Whenever something happens, I always react. But here I was--disregarding the reflex. I was doing something I'd never done before. A small thing, granted, but how often do I get to say that? And what will I be able to do tomorrow that I cannot yet do today? -- Elizabeth Gilbert in Eat, Pray, LoveI was raised by two very hard-working parents. My father owned his own business as a car mechanic, and it's only recently that I've realized that it's not normal to work 12-hour days, six days a week. My mother was a technician for an airplane manufacturer. She worked shift work for most of my school-aged life. They worked hard to give us kids a better life. These days, I wonder how they managed to tough it out for so long.
Recently, I picked up an old, battered copy of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love. I hadn't looked at it since I read it for a bookclub a few years ago. I flipped open the book to a random page and read part of a chapter where she is in an ashram in India, struggling to learn to meditate. One evening, she decides to try a bit of Vipassana meditation, where you sit for extremely long periods of time as still as possible. It is an extremely uncomfortable practice, but the point is that you are supposed to learn to practice the art of witnessing your mind. She writes:
If you are feeling discomfort then you are supposed to meditate upon that discomfort, watching the effect that physical pain has on you. In our real lives, we are constantly hopping around to adjust ourselves around discomfort--physical, emotional and psychological--in order to evade the reality of grief and nuisance. Vipassana meditation teaches that grief and nuisance are inevitable in this life, but if you can plant yourself in stillness long enough, you will, in time, experience the truth that everything (both uncomfortable and lovely) does eventually pass.This got me thinking about how my parents have always entreated me to sit still, to learn to rest, and to accept that sometimes, things are difficult. I thought it was old-fashioned thinking, that old adage that "life is hard, live with it." It's only recently that I've learned that that was not the message at all.
The message was, "All comes to pass."
That might sound defeatist... that we should just accept pain and abandon ourselves to hopelessness, but I think the point is that we don't have to react to everything. In this age of high-speed information, social networks, and constant gossip, we don't have to have an opinion on everything. I don't have to pour out all my emotions for a single subject or a single outrageous article or a single event. I don't have to apply judgement to every event that happens in my life, or stick bandaids over the painful parts. I can observe how it makes me feel, perhaps remark on that, carry on living, and maybe find a solution that was better than I ever expected. This applies to my work, to my health, and to my hobbies. This is why I can knit half a sweater and rip it out if I find that I've made big errors in it. I take out the emotion, and it gets done even better than I would have hoped.
Everyday can be a type of Vipassana meditation.
Last Saturday, I went out for a run after a week of staying off my feet due to a foot injury. It was hard. I laboured through that run. I even had to stop and walk it for a while. While I did it, though, I decided to watch what was happening to me from the outside. I found that, once I took all the emotion out and removed the judgement from it and stopped freaking out about how hard it was, I could just... keep going. And that was powerful.
I think I'll try to refrain from reacting to everything for a while and just observe and see what happens inside of me. And then, I can see what I can do tomorrow that I cannot yet do today. It's gotta be a good thing...