Recently I’ve been finding my life to be overly complex, and sometimes overwhelming. Moving house took weeks of preparation and packing, followed by the intense work of unpacking and arranging everything. My partner and I moved in together, and so there are a whole load of adjustments to work through as the nature of our relationship changes. My kids are now attending two separate schools that are two towns over, so that I sometimes spend more than two hours a day driving back and forth. I agreed to give four video talks for Tricycle magazine that involved an insane amount of work. And soon after moving we decided to adopt an abandoned puppy, which adds a whole level of complexity, from runs to the vet to having to replace the phone and laptop cables she’s chewed her way through.
Because of all this my mind is very stirred up. There’s a kind of background anxiety about whether I’m forgetting something, such as whether it’s my turn to take the kids to school today, and how I’m going to fit things like writing articles, recording meditations, and helping online course participants with their tech-support problems into my schedule. There’s always some new complication cropping up.
In the face of these challenges, my meditation practice is a relief. It’s not that there’s some kind of magic happens where all my problems, or my reactions to them, suddenly vanish. Of course what’s going on in my head and in my body outside of meditation get brought into my meditation practice. That’s kind of the point, actually. Meditation is an opportunity to work with that stuff.
Thoughts about work or about family schedules or communication difficulties come up. I notice those, and I let go of them, returning my attention to the body, and to the breathing that takes place within it. And then there’s the experience of not-thinking. It may be a brief experience, but it happens, if just for two or three breaths.
I become more aware that my body is tense. I have an opportunity to soften the body and to allow it to relax, even if just a little.
I notice sensations of anxiety. They’re unpleasant, but I allow myself to be present with them, not reacting but allowing there to be a sense of space around them.
So there are thoughts that I let go of, feelings I accept, and tensions in the body that I notice and allow to relax. Doing these things helps.
I find it’s important to notice how the texture of my experience changes as I let go of thoughts, accept uncomfortable feelings, and soften the body. This texture moves from feeling bumpy and tight to feeling more harmonious and easeful. The shift isn’t always major, but it’s real. There’s movement away from suffering and toward more of a sense of well-being.
I’m stressing the word “texture” here. The experience of having a lot of thinking going on, of feeling stressed, of being tense, have a texture of sorts. And that texture is unpleasant. The experience of calmness, the experience of accepting an unpleasant feeling, the experience of the body softening — each of these has a texture. And that texture is easeful and pleasant. As the shifts I’m talking about take place, there’s a change in the texture of my experience.
Here’s why it’s important to notice this. The thoughts that generate stress in the first place are compelling, and so we get pulled back into them over and over again. We need a counterbalancing force to keep us anchored in calmness and ease. What I’m suggesting is that an interest in, even a fascination with, the the texture of our experience as we practice mindfulness helps to keep us anchored and stop us from immediately moving back toward being distracted and stressed. So I suggest that you really notice the pleasant, spacious, and easeful nature of letting go. Really appreciate it.
If you don’t notice and appreciate these changes, then your mind will tend to move back toward mental business, conflicted feelings, and physical tension. You won’t have an anchor.
The changes I’m talking about, and that I’m encouraging you to notice and appreciate, don’t have to be huge. After you let go of one stress-filled train of thought, there might be only a few seconds of relative calm before another stress-filled thought arises to take its place. But if you look at the texture of those few seconds you’ll find that it’s more pleasant and easeful than it was while you were thinking. And that makes you want to stay there.
With a little practice you’ll also start to notice that compulsive thinking is unpleasant while you’re still caught up in it. And this helps you to let go of it. It’s natural to want to stop doing something that’s making you miserable.
Of course as you do what I’m suggesting you might find yourself grasping after pleasure. You have those few moments of calm, you notice their easeful and pleasant texture, and something in you yearns to hold on to this experience. That of course isn’t helpful. But once you get into the habit of noticing the texture of your experience you’ll start to recognize that grasping after pleasant experiences is just another unpleasant thing the mind does, and you’ll be more inclined to let go and just accept what’s going on.
Appreciation is an anchor. Remember to use it.
I am always amazed that Bodhipaksa consistently points us to the salient points in Meditation with such a simple and understandable instructions. It becomes transparent to a beginner or seasoned yogi. I wish I had received such beautiful teachings much earlier in my spiritual journey. Thank you so much Bodhipaksa!
Thanks for that Bodhi. I do find it difficult to notice the fleeting moments of not-thinking or at least to not noticing them until they have gone- a little bit like noticing someone you know driving in the opposite direction and waving just a fraction too late.But one thing that always helps me when Im in the middle of turbulent times such as your last few weeks is the knowledge that it will pass and all will be calm again eventually. I hope all is finally sorting itself out,what a relief it will be!
Having just undertaken a major house move myself with all of the accompanying stress and anxiety this was a very helpful reminder. Thanks Bodhipaksa.
I hope your move went well, Kristen.
I don’t remember moving house as being this difficult in the past. The last couple of moves I’ve done have involved downsizing, while this one involved moving into a bigger place and combining my stuff with my partner’s. I guess that adds a couple of extra layers of complication. And I’m finding it physically harder as I get older. Hopefully my next move will be my last!
Great article. Good to know I’m not the only human being who gets stressed and finds meditation very benefical. ?
What an excellent discription of a life full of potential stress – yes l sometimes wonder if my body & mind has become so accustomed to stress that it actually craves it??! I actually get ill (migraine) when l stop! I wish you all the best with your new adventure in life, l view my marriage as a continual work in progress :-) l hope l have subscribed – not too sure it all went through OK???
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