‘Cultivate compassionate courage and you can do what matters most, unwavering. Anxiety passes through you like breath.’
My last post was about how I’ve been attempting to point myself away from fear and towards openness by introducing the phrase ‘I choose love’ to my meditation routine.
This time I want to go into a little more detail on how the practice has been helping me in practical terms. Since I started doing it I’ve been seeing a few things more clearly about myself, the people around me and human nature in general. The overall effect has been incredibly liberating.
Lemme explain what I mean.
Within a very short time after launching the technique I began to see myself behaving slightly differently around people, at least some of the time. More relaxed, more open, lighter. And although my default mood has gone up and down since, as default moods do, I can still feel the difference now. I’m not talking about a Damascene transformation, but days when I’ve done my 15 minutes of breathwork feel different from days when I haven’t.
I may have mentioned this already, but at the moment I need all the help I can get from hacks like this. I feel less capable than usual physically — and by extension mentally — and when you don’t feel capable you feel afraid. And when you feel afraid, you start resenting anything and anyone that exacerbates your fear, which is more or less everything and everyone.
I’m a great believer in the principle that “the rising tide lifts all boats”, but I’m an equally firm believer in the inevitable corollary, that a low tide sinks them. When things aren’t going well with my work, health or general sense of direction my world shrinks, and when my world shrinks all the problems within it look correspondingly bigger.
So while my friends and family can do a lot for me when times are hard, they can also easily become “part of the problem”. My mind has more time than usual to fixate on all the unhealthy and limiting aspects of the relationships, all the subtle ways in which I let people take advantage of me and always have. And because I’m so tired all the time I don’t feel able to do much about any of it. Problem begets problem.
There’s a fine balance to be struck here. The stuff I spend my time worrying about is all true. But it’s not the whole story. But it needs changing. But it can’t be all I focus on. But I need to make sure I’m protecting myself. But I need to make sure I’m not closing myself off. And so on, and on, and on. Actually, all this balance-striking is exhausting in itself. I’m kinda sick of it.
Which is why it’s so important to keep ‘I choose love’ going. Fears that stretch back to childhood and even the womb can’t be soothed overnight, and unhealthy dynamics take an endless amount of untangling. But I’m not willing to wait until I’ve completed those processes (as if I’ll ever “complete” them) to feel some sense of calm and balance. I want them now.
Fear’s only a problem if you’re afraid fear is all there is. Saying ‘I see you, fear; I choose love’ means being afraid and fearless at the same time.
This is the complete opposite of my default approach, which is to be afraid of my fear. In “You Are Here”, Thich Nhat Hanh tells us not to struggle against anything inside us or around us. But my fear and anger do nothing but struggle: they flip between blaming everyone around me for my problems (‘People keep talking over me and encroaching on my time!’) and blaming myself for them (‘I keep letting them!’).
I find these internal tantrums both embarrassing (‘How am I so fragile all of a sudden?’) and threatening (‘I’m supposed to love these people!’), so my instinct is to wrestle with my dangerous emotions until I’ve neutralised the threat. The problem is that my emotions are already struggling against reality. Struggling against them only compounds the issue.
‘I choose love’ does two things for me. (1) It helps me to hold two realities in awareness simultaneously rather than flipping between them: ‘People take advantage of me and I let them.’ And (2) it helps me to accept both realities with compassion. Person A and person B do X and Y because it’s in their nature. I react the way I do because that’s in my nature.
We usually think of accepting things as they are and setting about changing them as opposite strategies, but in my experience I can’t change anything unless I accept it first. If I’m threatened by the problems I have with the people I love, I quickly get obsessed with them. If I’m honest about how deep the problems go, the love underlying the problems resurfaces when I least expect it to. If I struggle against my self-defeating tendencies I quickly get overwhelmed and incapacitated. If I relax about them then I’m in the right frame of mind to see them clearly and do whatever needs to be done about them, as gently as I can.
If I’m gentle with myself I automatically become gentler with others, and naturally that’s more fun for everyone involved. It’s also likelier to achieve the results I want from my interactions.
Lao Tzu: ‘Water is fluid, soft and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield.’
END OF PART 1. More on my interactions with others in Part 2.
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