Falling through suffering
Recently someone wrote to me and said that although he’d been making great progress in his meditation and had been experiencing at times profound peace and intense clarity, his meditation recently had become very turbulent. There can be many reasons for this, of course, but one that came to mind was when we need to shift gear in our meditation practice.
This turbulence may well have been a call to go deeper. We can get used to having a generally more positive experience, and get used to a certain ease in our practice. The mind is generally calmer, and we’re more joyful and experience more kindness. But we can become unused to experiencing difficulties, and when they come up we are profoundly disturbed. We become like the princess on the pile of mattresses: the one small pea in our experience is enough to destroy our comfort. And we become addicted to “fixing things” — trying to get our experience to be just so.
When we experience something uncomfortable in our experience and we try hard to “fix it” we end up just disturbing the mind even more. Our “fixing” activity itself becomes a source of disturbance. A good analogy for this is catching a feather on a fan; the more effort you make the more the feather flies away from the fan.
So when the mind is disturbed like this, we can work on developing more equanimity. Let go of aversion. It’s OK not to feel good. Let go of any craving for peace and joy. We can find a complete acceptance of the fact that things don’t feel good.
And the ironic thing is, when we completely accept not feeling good, then amazing things happen. We can rest with our discomfort, just letting it be there. As we stop resisting it, stop thinking that things should be otherwise, stop thinking that it’s a bad thing that we’re experiencing discomfort, our suffering starts to thin out.
We find that we start to “fall through” our suffering and come out into a place of joy and calm. The discomfort may vanish. Or there may still be discomfort present, but we’re fine with that.
It might be tempting to see this as just a sly way to “fix” things, but I don’t think it is. It’s a completely different paradigm.
Now I’m not saying that we should never try to fix things, or never try to change our experience. Often we need to do that. You’re anxious? Take a few deep breaths to calm down. You’re angry? Cultivate lovingkindness. You’re craving something? Think about the drawbacks and deficiencies of the thing you’re craving. This is all “fixing.” But you may, at some point, find that your fixing activities themselves are as much a source of disturbance as the problems you’re trying fix. And at that point, just stop trying to fix, and just be with your suffering. And then fall through it, and find peace on the other side.