"Later Lake George: Storm Over the Hill, 1921" by Alfred Stieglitz, used with the permission of Philadelphia Museum of Art: Alfred Stieglitz Collection.
“Later Lake George: Storm Over the Hill, 1921” by Alfred Stieglitz, used with the permission of Philadelphia Museum of Art: Alfred Stieglitz Collection.

The feeling that things are out of sync and that there is too much to do is not new. As Buddha pointed out over 2,600 years ago, we’ll always have to deal with the fact that life entails pain and suffering. Perhaps it’s that we don’t really want to have any problems that makes Our current time seem so full of distress.

Many people come to meditation practice with the expectation that it will calm them and relieve their stress. Certainly meditation can do this to some extent; even the most superficial meditation practices can induce feelings of calmness. However, when we’re knee-deep in emotional distress, we’re fortunate if we can remember to practice at all.

When the clarity of practice becomes obscured by the dark and swirling energy of emotional distress, it is useful to have some clear and concise reminders to bring us back to reality. The first reminder is to awaken aspiration. On an elementary level, to awaken aspiration means simply that we remember to practice. Once we remember to practice, to awaken aspiration means that we see our particular distress as our path. Instead of seeing our distress as the enemy, as something to get rid of; instead of giving it juice by solidifying the thoughts around it into the heaviness and drama of “me,” we learn to view distress as our opportunity to see and to open. We relate to it as our path to awakening.

When we find ourselves in a mess, we might have the thought “This isn’t how life is supposed to be.” When life doesn’t fit our picture, we usually feel that something is wrong. But it is not so much that something is wrong as it is that we’re relating to life from the narrow, fear-based perspective of “I want.” What we want is to feel good, and when our emotional distress does not feel good, we almost instinctively move away from it. Our discomfort generates fear, and in that fear there is even more discomfort. No wonder we tend to see distress as the enemy, as something to get rid of.

We have to turn our upside-down view right-side up to understand what it means to see difficulties as our path. The main issue is no longer just about whether we feel good, or whether we like what is happening. The main issue is to be more awake, to learn what we have to learn to stop holding back our hearts in fear. This doesn’t mean that we have to like what is on our plate-what it means is that the willingness to open to life’s difficulties is not dependent on having to like them.

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