“Courage is fear that has said it’s prayers.” -poet Karle Wilson Baker 1921
Just for today, do you want to focus more on worry or prayer? I have worked with people who have had so much anxiety they could not ride in planes, cross bridges, shop in major grocery stores, or drive a car. Through meditation, prayer, and a commitment to not velcro to their anxious thoughts, I have seen these individuals completely turn their lives around. Anything is possible.
Worries have no end point. You are not your anxiety and worry. Where will all your anxieties be after you die? They are not truly who you are. Take a moment and decide, “Enough. From now on more prayer, less worry.” It takes a conscious commitment one day at a time, until prayer takes over on it’s own. If you want, eventually prayer will take over. Your body and mind are a vehicle for prayer.
When worry comes let it move through, without indulging, fearing, or pushing it away. Worries are not your fault and not something wrong with you. Let worries roll through like a big wave. In Hawaii if you get pulled under by a big wave, you roll with it, and in a few minutes the ocean gives you a lull to swim to safety. If my daily worries go into hyper-drive or panic, I remind myself that even panic tends to last less than 5 minutes, and if I can roll with that too, it will move through. Rainer Maria Rilke advised his students: “Let everything happen to you. Beauty and terror. Just keep going. No feeling is final.”
If all else fails, breathe. Breathe into your belly. What can you trust at your core? When you are on your last breath you will have prayer. If a tragedy happens you will have prayer. Prayer is always here waiting for you, as a friend, a guide, and an eternal resource. A Buddhist friend who died of ALS a few years ago mentioned that meditation was his best friend in the final stages of the disease, and without it he would have crumbled due to the pain.
Find time each day to cultivate your friendship with prayer and meditation. Your prayer might be something as simple as blessing people. In busy airports or stores if I find I’m getting overwhelmed, I start to bless everyone I see. This reminds me that each person is someone to love. Each day I also repeat, “Trust life,” Thy will not my will,” and “I don’t need to be general manager of the Universe.”
Overall, prayer and meditation is how we meet each moment. Prayer is a willingness to meet each moment with heart. Ultimately there is no other choice. Start now. Aloha.
The three injunctions were shared with me by Molokai musician and healer, Zelie Duvauchelle. They were given to her by her Hawaiian kumu (teacher). If followed, they will lead you to a connected and joyful life.
As you will notice, these are simple but not easy.
Most judgments and comparisons are the result of the illusion of a separate self. Look at your two hands right now. You probably don’t spend much of your day judging or comparing your left hand to your right hand. This is because you know they are both part of your one body, and judgment would be futile. As you come to know that you are part of the cells of everyone and everything, comparisons too will decrease.
When I first heard, “Delete the need to understand,” my mind did an emotional double-take. Now, I repeat it often like a mantra, or use it like a big eraser when thoughts pile high. This mantra helps me return to silence. And in those still quiet spaces a greater Knowing can be found.
Enjoy what you discover with these teachings.
At age thirty, while on a three month Buddhist retreat, many deep insights arose in my practice. In my weekly interviews with teacher Joseph Goldstein, I would proclaim my new “this is it” version of life. Then of course the “this is it” would change, and I’d start seeking again, until the next “this is it” arose, which would change again, and so forth. Joseph compassionately listened to all my insights, and eventually gave me this mantra; “This is it, is not it.” I kept that mantra for many years. His simple wisdom stopped me from clinging to any insight as the final stopping point. It allowed more flow with the process of discovery, rather than the illusion of finding a final resting place. As human beings, it’s a natural tendency to want to find the “it.” The “it” is our imagined perfect balance of mind and body and spirit. It’s our human sweet spot, and enlightenment is the ultimate sweet spot.
This is it, is not it.
If you let this be true, it unhooks the endless game of “I’ve got it, I’ve lost it.” It unhooks the exhausting pattern of seeking and guarding. My teacher U Pandita told me, “You will always be seeking or guarding experiences. When you find what you seek, then you will try to guard it. In this way, your mind will always be disturbed. Know what is neither guarding nor seeking.” And of course this doesn’t mean we eschew insights. Simply let them come and go, as they will on their own, like the weather.
This is it, is not it.
If you let this be true, it unhooks the game of “you.” You don’t have to seek the perfect truth. You don’t have to wait for a stay-tuned-for-later version of life. And if you’ve had a life changing experience, you don’t have to maintain it. You don’t have to keep checking over your shoulder to make sure you still know it. Let yourself just be how you are, right now. In your natural state, there is no state to maintain.
One meditation student remembered how as a child everywhere he would go, he would joyously and loudly exclaim, “I am here!” This is such a natural expression of our essence; “I am here.” That is enough. You are here. You didn’t need to be thinner, richer, wiser, or more enlightened to be here. You are here. And that is always enough. Enjoy.
“I have been driven many times to my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had no where else to go.” Abraham Lincoln
I didn’t learn about chronic pain on purpose. No one does, I suppose. I was bitten by a tick with Lyme in New England in 2003 and insufficiently treated. Almost overnight, I went from a healthy 43 year old bi-athlete to physically compromised. Because there is no known cure for chronic Lyme Disease, I decided I might as well learn as much as I could from my struggles. The following are some lessons I’ve compiled on my journey, and in my discussions with fellow chronic pain sufferers.
With chronic pain, there is the initial phase of “shopping for a cure.” This phase can take many years until you are financially drained and emotionally exhausted. After trying every possible fix, it’s very sobering to realize that you are stuck with some version of the pain, like it or not, like a difficult roommate who won’t vacate. At this point you develop a willingness to include, rather than exclude, the pain. You end the civil war, and simply allow the pain have it’s place in the fabric of your life.
I heard this parable from a friend several years ago: “There are 3 kinds of people. The first type of person says of a tragedy, “This is terrible.” The second type of person says of a tragedy, “This is difficult but I will make the most of it.” The third type of person says of a tragedy, ‘It’s perfect.’” I’m not naturally the third type of person, however, I have learned what I call my “cheating step.” I say, “It’s perfect, I just don’t know how yet.” And then I stay curious as to how it might be perfect. One afternoon while having my standard thought, “this session would be better if I wasn’t in pain,” my perspective suddenly shifted. I saw my pain was perfectly woven into the client’s sharing, my listening, and the tenderness of the moment. Now, instead of feeling pain detracts from the moment, I remember it is an invaluable part of the connection.
You only need 100 feet of headlights in your car to be able to travel a thousand miles. With pain too, just take things in small increments. Whether it be a day, an hour, a minute, or one-second intervals, see what works best for you to meet the pain. Fear needs a future, and if you stay in the present anything is possible.
Pain managers are aspects of you that try to figure out the pain or rehearse for the future. See if you can notice the difference between the parts of you trying to manage the pain, and your wholeness/awareness itself. Your wholeness is always here, and is actually bigger than any physical pain, or thoughts about the pain.
A spiritual teacher once asked me, “If you knew this pain was your path to God, would you take it?” When I said, “Yes,” she pointedly replied, “Well it is your path, because you have it now. So take it!” Chronic pain teaches a fierce surrender where ultimately you must fall to your knees daily and utter the only true thing: “Whatever this brings, I am willing.”
Pain can even become a doorway to choose joy. A meditation student told me this story: “My mother had severe pain from arthritis and Parkinson’s for over a decade. Despite her increasing levels of pain, she remained loving and joyful. One day I asked her how she could be happy with so much pain. She told me, ‘I can be in pain and be joyful, or I can be in pain and be grumpy. The pain is a given. The choice of how I meet it, is up to me.’”
The ultimate lesson of pain is connection. The Dalai Lama’s physician, Tenzin Choedrak, was tortured everyday for seventeen years. Throughout his torture, he held the belief and the prayer that, “Some benefit would be gained, and some human greatness would be accomplished” by his extreme experience. 1
The Tibetans have a specific practice to share one’s pain in service of all beings: When you experience pain, think about all the people in the world right now suffering from the exact same pain. Realize that you are not alone, and you are connected to many people in the same condition. Then, dedicate the benefit of anything you might learn from this pain; “Whatever compassion I may learn, and however I may grow from this pain right now, may it benefit all beings, everywhere.”
May any wisdom inherent in these seven teachings support you on your journey. May all beings be free.