COVID, politics, grief, inequities – have ravaged & revealed.
They’ve revealed our fault lines, our expectations, our fictions about how the world works, the personal stories we cling to like life rafts, trying to avoid the treacherous, uncertainties of life.
We want certainty. It makes us feel safe; so we grasp to it. But there’s a real cost.
It takes effort to not look away, to stay with what’s real.
Buddhist teacher, Chogyam Trungpa, taught that being fully present, having contact with our immediate experience – that’s reality – whether it’s pleasant or unpleasant.
After our initial wince in a harsh, hard moment, the one where we look away – flashing red lights surround several cars that have collided – we often find ourselves looking back, bewildered.
We’re caught up and torn between the tension to look away and the urge to witness, to see the rawness. We can’t not see what’s right in front of us. It’s uncomfortable at the least, unbearable at most.
When we do stay with it, we can see what’s been revealed:
- An economy that’s struggling & uncertain
- Political divisions that are deep & creating separation
- Environmental crises as our planet continues to warm
- Growing awareness of true cost of racial & economic inequities
- Hearts broken with grief for the loss of life, loss of loved ones, loss of how we’ve known ourselves—in short, our identity
How are we to be fully present when it’s so overwhelming; the pain, the suffering, the immensity of it all?
I’ve been wondering about this because, perhaps like you, I’m uncomfortable, too. Uneasy, fearful, a bit more wound up than typical.
On any given day, questions race through my mind:
- Who can process the enormity of our personal & collective losses?
- When will vaccines be available to everyone?
- Can I safely speak up for what’s important to me? Can you?
- How much longer will our isolation last?
- Will our families & friendships ever mend over political divisions?
I don’t want to ask these questions, but like the aforementioned car collision, I can’t not look, or not ask them. I’m torn & heartbroken.
Pema Chödrön, American Buddhist nun and bestselling author, teaches:
“The source of our unease is the unfillable longing for a lasting certainty and security, for something solid to hold onto.”
It’s very human to want something certain, knowable, solid to hang onto.
Yet, there is no life raft to spare us from reality. There is, however, a practice, and Pema speaks of this as ‘learning to stay’ with what is.
Staying is a skill we can develop and practice to increase our resilience to cope with all the things we’d rather not look at or ask.
Learning to Stay
It’s simple, really, though not easy, this ‘learning to stay.’ Take 5 minutes to go through it right now and plan to use it the rest of the week.
- Acknowledge a situation where you’re stuck, or triggered, by a particular incident where you thought someone was rude, or where you’re feeling disbelief about something you heard, or a work situation that has you worried. Whatever it is, acknowledge that you’re caught up in it – it’s human.
- As you think about this situation, pause to notice your breathing. Note the quality of your breath–short, jagged, smooth, even? Whatever you notice, merely observe and accept it, and fully feel the energy of your experience (don’t resist what you find).
- What thoughts arise? Get curious about this reality, casually drop into every sense: taste, smell, sight, hearing and touch.
- Stay with your experience, noticing any itch to move away from it. Feel your energy, noting its ebb and flow. Be with it, embrace this experience fully (it doesn’t matter if you like it or not, as it’s already occurring in the present moment—learn about it instead).
- Then choose to relax into it, releasing the tensions on your next exhalation, choosing to let it go (your stuckness, discomfort, thoughts).
As you practice this staying, and we’ve all got lots to practice with every day, you’ll find more ease in your ability to stay, observe, and even embrace the experience.
You’re building your muscles of resilience.
The counterintuitive solution to too much reality? Practice staying.