eventually as I continue holding her and talking with her, there is a sense of contentment, happiness.
By becoming conscious of the suffering I am creating new neural paths in my brain. Now there are new avenues I can walk down.
Anyone can use this practice! It helps close the gap between the way things are and the way we wish they were. It helps us to accept and bring together that which has been disconnected.
Equanimity is a way of reconnecting with that which has become lost.
As we find out who and what we have pushed outside our circle of acceptance, we open our heart to new spaces, perhaps our own deep feelings.
This requires time and attention. This is necessary suffering.
Our future “self” calls us by telling us to notice where we are off course— where we suffer unnecessarily.
And this “self” knows that everything is changing and nothing can be grasped or held onto. This “self” knows we are always safe because we flow with the great energies of the universe. We are the particle becoming the wave, and the wave becoming the particle, again and again.
And all is becoming new!