Day of Rest

I am living in an in-between time right now. I can see a new path, a better way, and yet my old habits and ways of being run deep. I end up feeling like two people, like I’m living two lives, having two different experiences simultaneously. One version of me is committed to spiritual practice, to cultivating compassion and wisdom, to easing suffering, and can see the way through. The other version of me is still addicted, disordered, dysfunctional, confused, tired, and when she comes up against an obstacle, wants to give up, sinks down into the deepest despair.

When I woke up in my life, and decided to stay awake, to open my heart, to show up and be present, to allow the world to touch me, I went from being numb to being so incredibly tender, about everything. I feel joy more intensely, but I also feel pain in equal measure.

Hardest to shift is my sense of needing to be in control. I feel responsible for everything, for everyone. I am hypervigilant, always looking for what needs fixed, where I can help. If something goes wrong, I blame myself. I cling to the belief that if I am properly prepared and paying attention, ready, I can keep us all safe and happy. It’s exhausting. Worse yet, it never works, never has.

I’ve been contemplating this need I have for control, how I act on it, am hooked by it even though I know it isn’t possible or true. I’ve been writing about it, discussing it with friends, and talked with my therapist about it. Then someone posted this quote from Pema Chödrön on Facebook.

Photo by Jeff Warshaw

Photo by Jeff Warshaw

Sometimes when I am struggling with something, confused and looking for an answer, the answer just comes, like some kind of magic. After I saw this quote, I sat down to meditate. My practice recently has begun by reading a passage from Pema’s book When Things Fall Apart. Each chapter is only about 3-5 pages long, so it’s easy to read one just before I meditate. I’ve read this book twice already, and this time I’ve been underlining and making notes — making a mess of it.

When I sat down yesterday to read, I thought I was on the chapter about doing no harm, but when I opened the book, I realized I’d already marked up that chapter. I was actually on “Hopelessness and Death.” It was exactly what I needed, at exactly the right moment.

One section in particular had me in tears.

Hopelessness means that we no longer have the spirit for holding our trip together. We may still want to hold our trip together. We long to have some reliable, comfortable ground under our feet, but we’ve tried a thousand ways to hide and a thousand ways to tie up all the loose ends, and the ground just keeps moving under us.

When I talk about wanting to give up, I mean the whole thing. All of it. I want out, want it to be over, think in that moment that I just can’t go on, can’t do it anymore. Pema, in this chapter, talks about a different kind of giving up, another version of surrender. She suggests that hopelessness (“giving up all hope of alternatives to the present moment”) is something to cultivate, the place to start. She ends the chapter with this,

Giving up hope is encouragement to stick with yourself, to make friends with yourself, to not run away from yourself, to return to the bare bones, no matter what’s going on. Fear of death is the background of the whole thing. It’s why we feel restless, why we panic, why there’s anxiety. But if we totally experience hopelessness, giving up all hope of alternatives to the present moment, we can have a joyful relationship with our lives, an honest, direct relationship, one that no longer ignores the reality of impermanence and death.

Today, on this day of rest, I am contemplating hopelessness, and practicing giving up in a whole new way.

14 thoughts on “Day of Rest

  1. Mary Montanye

    Jill, you write, “Sometimes when I am struggling with something, confused and looking for an answer, the answer just comes, like some kind of magic.” Your post today was that for me. I’m really struggling with this exact issue right now, and I’m so tired of it. Hopelessness. I never thought this was a topic I would want to contemplate. But, now, I know I must. Thank you.

    1. jillsalahub Post author

      You are so welcome, Mary. I’m glad this post found you at the right time, when you needed it. Have you ever read the book I’m referring to? It’s really really good. Lots of wisdom in small bites. ❤

      1. Mary Montanye

        Yes, I have, Jill. But not for awhile. I wanted to go to my bookshelf immediately to read it again, but it’s at the coast. Will definitely do so when we return. Hopefully, this next weekend.

  2. barbranostay

    Trying to control people, situations , outcomes etc. seems to be part of the human condition – one many of us suffer from. It is hard to really “get it” that the only thing we really have control over is our attitudes – I like that quote of Pema Chodron.
    Another author/spiritual teacher that I have found very enlightening is Eckhart Tolle – I listen again and again to his CDs when driving – every time hearing something new that I had missed before – “The Power of Now” and “A new Earth ” are very good – also, Alan Watts is one of my favourites – “You’re It!” – think I purchased it on the Internet.
    Life is such an adventure isn’t it ! you never know , for sure, what is around the next corner!Nine times out of ten, it’s all good. Relax and take a deep breath – and I will too!

    1. jillsalahub Post author

      I like Eckhart Tolle too, have both of those books. And I’ve heard good things about Alan Watts (my husband is a philosophy teacher), but haven’t read anything of his. And it always comes down to that, doesn’t it? Relax. One of my teachers says that all the dharma can be distilled to that one instruction, “relax.” ♥

  3. Rebekah

    I have been struggling with control. Thinking if I just do it right,it will be okay. The quote by Pena Chodron was just what I needed. Thank you.

    1. jillsalahub Post author

      Exactly, Rebekah: “if I just do it right, it will be okay.” Me too. It’s so sad that we put so much pressure on ourselves, aren’t more gentle, don’t accept more help and less responsibility. Thank goodness there are people like Pema who keep reminding us. ♥

  4. Tricia noble

    I too have been struggling, last year I believed that I needed to make some changes, big ones, so I set my self a plan. Have no personal debt, achieved this by Christmas .leave a job that is stressful ,but I am good at or go 4 days a week, April of this year I changed my contract to a 4 day week , I was also planning to move to a smaller house,my Husband agreed so everything was coming together.

    Then in June of this year I was told I would need a coccyxy removal as it was starting to have an impact on my life, not being able to make plans because of the pain etc. I have just completed a month of bed rest! and am trying to get mobile again, so I don’t know if it was a good or bad thing but one thing I have time to do is think. One of the hardest things, is not to look to the past. I keep reminding myself I have already been their and that’s not the way I am going.
    That said I have always felt Ii was a strong person, even in the hardest of times ,always making list ,,, long list and then feeling disappointed when they weren’t completed.
    I don’t really know why I felt the need to write this post, other than everyone questions who am I , what do I want from life, but at 51 I thought I might know by now. I seem always to be waiting ! Don’t give up.

    1. jillsalahub Post author

      May you be gentle with yourself when you need to go slower.
      May you recognize all the hard work you’ve done and accept the rest to balance it.
      Makes me think of the Hafiz quote too, “I wish I could show you when you are lonely or in darkness the astonishing light of your own being.”

  5. Christa McElroy

    JIll, this post was a God breeze today. I was just diagnosed with ovarian cancer and am completely at sea. I ordered the book from Amazon, cannot wait to read it. Blessings to you and thanks for sharing so eloquently the gift of yourself…..


    1. jillsalahub Post author

      Oh, Christa… I’m so glad you found your way here, to this particular post. May the book help you to find some clarity, some comfort. May your suffering be eased, may your strength increase. ♥

      P.S. Two other good ones by Pema, in light of your diagnosis, are The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times and The Wisdom of No Escape: And the Path of Loving Kindness…oh gosh, now that I actually look at her list of books, there are so many more too. What I adore about her is she’s one of the people who can tell me honestly how hard it is to be human, how much pain and suffering there is in our experience, but gives me tools to meet that with compassion and wisdom, as well as maintain my sense of humor about it all.


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