As I listen to the guided meditation, “Finding Ease in the Moment,” Sam shifts in his bed behind me. I feel a surge of anxiety in my body, the cold tingle of fear, the rush of panic, the burning ache in my throat and chest and stomach. I breath in deep and then out, trying my best as instructed to find the “okayness of this moment.”
I had planned to do a bit of gardening this weekend. I’d noticed last week that some of my irises were starting to send out tiny green shoots, and I hadn’t yet cleaned out remnants of last year’s plants. I was going to clear some space, give Spring some room. Then Winter decided to make a comeback, bring snow for the third time this week, even more than we got before. There would be no gardening today.
There are at least two other blog posts insisting on being written right now. One I already started last night, but I “ran out of gas” and left it unpublished. There’s also an ecourse I’m supposed to be developing, a checkbook that needs balanced and laundry that should be put away. I am getting better and better at doing this, leaving things undone when it’s clear that there is something else I hunger for, letting go of the “shoulds,” focusing more on my experience than on my output, lowering the bar, trusting myself.
Last week was rough. I wasn’t sleeping very well, was worried about both dogs, had this awful feeling of not being able to keep those I love safe, of not being safe, and it wore me down. It was a horrible feeling of anxiety and dread, and I was stuck in it. At night, I would wake up if Dexter got up and worry about him, and after a few nights of that and a nervous system that was completely raw, I resorted to sleeping with earplugs, completely surrendering to sleep which I so desperately needed, trusting that Dexter would be okay and knowing that if I didn’t get some rest, I wouldn’t be able to help him if he wasn’t.
Then finally, there came a day when I didn’t feel so rough. I let myself be touched, moved. I was weepy and open. Watching Ben and Leslie’s wedding on Parks and Recreation, I cried during their vows, (they said “I love you, and I like you”). I asked my friend Pam, who gives me super quick “drive by hugs” at work, to give me a right proper hug because I’d had a tough week. I relaxed as I watched Dexter and Sam cuddled next to each other on the dog bed next to me on the floor, each playing with their own toy, eventually falling into a shared nap.
I relaxed the tight ball in my chest that morning, first when my Sam leaned his head into mine and let out a deep sigh, and later in yoga, taking deep breaths, stretching and sinking into each pose. When my friend Mitch said goodbye to me after yoga class, leaned in and play punched my arm, I let myself feel that he loves me, that people can genuinely love each other and that doesn’t have to be weird. All of the anxiety and awfulness of the past week broke me open, left me raw and vulnerable, and because of that I was able to be present.
So today, when some plans got changed due to the weather, I was fine with it. I love the snow here, and today it allowed me to snuggle up, sink in, slow down, relax. It makes everything quiet, fills it with light. I knew that what I most needed was to read some Pema Chödrön, specifically her new book Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change. Clearly, I wasn’t wrong about this book, her gentle wisdom was exactly what I needed right now.
My word for this year is Freedom. It is a quality, an experience that I am trying to cultivate in my life. This past week, when I was stuck in a spiral of anxiety and despair, I was not free. I wish for suffering to ease, in myself and in the world, and for love to grow in its place, but instead I trapped myself in my own confusion and grief. In Pema’s book, she says,
But it’s not impermanence per se, or even knowing we’re going to die, that is the cause of our suffering, the Buddha taught. Rather, it’s our resistance to the fundamental uncertainty of our situation. Our discomfort arises from all of our efforts to put ground under our feet, to realize our dream of constant okayness. When we resist change, it’s called suffering. But when we can completely leg go and not struggle against it, when we can embrace the groundlessness of our situation and relax into its dynamic quality, that’s called enlightenment, or awakening to our true nature, to our fundamental goodness. Another word for that is freedom–freedom from struggling against the fundamental ambiguity of being human.
This is where I’m at, what I’m working with. At times, it’s incredibly uncomfortable and I don’t think I’ll be able to stand it for another moment, but then the next moment comes, and I’m able to start again. Rest in this sense means trusting that “this too shall pass,” that nothing is permanent, and that’s okay. Rest means allowing what is to be as it is, rather than rushing to change it or escape it. Rest even means taking the Bodhisattva vow, which as Pema describes is “a commitment to dedicate our lives to keeping our hearts and minds open and to nurturing our compassion with the longing to ease the suffering of the world.” I am filled with this longing, along with gratitude for the wise and compassionate help that is available to me as I continue to try.