Embracing what is
Before I even opened my eyes this morning, I heard what kind of day it was going to be. The sound of water sluicing the air scribbled over my internal state, obscuring any motivation to get up. Nevertheless, I drove the kids to school in the rain, telling myself a cup of Starbucks new blonde roast might brighten things, but there was a traffic jam, and the road to the ubiquitous coffee bar was clogged with cars idling in the fog. I veered off the nearest exit and headed home the back way, un-caffeinated and dissatisfied before I was even fully awake.
No matter how much coffee we down, this is often the way we spend our days — metaphorically half-asleep, allowing uncontrollable forces like the weather to set our emotional barometer; reacting to the things that don’t go our way rather than choosing our actions. The Buddha said that all suffering is caused by wanting things to be different than they are, a drama that is played out over and over again to varying degrees in everyone’s lives… my own included. Of course, there are countless things in life that cause legitimate grief. I’m not saying that we can choose to feel differently about them than we do. What I’m suggesting is that we can change how we deal with our feelings.
We humans spend a tremendous amount of time and energy pushing away those experiences that don’t feel good, and seeking happiness from things outside of our control. It’s what is behind our faulty belief that we won’t be really content until we get that new house, that raise, or that person to do what we want (really, there are endless ways to fill in that blank). But true inner peace can only come when you are able to fully accept the present moment no matter how good or bad the situation may appear at first.
Once I got home, I sat in the couch in a funk, looking out the window at the streaky grey skies, and lamenting all the things that felt misaligned. Eventually, I got around to contemplating the old Carl Jung quote: “That which you resist, persists.” I considered crawling back under the covers for the rest of the day, but I knew that if I did, it would go on raining in my head, even if the sun came out. And so, instead of continuing to argue with the weather, I gave in to the “is-ness” of it.
I have long been inspired by a saying coined by meditation teacher Jack Kornfield, “After the Ecstasy, The Laundry.” (it’s also the title of one of his books). It has always made me remember that no matter how much yoga, meditation, or self-help work I do, I still have to learn to co-exist with the more mundane moments of life, the laundry pile of ordinary moments strung between the high points. Sparked by a friend’s well-timed post on her beautiful blog (ironically?) titled Laundry Line Divine, a site aimed at “celebrating the sacred in daily life,” I put on my hiking boots and rain jacket, grabbed my camera, and went outside to be at one with the elements.
Outside, it was only me, a couple of swans, and a honking goose. As I watched the graceful birds dip their crooked necks through the misty water, I thought about how I so easily overlook the sacredness of a “regular” moment. It’s so easy to twist myself out of shape, trying to make reality match up to my expectations. And when it doesn’t, I can get sidetracked by my upset for a few hours, a week, or even years. This morning, I chose to focus on what I could do about the rain, rather than what I couldn’t. Once I gave in to it, I was able to be with it in a whole new way. Suddenly the stormy weather looked very different to me. It became something to be curious about. How would it feel to take photos in the pouring rain? What kind of art could I make out of it?
Waterlogged and happy, I hiked through the mud down to the lake, where dripping branches leaned over the water. Deep in a grove hidden from the main path, I found a tree that looked like it was shedding its bark (below).
Original photo by Lori Landau; do not reproduce without permission
Slowly, I too, am working on shedding those things that do not serve me. It’s not easy, but I know that it’s the only way to transform. The poet Danna Faulds wrote the following:
“The journey from known to unknown, from the
unreal to the real, is rarely
revealed in advance.
The potholes, detours,
false starts, and quick retreats are each honorable,
and even needed in the bigger
scheme, in the forest that can’t
be seen between the trees.
It took years for me to realize
that the very twists and turns
and shadows I labeled “problems”
were really sacred ground,
grace disguised as obstacles,
the whole path a pligrimage,
mysteries baring themselves
before me all the way.”
When I got back home, I made tea and listened to the wind breathing gustily through the trees. While the rain drenched the grass and melted the leftover snow, I took out my paints and transformed my original photo (at the beginning of this blog) into the following expression of the day, literally re-visioning it (below):
Original painted photo by Lori Landau do not reproduce without permission