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One of the many boons of meditation is that it helps us take an interest in our life in a way that is curious and expansive, rather than seeing life’s complexities as a constant struggle. By “struggle,” I mean not wanting life to be the way it is. This is really common.
Exploring this in my own experience, I’ve found that we aren’t just constantly rejecting our experiences in life—very often we reject the whole thing all the time!
The symptom that shows us this is true is that our minds are always elsewhere. We’re thinking about dinner tomorrow or a conversation from a year ago. We’re thinking about our to-do list or how we wish we had said this, that, and the other thing in yesterday’s conversation.
Rejecting our life isn’t always about carrying a big story line such as “I hate this” or “This relationship or this job or this car isn’t working for me.” In many cases, we can even be eating a whole box of chocolates with the idea that we are doing the most pleasurable thing in the world, but the fact is that we rarely allow ourselves to eat even one bite of chocolate and be fully present for it.
The mind—the monkey mind, the wild mind—wanders. Yet in this space of open awareness that we cultivate on the meditation cushion, whatever arises becomes our support for training in being present. In order to get to this place of nonstruggling, we allow every single thing that occurs in our practice and in our life to be a support for being present.
This takes an enormous shift in attitude. Rather than seeing everything as a problem, or an obstacle to being happy, or even as an obstacle to meditation and being present (“I could be present if it wasn’t so noisy here,” or “I could be present if I didn’t have so much pain in my back”), we can see it as a teacher that is showing us something we need to know.
Everything is support in our awakening. We’ve been conditioned to kvetch, kvetch, kvetch. Blame, blame, blame. One of the major ways that we don’t stay present is blaming. We blame ourselves; we blame other people. I often see students blaming the outer circumstances or blaming their own bodies and minds for why they can’t be present.
Consider that what needs your attention and consideration is your own mind, and how you view these outer circumstances. You can befriend your circumstances; you can have compassion for your circumstances and for yourself. What happens when you do that?
I recently heard contentment defined as “knowing that everything you need is contained in this present moment.” Dissatisfaction and discontent are like a hum in the background that distracts us from accepting our life and the present moment. If we deeply allow whatever arises, we finally can touch, smell, taste, hear, and feel what’s really happening.
When we refrain from pushing against our experiences, we move away from the labels of yes and no, good and bad, acceptable and nonacceptable. This is a very important point. This is what allows us to become fully engaged in life. You can’t leave out what you label “bad” and still expect to feel the full range of what you might label “good.” In other words, if you wall yourself off from some experiences, you will inevitably be building walls against what might be good. Meditation training reminds us to always come back to our direct experience, just as it is.
Life, or postmeditation, has a tendency to introduce many things and many obstacles that can tie us up in a knot. As your meditation closes, when the timer goes off and you rest in open awareness, let things be as they are. And then, usually very quickly, you can rest. But often at this moment the thoughts come in; sometimes they even rush back in. Before you know it, you’re getting all tied up in a knot.
When something happens, you don’t have to lay on top of it the label “wrong” or “terrible” or anything like that—you could just use whatever is arising as the object of meditation. Meditation is total nonstruggle with what arises. Thoughts just as they are, emotions just as they are, sights just as they are, sounds just as they are—everything just as it is without anything added.
I was watching a video of Mingyur Rinpoche [a Tibetan Buddhist teacher] recently, and he said that mind is like space—vast, limitless space—and in that space anything and everything arises: sights, sounds, smells, tastes, thoughts, emotions, body pain, body pleasure.
Everything arises in that space, and it’s no different than galaxies and planets and stars arising in space. And he said, “Space doesn’t say, ‘I like this galaxy, but I don’t like that galaxy.’” All stars, all thoughts, pass on at some point. Let your experiences pass through like stars in the vast sky of your mind. Nothing has to be too big of a problem.
Not struggling against what arises in your life is an act of friendliness. It allows you to fully engage in your life. It allows you to live wholeheartedly.
Excerpted from How to Meditate: A Practical Guide to Making Friends with Your Mind by Pema Chodron. Copyright © 2013 by Pema Chodron. Reprinted with permission of Sounds True.