Is it stuck?
Let It Flow
I think there are five key things we can do inside ourselves to be happier, stronger, wiser, and more loving this year:
My previous JOT explored the first of these: how to lay down the burdens of useless worry, resentment, and self-criticism. In this one, I’ll focus on how to stay mindful and at peace with the ever-changing stream of consciousness . . . and with the inevitable ups and downs of the body and the world . . . even with changes that are understandably heart-aching and alarming.
By mindfulness, I mean sustained present-moment awareness. This quality of remaining present can be directed at both the inner world and the outer one, and it can both narrow its focus and open wide.
You are aware of sights and sounds, thoughts and feelings, sensations and desires all passing through awareness without resisting or chasing anything. It’s like sitting on the banks of a river – the stream of consciousness – watching all sorts of strange and interesting things carried along without hopping on board any one of them.
To support this mindfulness, it helps to keep intending to stay present, and to have self-compassion for what may be painful. While being mindful, you can also take action inside your mind and in the outer world; mindfulness is not in conflict with helping yourself grow from your experiences or with trying to make the world a better place.
In the pie chart of internal causes that make people miserable, two of largest slices are rumination – lost in thought, spinning in worries and regrets and grievances – and resisting what is. A stability of mindfulness stops rumination like a circuit breaker. It also lets you accept your inner experiences and outer circumstances as they are. You can still try to improve them, but without adding negative reactions of tension, woulda-coulda-shoulda, recrimination, and contraction.
Life is like a rope of time passing through your hands. When you add negative reactions to life, that’s like squeezing the rope and burning your fingers. If you resist other people, or the fact that you’re stuck in an airport and your flight is late, or that you have poor Wi-Fi or whatever it might be, you can get yourself wound up, making things worse. Events and experiences may be unfortunate or painful, but that itself is not suffering. It is our aversion, our resistance, to events and experiences that creates friction, and thus suffering.
Similarly, if you try to hold onto pleasurable experiences, that is futile and painful as well. Any moment of experience is utterly impermanent – so trying to cling to any experience is both a frustrating and a doomed strategy for lasting happiness.
Even most of physical reality is continually changing, from the quicksilver quivering of quantum foam to the slow waltzes of galaxies over billions of years. People come and people go, all the more precious for their inevitable passing. Sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down. In the metaphor of the “eight worldly winds” from Tibet, there will be gain and loss, praise and blame, fame and scandal, and pleasure and pain. If you let them flow, you can ride the waves of life with gratitude and grace, and without drowning.