Monday, January 17, 2011

What Is This?

Here it is, mid-January, cold, freezing in fact, and yet the sun shines brightly in the rolling landscape of upstate New York. Snow blankets all but the most windswept fields, and icicles are forming from the roof. The sun's warmth has its effects, the wind has its own, the shadows of the old mountains cause their own colder micro climates. At some level I accept all this, just as it is, as long as I am inside a warm place, protected as is appropriate for my thin-skinned, fur-less, warm-blooded body. I can appreciate it, even revel in it, as long as it doesn't directly threaten my sense of personal comfort and safety. Yet I can understand the harshness of it too. I have deep respect for the blue jays who puff up as they sit on the branch, yet dive into the sunflower seeds in the feeder after the sun has warmed things up just a bit. The world is not cruel, it is what it is, too cold for me, tolerable with adjustments for the blue jays.

It is in the realm of human interactions that things are not as easy to accept as they are, and what they are is not so clear. Judgment forms about the way someone does or does not do something, says or does not say something, wants or does not want something, feels or does not feel something. Yes, even the way someone does or does not understand or notice something can be judged, and categorized, filed and stored for reference again and again. This becomes the building block of interactions and relationships. This can also barricade me from seeing my own way.

In situations where I do not like things as they appear to be, I can go on ahead and judge others and myself, creating internal structures filled with longing that things be different than they are. Whatever the motive may look like, it is of no use, as this does not change anything except my own reactions. These, in turn, set traps that hold me, caught in my frozen idea of how things seemed in that moment. Ensnared in longing, with no idea of the real source of that craving, aversion or attachment, and with no way to let it go.

The first step is asking, "what is this?" and letting the answer continue beyond the first layer. Perhaps that first layer is frustration or anger; perhaps it is sorrow or shock; perhaps it is anxiety or the compression of being in a hurry that floats up first. Letting the answer continue means asking again, "and this?" in response to that first answer. Maybe the anger is a feeling of failure or hurt feelings; perhaps that sorrow is loneliness or disappointment. Ask again, "then what is this?" Allowing the body to relax, to find its way to the sources of self-judgment and the fear of external judgment.

Sometimes different words help, instead of "what is this?" I might ask "is this me?" and this can help me see that none of this, none of this emotional reactivity actually defines me. "And is this me?" for the next layer will reveal that it too is not me. These are like transparent layers I can learn to see through, through the sad heart, through the loneliness, through the fearfulness.

Then what do I do with those peelings of my reactive self? Can I let them drift off in the cold wind, or set them down gently in the glittering snow, and feel how my heart continues to beat? Allowing my body to rest for even a short span of a few breaths, the flood of reactive, judgmental behaviors and feelings can be seen and separated from who I am. This is where choice begins as to being where I am in that moment or staying stuck in the structural patterns of judgment and blame, even admiration that turns over the power of possibility to someone else, rather than recognizing this in my self.

This common struggle to be present becomes a foundation upon which I can stand. In some ways it is the core of my practice, allowing myself to learn and unlearn these patterns and find freedom. It is not mine alone, but part of human nature, a vastly shared experience. Ah, and here come the chickadees now that the temperature has risen just a bit. Doing what they do, as they are, in this very moment.

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