The difficulty most of us face is that we’re afraid of our humanity. We don’t know how to give our humanity space. We don’t know how to give it love. We don’t know how to offer our appreciation. We seize upon whatever difficult emotions or painful thoughts arise—in large part because we’ve been taught from a very young age that life is a serious business. We’re taught that we have to accomplish so many things and excel at so many things because we have to compete for a limited amount of resources. We develop such high expectations for ourselves and others, and we develop high expectations of life. Such a competitive, goal-oriented approach to life makes us very speedy inside. We become so tight physically, mentally, and emotionally as we rush through each day, each moment, that many of us forget—often quite literally—to breathe.
When we allow space into our meditation practice, however, something quite wonderful begins to happen. That solidity, that seriousness begins to break down. We begin to relax a bit more and experience some of the fluidity we enjoyed as very young children. We begin to dance with our experience: “Haaa … I’m so upset … I’m so good … I’m happy … I’m a human being … I might be upset, but I’m alive … If I were dead, I might not have emotion … but, wow, I’m alive.”
We also gradually cut through the habit of identifying with each emotional wave that passes through our awareness. We can be angry, jealous, or scared without having to act on those emotions or let them take over our lives. We can experience joy or love without becoming attached to the object that we think is the cause of our joy.
All too often, the emotions we experience, along with the thoughts and behaviors that accompany them, become part of our internal and social story lines. Anger, anxiety, jealousy, fear, and other emotions become part of who we believe we are, creating what I would call a “greasy” residue, like the oily stuff left on a plate after eating greasy food. If that residue is left on the plate, eventually everything served on that plate starts to taste alike; bits of food start to accumulate too, stuck to layers and layers of greasy residue. All in all, a very unhealthy situation!
When we allow space into our practice, though, we begin to see the impermanent nature of the thoughts and feelings that arise within our experience—as well as of the conditions, over many of which we have no control. That greasy residue doesn’t build up, because there’s no “plate” for it to cling to. If we can allow some space within our awareness and rest there, we can respect our troubling thoughts and emotions, allow them to come, and let them go. Our lives may be complicated on the outside, but we remain simple, easy, and open on the inside.
From Solid Ground by Sylvia Boorstein, Norman Fischer, and Tsoknyi Rinpoche, © 2011. Reprinted with permission of Parallax Press.
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.