“I wonder why I’m so calm. Everything feels fine. Nothing seems very serious to me these days. I wonder how long that will last?”
I told this to my friend on a sunny day just a few weeks ago. I sat cross legged on the floor feeling Buddhahood. I knew it was a phase but still hoped I could hang on and ride that gentle wave as peaceful as a day at the beach for as long as possible–forever, if there is such a thing.
But, yup, you predicted it; a storm blew in and drenched me down to the soggy socks in the cold water of life’s usual struggles and I find myself back to swimming against its tide.
The nasty truth they don’t tell you in the books and movies of happy endings but drill into you at any Zen Center worth its incense is that everything has an expiration date. All things must change and they do right when you start feeling like they won’t. Your delusions will prove to be inexhaustible and your perception of life as boundless can only be held in the space of a few breaths.
This is the part where you say, ‘Well thanks Julie. Is this supposed to be your version of a pep talk?’
My answer, Yes, it is.
Here’s why: no matter how hard you cling to an idea or a story or feeling it will slide away–especially if you hold on tightly to it. That’s only a big deal if you don’t accept it. It’s fine if you let it all just ebb and flow with an objective and comfortable keen eye. Things necessarily are in development and change. Your body is changing, your thoughts move, those around you change too. Nothing is really totally unchanging. It’s how we feel about that which matters. When we’re feeling good we don’t want change. When we’re suffering we cannot wait for change to come. But no matter how you feel about it, change is going to come.
So? Now what?
Re-group. When you’re feeling that shift come, that cold water crashes down on you, just watch and wait. Go still. Breathe it in completely without fear or judgment and see what comes. The more you practice, the better you get at this. Soon, within a few deep breaths things will feel less dire. You may find a smile come to the corners of your mouth and somehow, something may even strike you as funny. No matter how real your struggle or problem may feel there is another part of you which knows it will pass and without knowing how things will resolve themselves, they will resolve. You will be okay. You will always somehow be okay.
While this may sound like a First World solution for people who don’t have real problems, it is not. This is the technique of some of the happiest people in the world who have the biggest “real” problems because they understand reality is what you think it is. If you think it’s okay, it really is. If you understand it’s all just the stuff of shifting reality-you can cope. You are refreshed and able to access resources within yourself to get through it.
A few years back I experienced a very painful clinical death. I used this technique and quite honestly I laughed my way through it. I have witnesses to back me up on this story. They were shocked at how funny I found the whole experience.
I remember that when I need it most, when despair shows up and camps out in my heart I go back there and remember that nothing is a big deal if death isn’t.
This holiday season is going to fill some of you with bad, lonely- even terrible feelings. You will see the pictures of families, observe it all playing out on social media, see the shoppers dashing about and wonder what the hell is wrong with you that you’re not delighted with all the holiday fanfare. Nothing is wrong with you. Some of you may feel weighed down by societal expectation that actually has nothing to do with you. I have a secret–not everybody in the world celebrates Christmas. In places where they do celebrate it, not everyone loves it. It’s actually totally fine if you’re one of those. It’s also fine if you like it okay or it stresses you out. It’s all normal.
This is the time for this practice:
- Accept and observe how you feel
- Don’t judge it as bad or good
- Don’t try to stop it
- Know it will change on its own
- Breathe through your nose, close your eyes and wait
- Understand that you pick your life
- Remember-what’s around you is all just someone’s story
- What’s in you is your own story. It’s not truth, just a feeling
Do this practice of knowing and breathing early and often and wait for it–you’ll start to see the humor in the whole thing. Oh one other tip–keep moving. When we feel low we tend to want to hide out, lay about and drain our own energy. This time try the opposite- force yourself to exercise and stay active. Eat well, sleep long and keep breathing. Before you know it, it will all change and you’ll find yourself on a sunny day sitting cross legged and thinking about how easy it all is.