This is a question I ask myself multiple times each day. Most clients come to see me because they are asking themselves the same questions, and they find that their suffering from anxiety related to living in the world, and especially, in our American culture, seems insurmountable. Our culture valorizes and encourages competitiveness, material wealth, extroversion, noise, and anything bigger, better, faster and louder. Many of us simply do not know what to let go of and how to let go. We find ourselves attached to ideas, outcomes, “what if’s,” and wild swings between the opposing ends of the Eight Worldly Dharmas or “Worldly Concerns.” These are:
Hope and Fear or Happiness versus Suffering – If we are in “hope,” we are not at peace with “what is” in the present moment, from which arises fear that we will not get the hoped for outcome, person, or thing. Letting go of hope and fear requires a significant amount of willingness to accept whatever life offers to us whether we like it or not. As for me, there are days when I get caught in the spin cycle and am desperate to turn the dial to the rinse cycle on the “slow and warm” selection.
Fame and Disgrace, or Fame versus Insignificance – If we are striving for approval, attention in order to boost our egos, or being right,” we fear being insignificant or invisible. If we can be at peace with “no big deal,” or “egolessness,” as Pema Chodron teaches, and recognizing how uncomfortable we are in our bodies and souls when we are seeking approval, attention, or being right, we have the opportunity to recognize this psychic predator and bring ourselves back to being at peace or “freedom from the tyranny of the mind,” as Adyashanti teaches. I am guilty of falling into that awful hole where I feel that I need someone, anyone to tell me I’m not a terrible therapist, mother, wife, dog owner, cook, toilet cleaner, etc., etc.
Praise versus Blame – This is one cycle all of us know really well! Most of us long for a sense of belonging, to be valued in our families, work, and communities, and not to lose ground or to be wrong for fear of disappointing others, or losing the game, or whatever causes us to feel we need to blame someone else for all that has gone wrong. Shame over any of the above gets in the way of curiosity and compassionate inquiry as to why we are activated and reactive. The cycle of attack, blame, defend spins out of control until we are exhausted, frustrated, and deeply into our suffering. When I can’t successfully communicate what I need or want, or when I don’t feel heard, my level of frustration can reach a point of despair. When we are experiencing what the other says as criticism, we can often feel so much shame that we cannot move it aside and be curious about the other person’s experience of us. If we can become aware when we feel shame and the need to attack or blame, we can take a few minutes to calm our bodies and nervous systems, be compassionate with our shame, and change a destructive interaction by being transparent and curious about the other’s experience of us. We can use Non-Violent Communication (www.cnvc.org) to become aware of our needs and the needs of others, and meet those needs by listening carefully and responding skillfully. For me, this is a daily practice, often multiple times a day. Throughout my entire life, I have comforted my inner chaos by trying to organize things to be a certain way, whether it’s my home, or in my relationships. I have to be constantly aware of how my tendency to be rigid and anxious affects other people, and I have to be in dialogue with my relentless mind all the time, repeating the mantra, “let go, let go, let go,” in a compassionate voice until I can come home to a more peaceful place.
Gain versus Loss, or Winning versus Losing (in Americanized language) – This is a variation on all the other Dharmas or Worldly Concerns because the central message is our lack of consciousness or awareness of when our minds or egos or “psychic predators,” that occupy so much space in our lives are hard at work creating plenty of suffering for us. The teaching is non-attachment to pride over winning, or gloating about winning or winning at all costs, even when it harms others. Somehow, whichever gods or goddesses you put your faith in, have a way of smacking us pretty hard with a humiliating loss or come-uppance when we spend time talking about ourselves, and how wonderful we are. We have hope that we will win or get an A+ or a promotion, and we create all kinds of anxiety being in hope and fear. The lesson is to be right in the moment, cherish each moment of the journey and the work we do, and let the outcome be whatever it will be. In the Buddhist teaching, this is the fourth of the Four Limitless qualities or Brahma-Viharas, which are:
1.) Lovingkindness or “Metta” – Begins with a practice or prayer for ourselves and all sentient beings to experience open-heartedness or an undefended heart towards ourselves and others.
2.) Compassion or “Karuna”– Begins with the practice or prayer that we may listen in to our own suffering and meet it with self-compassion and then extend that out to the world, especially those whom we have the most animosity towards.
3.) Joy or “Mudita” – Begins with the Practice or prayer that we celebrate other people’s joy and do not diminish their joy because we feel emptied of joy or deprived. The more we are able to expand our hearts beyond the temptation to close down around fear of “not having enough,” the more abundance we will feel.
4.) Equanimity or “Upekka” – This begins with the practice or prayer, “May we abide in Nature and the laws of Nature, accepting “what is,” with grace. This is simply coming home to the reality that there is no such thing as “security,” or even the future. We only have this moment right now, and we create our own suffering by insisting on hanging onto our anger and resentment over the past, or a fierce attachment to a future outcome. Accepting “what is,” or embracing it with grace means we must call upon our courage and stand in the humble place of acceptance. This does not mean we don’t experience pain, we do. It’s when we resist pain that we suffer. When our hearts break, we must come home to the pain and be present with it.
I chose this post from Nayaswamis Jyotish and Devi to share because I find that most teachers and spiritual guides who have written and spoken on the suffering we create within ourselves and out on the world, are essentially saying the same thing.
THIS IS FROM NAYASWAMIS JYOTISH AND DEVI FROM ANANDA SANGHA WORLDWIDE
We heard a good joke recently. A man and his young grandson are shopping in a supermarket. The little boy is fussing and whining, wanting to leave.The grandfather says, “Be patient, William. We only have two more items to get and then we can go.”A few moments later, the grandson is again complaining, and the grandfather says, “Just one last item to find, and then we can go, William.”
Finally they are in the checkout line, and the boy is still acting out and making a scene. The grandfather says, “We’re almost done, William. We just have to pay, and then we can go to the car.”
As they’re leaving, a woman comes up to the man and says, “I have been observing how patient you are with your grandson William. I want to congratulate you on your kindness.”
The man replies, “Thank you, madam, but you misunderstand. I am William, my grandson’s name is Harry.”
I’ve told this joke a few times, and it always gets a laugh. It’s such a common situation that it resonates with everyone. But, as with many jokes, there is a deeper side to it.
We all find ourselves in situations that are unpleasant, but from which there is no easy escape. We can learn from William how to handle such times. If we let frustration get the upper hand, it will lead to anger, which will then lead to conflict. It is a self-reinforcing negative cycle experienced by both individuals and nations.
Or, we can break the cycle by affirming a positive quality that neutralizes the negative energy. Here, William is using a sort of simple affirmation, a “Be patient” mantra. Repeatedly Paramhansa Yogananda talked about the importance of positivity on the spiritual path. There are three simple steps to greater self-control:
1) Control the reactive process. Try to give yourself a little time, even a few seconds, before you respond. Those few seconds give you the space to act rather than react. Take a few deep breaths. Count to ten. Repeat a simple affirmation. Stretch your spine. Do anything to gain the space you need, and you will find it much easier not to get drawn into an adverse response, which would sustain a negative cycle.
2) Neutralize the negative force coming toward you with its positive opposite. The boy was impatient, so the grandfather affirmed patience. Affirmations work because the world is made up of opposing polarities. A positive thought creates a positive flow of energy in the neural circuits of the brain, which creates a positive magnetism, or force field. The opposite is, of course, also true, and most of the time people simply react, reinforcing the negative magnetism, which leads to conflict.
3) Communicate your positive response. The grandfather didn’t ignore the boy, he reassured him. When faced with negativity, be sure to let the other person know that you have heard them. Otherwise they will get angrier and shout louder just to be sure they have your attention.
The central point here is that trying to make the world conform to your wishes will only lead to frustration—it is hard enough to control our own behavior. But that, my friends, is the task given to each of us. Self-control is the fast lane to Self-realization.
In patient joy,