The talk which I took along for Thursday night’s meeting of the Newport Soto Zen group was by Catherine McGee and entitled “What Are We Waiting For”.
It prompted this thoughtful response from Sylvia…………………..
I went to sangha last night and someone brought a taped talk with this title. It struck me, that though the talk was about practice and enlightenment, it applied to everything. Of course, practice and enlightenment are potentially in everything too.
We plan our lives ahead, as if we are always waiting for the next thing. That blocks us in the moment.
THIS IS THE MOST COMMON CAUSE OF UNHAPPINESS.
That joy of being alive in any given moment is the point of mindfulness, it is why we study and practice our meditations, practice watching our breath. To be mindful is to be actually living our lives, not vicariously glancing at others for comparisons, or over our shoulder at the past, or gazing into the future.
Future Gazing can be the most insidious of all since it keeps us moving forward, what will my next best piece of writing be and how will it be received, when I get to this point then I can do that, when I have worked out then I will feel better.
That is all completely topsy-turvy and utterly illogical for two reasons.
1. IF you always make your enjoyment of your life conditional you will probably never reach true happiness and only experience fleeting moments because there will always be the next thing to achieve or complete or accomplish.
2. YOU are missing the chance of being happy right now- yes right now, regardless of the problems in your life or what is making you unhappy, you can change that right now.
External issues cannot make you unhappy, or happy even, unless you give them permission to do so.
Just occasionally they can mount up to an avalanche and take you unawares, making your resilience buckle under the strain. But even then happiness in each and every moment is a choice. We can be stressed out by the enormity of it all but we can also choose to stop and take a mindful breath and enjoy that moment of life just for its own sake.
When the monks in Tibet were being tortured by the Chinese authorities to rescind their practice, they did not. They were able to surpass the physical agony being inflicted upon them and still feel more concern and compassion for the torturers. Losing that capacity was their greatest fear. That is something I have taken as a deep lesson in life.
When my back went a couple of years ago, arthritis and two collapsed discs, I was in an enormous amount of pain,plus my compensations had pushed another disc out of place further up. I decide to consider this example deeply and meditated on it in depth. on most people’s scales that would be considered a major ‘ouch’.
I found I too could transcend the pain if I just accepted it. Instead of struggling against it and rejecting it, I found there was a rhythm to it, the pulses of the neurons, so I watched those instead, and their rhythms became soothing. I used my breathing a lot and found the releases of endorphines very pleasant indeed. I could suddenly understand the so-called religious people historically who used to keep their bodies semi damaged through hair shirts and self-flagellation. It feels quite transcendent.
So I viewed my back as a source of both pleasure and pain. I have since had some medical pain relief treatment which was supposed to last 3–6 months. Eighteen months later on and I am almost pain-free. I have done a deal with my back. I won’t put it under any more strain if she doesn’t hurt me more than necessary to remind me to take better care of her. It is working well for both of us.
But life I have just got on with, including continuing my passion for gardening and dancing to my husband’s band, and loved every minute. If I’d put a condition on being able to do those things when my back stopped hurting, I would have missed out on many extra joyful moments in those months. I have decided to be happy in each moment as far as I was able to, which is pretty much most of the time.
AS you will know if you have read any other articles of mine, I am also post PTSD and can still get triggered. This is a very unpleasant occurrence, my body locks down into a sort of rigid defensive position and I become somewhat paranoid and distrustful of life, and especially whatever or whoever it was that triggered me.
I have learned that focussing on being happy in the next moment gets me out of it more and more quickly. I have now read that I am doing the right thing since I need to retrain my amygdala to be less sensitive and decommission all the stress related systems further e.g. cortisol and adrenaline, whilst simultaneously increasing the happy ones like dopamine and serotonin.
Guess what, being mindfully happy in the present moment is the best way forward. Mindfulness actually heals nervous systems broken from abuse and trauma.
Furthermore, if you can then reframe those experiences into a positive, it challenges the cognitive retreat into paranoia and distrustfulness and what is basically a whole chronic fear package. It transforms it into a positive opportunity or even better neutralises it into a ‘just what happened, not real any more’, i.e. it was and now it no longer is.
I also take the Tibetan monks example and work on having compassion for those who trigger me, firstly to dissolve the fear-based reactions I get when I encounter the triggers further, and secondly because I genuinely understand that they are also on their own journey and will make mistakes and have to shed dark underbellies full of their own trauma and other negative emotional historical experiences before they can be free of the energy in them which triggered me. Having taken that journey and of course being still on it, I understand how hard it is sometimes to see what your next area of effort should be directed towards. Until it hits you in the face of course, then you are or should not be in any doubt this is next. I will come to them also.
SO yes I need to lose some weight, improve my fitness levels, get more organised, clean my potting shed up and tidy all the pots that are needing to be put away until next years seedling rush. I have a huge list of things I really need to get on with for my bees, for my family etc, etc etc., even for myself. But in this moment, I am not waiting for anything — I am thoroughly happy just doing one of them, which is to write up this thought train to share, and then it is …. oooh I have so much to chose from for next, but I shall let that develop out of the now ending when I hit publish. Because by then it will be a new ‘now’ to be exquisitely happy in for that opportunity to get something done. And in between, a few mindful breaths to remind me of the joy of clean air and life itself.
I am so glad I made the effort to go to that Sangha last night.