Stephen Levine has noted that relationship, though not the easiest method for finding peace, is certainly the most effective for discovering what blocks it. The fact that relationships often bring the most painful and unhealed aspects of our life out of the shadows makes them a potentially powerful teacher. But let’s be honest, who actually wants such a teacher? What do we really want from relationships? We want what we want! We want someone to fulfill our needs, someone who will make us feel good, give us security, appreciation, affection, and love.
As soon as a conflict arises and we feel threatened in some way, we tend to forget all about relationships as a vehicle of awakening. We tenaciously hold on to our views, judgments, and need to be right. We protect and defend our self-image. We close down or lash out. And, believing in all these reactions as the unquestioned truth, we perpetuate our suffering. As we continue to do this, the disappointment we cause ourselves and others becomes a pain we can’t ignore. That’s the beauty of relationships as spiritual practice. The pain motivates us to awaken; disappointment is often our best teacher. This is when practice can really begin.
Ezra Bayda, At Home in the Muddy Water
You might try to cultivate your own beginner’s mind in your daily life as an experiment. Next time you see somebody who is familiar to you, ask yourself if you are seeing this person with fresh eyes, as he or she really is, or if you are only seeing the reflection of your own thoughts about this person. Try it with your children, your spouse, your friends and co-workers, with your dog or cat if you have one. Try it with problems when they arise. Try it when you are outdoors in nature. Are you able to see the sky, the stars, the trees and the water and the stones, and really see them as they are right now with a clear and uncluttered mind? Or are you actually only seeing them through the veil of your own thoughts and opinions?
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living.
We’ve all experienced how unsettling and uncertain life can be and how easily we can be knocked off center at any moment. When we’re not in balance, we can become defined by whatever is happening and get caught in what I call “reactive mind.” But through the skillful application of mindfulness we can learn to self-soothe whenever life delivers us a blow and soon regain our balance. When we lack the ability to self-soothe, we resort to using less skillful strategies to deal with difficulty such as escaping into fantasy, or overindulging in drugs, alcohol, or food, which usually prolongs our suffering. Self-soothing begins with softening into your experience and then applying mindfulness to recognize that “this moment is like this.” From within the spaciousness that this softening creates, you can start to investigate the experience ….What insights can you apply to this difficult situation? For instance, you might reflect on the impersonal nature of life. Although you are having a personal experience, it is just causes and conditions that are creating this experience. This too is going to change because everything changes. Life is hard; therefore, it’s not a mistake that your life is hard in this moment. This insight alone can be a source of great comfort.
Whoever has learned to be anxious in the right way
has learned the ultimate.
¨When we see through our negative story, what we have left is the truth. That is why the practice of letting go of our story is extremely liberating and leads to great spaciousness and joy. Whenever I’m suffering or get confused, one of my main personal practices is to simply ask myself, “What story am I believing right now?” The moment I ask this, it allows me to see the emptiness of the thought and let go of the story. I’m out of my prison and can see things from a more spacious perspective. Thoughts are as real as we believe them to be or as empty as we see them to be. You may find, as I do, that using this reflection is an effective way to free the mind of the tyranny of negative thinking.
Letting go is an important practice in everyday life, as well as on the path of liberation. Daily life provides innumerable small and large occasions for letting go of plans, desires, preferences, and opinions. It can be as simple as when the weather changes, and we abandon plans we had for the day. Or it can be as complex as deciding what to sacrifice, when pulled between the needs of family, friends, career, community, or spiritual practice. Daily life provides many situations where letting go is appropriate, or even required. Learning how to do so skilfully is essential to a happy life.
photo from Tiny Buddha