Finding peace in life's messiness
In recent months I've been very present to a loved one's suffering and my heart has been aching. While I was driving the other afternoon, I found myself thoroughly distressed by the grief and fear. As tears welled in my eyes, something came to mind. Beneath the heaviness of this very human experience, there was an opportunity to simply observe. I looked at the objective truth. My body was tense. My face was crumpled and my jaw was clenched. These were natural reactions to stress. My thoughts were racing ahead and playing my worst fears about the future on repeat. I was making a lot of assumptions which may or may not have been accurate. Regardless, I couldn't control the future. Beyond myself, outside of the car, the leaves on the trees were a bright and vibrant green. Sunlight filtered through the branches leaving crooked shadows on the road. It was a bright and breezy day, and a welcome change from heavy rain and humidity. I was hurting and at the same time very much alive, breathing, and capable. In the midst of upheaval, that balance was comforting. I'm reminded of Thich Nhat Hanh's words: "So many conditions of happiness are available; more than enough for you to be happy right now. You don't have to run into the future in order to get more." Sometimes that kind of 'happiness' isn't experienced as bliss or joy. Sometimes it feels more like relative peace. Sometimes it's experienced as a moment of safety. Sadness, beauty, grief, the privilege of life, all experiences happening simultaneously, can hold some version of steady footing. But we have to be open to witnessing these moments. That's mindfulness. It's the continual practice of stepping back and noticing how things truly are right now. It's letting go of the urge to filter our experiences through a lens of good/bad or anxiety about the future or the compulsion to get wrapped up in what it all really means. We can simply take interest in how life feels as it unfolds before us. Exactly as it is. Without judgment. Just our truth. Here's a practice to help you come back to this moment's truth.
If you prefer to be guided through this practice, click here for the audio.
Take a deep breath in and relax as you exhale. As you slow down the pace of your breath, begin to notice the experience of being you right now. Notice what you see before you, in your direct line of vision. Textures on the wall, leaves on the trees, shadows. Maybe even specks of dust in the light. Bring a neutral ear to any sensations in your body. You might notice tension in your muscles or the feeling of the air on your skin. What can you hear? The hum of air conditioning. Traffic down the road. Birds chirping. Note the scents in the air. The smell of rain or of coffee drifting in from the next room. Sit here and observe for a little while longer, allowing sensations to drift in and out of your awareness. There's no need to chase or change anything. Only notice. Even if it feels like everything is painful and hard to sit with, in the middle of life's messiness, observe and be with the peace. It's there. Just listen.