Saturday, August 12, 2017
Let it go
When someone is hurt by my actions or when my actions cause a loss of opportunity for myself or others, I dwell on my mistakes. I wallow in my guilt and shame. I get stuck in the past. Sometimes this lasts days and it stops me from being productive, from being able to be my full self and from having my full capabilities.
Two monks were walking together when they came upon a river. At the river’s edge was a woman, two small to cross the roaring river on her own. The monks had vowed never to touch a woman again. One monk began to cross the river, leaving his companion and the woman on the bank. The other monk approached the woman and motioned for her to climb onto his back. She did, and he helped her across the river. After they crossed, she got down and they parted ways. The two monks walked together again, away from the river for some time before either of them spoke. The monk who first crossed the river spoke, “Brother, you broke your vow. In order to help that woman you touched her.” The second monk responded, “Yes, I did. But I put her down at the edge of the other bank, and you, you are still carrying her after all this time.”
Learning to let go will help me stay in the present moment. And what about worry?
My therapist asked me a question years ago, when I was worrying and asking what if this happens, or that happens. He asked me, “Where did you just go now?” I was dumbfounded for a second, “huh?” He repeated himself, “Where did you go while you were worrying, contemplating all of the negative what ifs?” And it struck me. I was going into the future. Just as with the dwelling on mistakes takes me to the past, worry and anxiety take me into the future. One that I cannot predict.
Mindfulness is a practice that can help us stay in the present moment. Not caught dwelling on the past nor worrying about an unpredictable future. The Buddhist koan I relayed above speaks to this mindfulness, to staying in the present moment. I still struggle with what this present mindedness means for planning, and in the case of the koan and my first mention of mistakes and errors, what that means for broken commitments and damage done.
My papi was not a fan of religion. He quoted Karl Marx's "Religion is the opiate of the masses" on various occasions to me. My father was a materialist and did not believe in anything science couldn't prove.
Let's look at Marx's whole quote though, as the one above is taken slightly out of context. "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people." Here we can see that although the basic element is still in place at the end of these phrases, Marx does acknowledge the soulful and heartfelt role that religion plays in people's lives.
I am not a Buddhist but I have found that I can learn a great deal from all religions, from any and all cultures. At the base of most religions are very simple values: love, selflessness, service. And in this case, mindfulness, another form of selflessness.
In the thralls of mindfulness one can part from their body and see the present situation almost as if from third person. One can detach from the need to be right, or to feel wrong. One can release the need to take the situation personal, and can breath and be present in the cortex before reacting; when mindful we can make decisions rather than react.
When I am effectively mindful I still feel emotions, I still have thoughts, but I do not get as caught up in them as when I am not mindful. I can accept that they exist and I can let them be without having to identify myself with each thought and emotion. I do not have to act until I am ready. I can simply be.