“This Cup is Already Broken” (and Other Words of Wisdom)

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thiscupAuthor Geneen Roth wrote of being on an extended meditation retreat. At one point, the guru held up his favorite tea cup and stated, “As far as I’m concerned, this cup is already broken.” He went on to explain that nothing is permanent (the cup will inevitably break, fade in color, get lost or stolen), so we must appreciate it in this moment without attaching ourselves to it. Attachment, he explained, is the root of suffering.

I’ve heard a lot over the years about non-attachment and being present in the moment, but the analogy of one’s favorite tea cup being “already broken” really spoke to me. I thought of  how we cling to youth, beauty, our parents, our children, our status, and how none of it will last, no matter how fiercely we protect it. We will get old, our parents and pets will die, our children will grow up and leave us. No matter what we do, things will change. And what if that was okay?

Seeing all change as ultimately okay and inevitable (like the tea cup being broken) is oddly comforting. There’s nothing to resist, deny, or panic about when you accept life on life’s terms. When we accept that change, decline, and brokenness are not optional, we experience freedom. We can feel appreciation and gratitude for having what we have right now. We also realize that with every ending is a new beginning (there are many amazing tea cups out there, when the time comes to buy a new one!)
This week, I ask you to consider what favorite tea cup you need to see as already broken. What do you worry about or cling to?
If your child is beginning kindergarten, middle school, or high school, and you’re grieving the loss of your baby, take a moment to imagine that he/she is already grown up and gone. Feel the sadness or whatever it brings up for you, and then come back to this moment and enjoy what you have right now.
If you are in your forties or fifties and worry about aging, imagine that you are in your eighties and have lost your good looks or health. Then return to this moment, and appreciate the body and life you have today.
Thanks for visiting, and I hope to see you again very soon.

Don’t Just Do Something—Sit There!

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dontjustI just read an excerpt by the American Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron about the futility of seeking pleasure by running from discomfort. In The Wisdom of No Escape, Pema writes:

We continually try to get away from pain by seeking pleasure, and in doing so, we just keep going around and around. I’m so hot I open all the windows, and then I’m so cold I put on a sweater. Then it itches, so I put cream on my arms, and then that’s sticky, so I go take a bath, and on and on.

This reminded me of waking up the other morning with an itch on my face. Normally I would just scratch my cheek and be done with it, but something told me to see what would happen if I resisted the temptation to make the itch go away, so I did nothing. Interestingly, the itchiness passed. Great.

But then it came back. I still didn’t scratch. This on-again off-again pattern continued until I started wondering why I was allowing this (very mild) form of suffering to continue when I could make it go away in two seconds. Still I resisted taking action. I was curious.

Next came pictures of being stuck in a playpen as a child, unable to exercise my Godgiven freedom. Interesting. I didn’t remember being in a playpen as a child, but come to think of it, my mother did encourage me to buy one when my own children were born. Hmmm…

Then I had an “aha” moment. I remembered a form of Indian meditation called Vipassana where you just observe and don’t make any adjustments for comfort. Something scary surfaces: allow it. You’re cold or get a leg cramp: just notice it. I tried this form of meditation once many years ago and learned more about myself in five minutes than I usually learn in a year.

For us Westerners, choosing to not run away from discomfort when we could is virtually unheard of, but Eastern thought has a lot to teach us about slowing down, finding some inner discipline and strength, and not creating newer and bigger problems through escapism.

This week, I invite you to notice what happens when you start feeling uncomfortable. Do you seek instant relief? If so, is the form of relief healthy and appropriate, such as resting when you’re tired? Or is it escapism, such as eating a king-sized candy bar or drinking alcohol when you’re stressed out?

Bottom line: it’s important to take good care of our bodies, and honor ourselves as valuable human beings, but there’s a fine line between self-care and premature rescuing of ourselves. A little discomfort is inevitable, to be expected, and actually helpful in making us better, stronger, and more compassionate people.

Numbing or Distracting Yourself from Life? Why It May Not Be Necessary Anymore

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numbingLately I’ve been noticing the many ways we, adults, run away from normal feelings and everyday experiences, instead of facing them and moving on.

Those of us who aren’t practiced in the art of mindfulness or presence, often (unconsciously) believe that we can’t handle the ups and downs of life, such as experiencing disappointment, loss, rejection, insults, etc., so we do any number of things to numb or distract ourselves from what’s in front (or inside) of us. Some of these behaviors include drinking, eating, smoking, spending money, pursuing romance or sex, nail biting, skin picking, working, and being glued to one’s phone, computer, or television.

The funny thing is that a lot more time and energy are spent avoidingourselves, our authentic feelings, and life, than it would take to look at what’s coming up and deal with it. So why do we do it?

As infants, we had zero protection from incoming energies. All we could do for ourselves was close our eyes or turn our heads away if someone got in our face or something felt threatening or overwhelming. As a result we developed defense mechanisms to cope with these intolerable intrusions. They were important to our emotional survival when we were young and helpless.

But then we grew up and acquired some skills and smarts for dealing with life. And that was great, except that the inner-defenseless-baby-protector (in many of us) never got the memo. It continued to behave as if every stressor or difficult emotion had the power to destroy us. The numbing out, distracting, or running away mechanisms (fight, flight, freeze) continued to react to everyday challenges as if we were incapable of dealing with them maturely.

Do you know a strong, competent person who refuses to deal with his/her emotions? Or maybe a friend (not you!) who eats or drinks at night to zone out? Or maybe someone who is always too busy or problem-stricken to relax their weary body or mind? Addictions or obsessive/compulsive behavior, of course, are extreme forms of running away from oneself or life.

So, what about you? Are you peaceful and balanced, or do you have a tendency to run away, zone out, or try to control or rise above your feelings in any aspect of your life? If you’re an escape artist, you might still be operating under the outdated assumption that you’re not “big” enough to stay present and deal with what’s going on in your life.

This week, I invite you to view yourself as strong enough to deal with whatever feelings or situations come your way, and to see what happens when you stay present in those moments when you would normally distract or numb yourself. If you feel overwhelmed by what comes up, by all means reach out for help, but know that in the long run you are better off facing whatever’s there than running away.

Good luck, and have a great week.