On NOT Preferring Stillness

I wrote this post while upstate with my family, including sisters and nieces…

This morning my son Ocean woke up very early, as he often does. I asked him to lie down and go back to sleep in our bed, and surprisingly, he did!! It was a lovely moment of connection and harmony. Those are the moments that I crave. 

Pema Chodron says we can be attached to avoidance of suffering through busyness, worry, wanting, things, addiction and so on. However... (Oh, wait, hello!) We can also get caught by clinging to peace, simplicity and quiet. In The Wisdom of No Escape, she writes “Usually there is some kind of bias. In samsara we continually try to get away from the pain by seeking pleasure, and in doing so, we just keep going round and round. The other neurosis is to get caught up by peace and quiet.” That got my attention. I definitely recognized myself there. I never want the silent morning cuddles to end. Ultimately, Pema says, awakening is “...realizing that samsara and nirvana are one, not preferring stillness or occurrence but being able to live fully with both.”

Once we were all up and preparing for the day, I started getting irritated with Ocean, because he was running around inside the house and couldn’t hear my requests to get ready for camp. The house was swirling with family and activity. I found myself getting all worked up.

As the deadline to leave for camp approached, I got more frustrated with him, and less patient. Ocean was really excited to see his cousins, and it just wasn’t possible for him to be calm or do what I wanted him to do. What I didn’t realize in that moment was, I wanted to maintain a connection to the harmony and ease there had been between us earlier. As I became more demanding, and embarrassed of his behavior, I was widening the gap between us. As we grew less connected, my desire for things to be different increased. By the time they all left for camp, I was a bundle of nerves. 

I sat to do a RAIN meditation. It is a inquiry practice to befriend our mental and emotional obstacles.

First, I began to recognize what I was feeling: Wow! A lot of tension. My heart was racing. My shoulders were tight and my jaw and belly hurt. I didn’t try to change these stressful feelings. I sat with them instead.

By allowing whatever was there to be there, I didn’t add extra stress by wishing it was different. It takes so much energy to argue with reality. 

By listening to what the tension was telling me, I started to investigate. I asked my tension, stress and pain where they were coming from. I knew the facts of the events of the morning, but what was underneath my own response? Where could I take responsibility? I remembered Pema’s words. Then went inward to my experience. 

Sometimes during this process, our story comes up. Rather than repeating the blame and shame game, we can use the story to notice how our own journey opens us to empathy.

I grew up with a lot of chaos. As a child, that chaos created fear because I didn’t know what was going to happen next. I didn’t know where I was going to live from one month to the next, what I was going to eat from one meal to the next, what school I would be at from one year to the next.

There were no predators chasing me, I didn’t grow up in a war zone, and I certainly had a ton of privilege. It was framed as an adventurous, renegade life. But I didn’t feel grounded or safe most of the time. For a high strung kid with sensory processing issues, it was not the easiest upbringing. There was generational trauma, which left no space for my own difficult emotions. All this came up in my investigation. I asked this vulnerable, anxious little girl: what do you need? Patiently, I listened.

Now it was time to nurture that part of me. She always longs for connection, stillness, quiet and harmony. I’m an adult now, and I can give that to myself. I can spend some time in silence with the trees, my cushion and my mat.

I can recharge, but without judgment of the chaos. I’m safe now. I can just sit with the vulnerable feelings, with love. There was a little shift as I contemplated the wisdom of not preferring samsara or nirvana.

My sense of safety is within me. Even when life gets loud, messy and demanding, I can breathe. Resistance creates so much tension. 

Tara Brach, who taught me the RAIN process, says: ”Sense who you really are when nothing is wrong with you.”

I continued to pay close attention to what my body was communicating. What most wanted attention? What was I running from? Each time another layer of judgement or guilt was exposed, I would breathe into that, until I could feel empathy for myself without resistance.

Self compassion is the hard part. It leads effortlessly to loving kindness, which leads effortlessly to selfless service.

I see it as my duty to provide harmony, structure and coziness for my family. However, Ocean’s job is to push against me and my values, so that he can learn to know himself. There’s self expression and creativity in chaos.

His noise and excitement aren’t wrong. They are just as acceptable and deserving of love as the morning cuddles. Kaboom!

So, tomorrow morning I’ll try something different. Instead of telling him to take his running and jumping outside, I’ll run outside myself!! I’ll ground to the earth and wake up my nervous system. I’ll try to meet him where he’s at, rather than insisting on my way. That’s the plan now, anyway. 

Pause.

Breathe.

Notice what is happening.

Notice any resistance to what’s happening.

If possible, relax that resistance.

Notice what is happening.

As we awaken empathy and heal,

May we be guided to serve this world.

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