I’m laying here on my yoga mat taking a break snickering to myself as I realize the irony taking place in writing this blog post: I have a page of notes all crossed off as I try to perfect the opening lines of this post. Yes, perfecting a post about dropping the perfect! Now there is irony! And there is being very human. Yes, this is how our human experience is — our habitual patterns are deeply entrenched within us. And yet, we can shift these patterns.
This striving for perfection is weaved deep into our culture. There are times when I think, “No! Not me! That may be what mainstream advertising is all about, but I don’t buy it. I’ve dropped the notion of being perfect!” And then I go around hurriedly straightening up before company comes over!
Two weeks ago, as Sandy the Hurricane whirled around us,
I was on a seven day silent Buddhist meditation retreat.
Things were definitely not perfect. No power, no heat. For four days. Nowhere to go (literally. There was a huge tree down blocking the one exit to the retreat center) but inside (ha! Literally. Inside the building and inside our own hearts, bodies, and minds), unable to command the storm to submit to our demands for sunshine and warmer weather, we got to practice going with the flow. Watching the wave. Letting go. Allowing…..aaaand of course, resisting all that, too!
I noticed again and again the truth of Buddha’s words that we suffer when we resist what is. We suffer when we get caught up in our internal weather systems of stormy emotions, relentless thoughts, and painful sensations. We suffer when we want something to be different than what it is, when we try and control EVERYTHING around us — trying to make it “perfectly pleasing” to us — when we keep busy, avoiding the inner wisdom of our bodies whispering to us the the simple and yet often elusive way home to our true self.
I practiced an incredibly simple yet profoundly healing practice on retreat:
noticing the pleasant. Dropping the “trying.” Dropping the “perfecting.” And instead noticing what is pleasant. Right now. Right here. In this moment. This body — the constellation of ever changing sensations in the body.
This doesn’t ignore the negative. We aren’t trying to get rid of or deny the negative. We say, “I see you, too. You can be here, too.” And we turn our attention, we shepherd our attention back to the pleasant.
There’s resistance there. We want to go to the negative. We are primed to notice the negative, the potentially harmful and dangerous. But often, the path of this neural circuitry is well worn. So well worn that we jump on it in a nano second. And that’s how we can spend most of our day: going down the path of noticing the unpleasant, what’s wrong, what isn’t perfect…in ourselves, our partners, our children, our neighborhood, our nation, or world. And reacting.
I don’t know about you, but during the retreat, I noticed how this “going down that negative path” impacted me. How I got carried away by it. And how, rather than protecting me from potential danger, was causing harm in the present moment. Harm to my body, my heart, my mind, and my relationships.
And as I formally practiced more and more shepherding my attention back to what was pleasant, I noticed a peace rising within me. A “soft delight.” I noticed my heart opening. I noticed how I felt a warm glow in my heart — for my own self, my dear ones, those on retreat, and all living beings.
I experienced how, ultimately, it is not WHAT happens in life, but how we relate to it that elicits peace or suffering, liberation or imprisonment. No matter if we just got a diagnosis that we have two weeks to live or we lost a job or we just had a great time with old friends. Whatever it is….the story and the specifics don’t create our happiness. WE do. It’s how we relate to whatever it is that is happening right now within us and around us that creates our happiness.
So…here’s a thought: maybe try noticing the pleasant for one day. Shoot, one hour in the day! Notice what is good and delight-filled, kind or pleasant. Within you and around you. And when the old habit of noticing the unpleasant shows up, say hello, allow it to be there, and then just come gently back (again and again) to noticing the pleasant.
I’m in this with all of you! Many blessings! (And next time you come over, I won’t hurry and straighten up! Please notice what’s pleasant in our home…even the mess!)