If [the need to be present and not caught up with your thinking] resonates with you and you start practicing with it in your meditation and in your daily life, and your willingness grows to learn to stay — which takes courage — then what really starts to happen is you start asking the right questions.
How to learn to stay, is basically your question. How to learn to see. How to be gentle. How to find space. How to find warmth. How to find things that will allow you to stay when it’s really jumpy. How long should I stay. It’s a good question. And it’s different every time. But you keep coming back and you keep doing it over and over and over and you train in learning to stay; and this is a good use of the rest of your life. Indeed, it is a good, excellent, joyful use of the rest of your life. Instead of getting better and better at avoiding, learn to accept the present moment as if you had invited it, and work with it instead of against it, and making it your ally rather than your enemy.
Pema Chodron, Getting Unstuck
It is said in the Veda, as well as in many Buddhist teachings, that it is not anything in the present moment that causes us to suffer, but rather it is our resistance to the present moment that brings us the experience of suffering. We have the habit of avoidance. And the primary way we avoid is by escaping into our thinking.
In our thinking we move into story. Why do I feel bad? Whose fault is it I feel bad — mine or my spouse’s or my parents or…? What does it say about me/about them/about life that I feel bad? If I think about it long enough and in just the right way, can I have it come out so that I feel better? If I had said ‘X,’ then what would have happened? What if next time I do A, B or C? Then what?
We move into story and a hundred questions to which there are no answers. We move into speculation — all the what ifs and if onlys — and in that speculation, we suffer.
What we learn from the great spiritual teachings is to step out of the story and step forward into the feelings of the moment. We learn to accept the truth of life as it is being presented to us. As Pema Chodron says, we learn to stay. We become aware of when we step out of the present moment and into our thinking, and when we notice, we simply return — to our breath, to our senses, to this moment and how it feels to be in this moment. We learn to interrupt the habitual story of our thinking and its warnings of hopelessness, victimization and impending doom, and we come to in the here and now — with an openness and acceptance of what is and with a sense of compassion for the difficulty it can sometimes be, to live as a human. Whenever we become aware we have drifted back into speculation, we return to ourselves. We interrupt the process at whatever point we become aware of it.
And even with the smallest beginning–noticing we are in speculation even once during the course of our day–we begin to change. We move in the direction of being awakened. And as we come awake, suffering falls away. Life will continue to challenge us, but the suffering will fall away.
Life is meant to be enjoyed. It only can be enjoyed in the here and now. To let go of suffering is to make ourselves available to the possibility of joy, here and now. In this moment.
Today I will set an aspiration to be present to the sensations of the moment, to be alive in my own skin rather than in my thinking. I will notice when I have drifted back into speculation and I will take a deep breath, feel my feet on the ground, and I will open my heart to the here and now.
Ganesh, East Village, NY NY
All original material copyright © 2018 Jeff Kober