We have a choice. We can spend our whole life suffering because we can’t relax with how things really are, or we can relax and embrace the open-endedness of the human situation, which is fresh, unfixated, unbiased.
So the challenge is to notice the emotional tug of shenpa when it arises and to stay with it for one and a half minutes without the storyline. Can you do this once a day, or many times throughout the day, as the feeling arises? This is the challenge. This is the process of unmasking, letting go, opening the mind and heart.
Pema Chödrön, Living Beautifully: with Uncertainty and Change
Everything is changing, including you.
That is an actual fact you can see.
This is not something you will know after reading many books.
So if you have a lot of suffering in your everyday life,
you will actually feel the most important teaching of Buddhism:
that everything changes, and there is nothing to stick to.
from the great Shunryu Suzuki roshi
The future will never provide the reassurance you seek from it. As the ancient Greek and Roman Stoics understood, much of our suffering arises from attempting to control what is not in our control. And the main thing we try but fail to control – the seasoned worriers among us, anyway – is the future. We want to know, from our vantage point in the present, that things will be OK later on. But we never can. (This is why it’s wrong to say we live in especially uncertain times. The future is always uncertain; it’s just that we’re currently very aware of it.)
It’s freeing to grasp that no amount of fretting will ever alter this truth. It’s still useful to make plans. But do that with the awareness that a plan is only ever a present-moment statement of intent, not a lasso thrown around the future to bring it under control. The spiritual teacher Jiddu Krisnamurti said his secret was simple: “I don’t mind what happens.” That needn’t mean not trying to make life better, for yourself or others. It just means not living each day anxiously braced to see if things work out as you hoped.
Oliver Burkeman, The eight secrets to a (fairly) fulfilled life in The Guardian
By weaving our opinions, prejudices, strategies and emotions into a solid reality, we try to make a big deal out of ourselves, out of our pain, out of our problems. But things are not as solid, predictable or seamless as they seem.
We habitually string our thoughts together into a story that tricks us into believing that our identity, our happiness, our pain and our problems are all solid and separate entities. In fact, like our thoughts all these constructs are constantly changing.
Pema Chodron, Comfortable with Uncertainty
It is the stubbornness with which we refuse to let what’s growing underneath come through that pains us. It is the fear that nothing is growing underneath that feeds our despair. It is the moment that we cease growing in any direction that is truly deadly.…Imagine if trees never shed their leaves, or if waves never turned over, or if clouds dumped their rain and disappeared. I say this to remind myself as much as you: Little deaths prevent big deaths. What matters most is waiting its turn, underneath all that is expending itself to prepare the way.
Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening
Some things are best learned early, but I never learned how to swim as a child. It is not easy; the secret is to relax and let go. I don’t know if I will ever swim like a fish but am pleased with being able to keep my head under the water or move forward across the pool. For me it would be such a freedom to float on the water and not be afraid.
Learning to swim contains a lot of lessons which can be applied to practice and to life. In many ways we can approach our practice as if we are there to correct or fix something. We often start from the deep-down assumption that there is something wrong with us, that we need to change or get away from. So we seek out personal development programmes or practice in order to change ourselves, to get away from what we are not at ease with. Or we can seek outside ourselves, in work, projects or relationships, for something that will complete us.
What swimming teaches is that somethings go better when we just relax and let go. We can stop striving. We can release the need to ‘control’ everything in our lives. When we tense up and try to fix things, we create a whole new set of problems. Often when we are stressed out, we attract more stress into our lives. We end up trying to make ourselves different than how we actually are. Freedom starts with accepting ourselves and letting go, trusting that the water, or that life. will actually support us. We can let go of our fears.
Sometimes, in order to let go we must “unlearn” many of the things we have spent our entire life learning and which have been reinforced in relationships and life’s experiences. From an early age, we have been conditioned to worry about our family, our relationships, our jobs, our security, and everything else in our lives that we want to improve. We are taught to compete and to overcome our anxiety by doing better and striving harder. Ironically, when we stop the worry, stress, and fear, we allow our natural rhythm to flow into us and we drop into our deep inner resources. The greatest truth we learn from practice is that we are already perfect, just as we are. Nothing needs to be added to us in this moment. We can just float and let go.