Our dis-ease

The nature of our dis-ease is this: we continually judge, reject and turn away from certain areas of our experience that cause us discomfort, pain or anxiety. This inner struggle keeps us inwardly divided,  creating pressure and stress and cutting us off from the totality of our experience.

We first learnt to reject our experience when we were growing up. As children our feelings were often too overwhelming for our fledgling nervous system to handle, much less understand. So when an experience was too much, and the adults in our environment could not help us relate to it, we learnt to contract our mind and body, shutting ourselves down, like a circuit breaker. This was our way of preserving and protecting oursleves…….In time, these contractions  form the nucleus of an overall style of avoidance and denial.

Thus our psychological distress is composed of at least three elements: the basic pain of feelings that seem overwhelming, the contracting of mind and body to avoid feeling this pain; and the stress of continually having to prop up and defend an identity based on this avoidance and denial.

John Welwood, Toward a Psychology of Awakening

Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans

Often we can get caught up in our fixed idea for the day and get anxious or upset when things go differently or  “wrong”. This can extend to our whole life, too. We have a picture as to how our future will be and spend a lot of our time day dreaming about how things will be better when it comes to pass. It is not easy just to rest in the present, wisely planning for the day or the future but allowing it unfold in ways that we do not always anticipate. Sometimes we miss the opportunities that are presented by focusing on one that we think should come.

While visiting the University of Notre Dame, where I had been a teacher for a few years, I met an older experienced professor who had spent most of his life there. And while we strolled over the beautiful campus, he said with a certain melancholy in his voice, ‘You know … my whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.

Henri Nouwen, Reaching out: the Three movements of the Spiritual Life

Remember the beauty and strength within your heart

Sometimes it is necessary to reteach a thing its loveliness….

The bud stands for all things,
even those things that don’t flower,
for everything flowers, from within, of self-blessing;
though sometimes it is necessary
to reteach a thing its loveliness,
to put a hand on its brow
of the flower, and retell it in words and in touch it is lovely, until it flowers again from within, of self-blessing.

Galway Kinnell, Saint Francis and the Sow.

Clearly seeing absolute and relative

The practice of meditation leads us to seeing things as they really are. In other words, we come to appreciate the continual changing nature of things as they are directly experienced in the present,  the patterns which are beneath our choices, and the way we react, without thinking,  to certain factors.  When we do not see clearly the nature of what drives us and the nature of reality as changing, we seek happiness in mistaken ways and in the wrong places. We can persist in unsatisfactory ways of behaving. When we have a “wrong view” as to how things are, we persist in thinking that certain behaviours will guarantee us satisfaction and we remain fixed in them. We mistakenly believe that absolute  contentment can be found in things that we acquire or in the relative aspects of our lives which are subject to change and decay.  This can be true in so many areas of our lives, some of which are hugely emphasized in today’s society, such as our career, possessions and our relationships.

Ordinary human love is always relative, never consistently absolute. Like the weather it is always in continual dynamic flux. It is continually rising and subsiding, waxing and waning, changing shape and intensity.

….This may seem totally obvious. Yet here’s the rub. We imagine that others – surely someone out there! – should be a source of perfect love by consistently loving us in just the right way. Since our first experiences of love usually happen in relationship to other people, we naturally come to regard relationship as its main source. Then when relationships fail to deliver the ideal love we dream of, we imagine something has gone seriously wrong. And this disappointed hope keeps reactivating the wound of the heart and generating grievance against others. This is why the first step in healing the wound and freeing ourselves from grievance is to appreciate the important difference between absolute and relative love.

John Welwood, Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships