There are times when we just don’t feel like it. Everything is either too hard or too boring or too easy.
Psst. This is the invitation. That fatigue? That niggling restlessness? Break the seal. Open the envelope.
So many of us feel discomfort and immediately try to get rid of it with food, drugs, social media, gambling, shopping, work, alcohol, you name it. The irony is that this discomfort is the very gateway we must walk through to find peace. And conversely, our aversion to it is the very thing that keeps us from finding relief.
I like to think of it as an invitation. A real invitation on heavy paper, embossed with my name on it. An invitation designed with my exact proclivities and aversions in mind. When I toss it in the recycle bin without opening it, so it just keeps coming. I could toss it in the trash and it would still keep coming. Until I accept that invitation, I’ll be caught in the vicious cycle of discomfort/try to get rid of it/more discomfort.
So break the seal already. Open the envelope. Go to the party.
What does this look like in real life? Well, today it looks like this. The daycare center takes a week off during the summer, and my daughter and son-in-law both work. I travel to L.A. from New York to watch my miraculous nine-month-old grandson for five days. It fills me with wonder to be with this child, to watch him download the world, make connections, investigate without judgment or prejudice.
And it hurls me up against the wall of my mortality, my age, my aching bones. Being with him the first day, all day on my own, I am painfully aware of my limitations. I wonder if I’ll make it through the next four. I hobble around at night, barely able to walk. I am astounded at the degree of strength my capable daughter has, who manages not only a full time job and a marriage but this incredible child as well. How does she do it? How will I do it tomorrow? I’m exhausted and I feel not only inadequate, but ashamed of my inadequacies.
There it is. The invitation. My name all over it. My choices? 1) Toss it, and stay trapped in my story about who I think I am, and what that means. Or, 2) Open the envelope and accept the invitation.
If I choose the second option, it means that I step back for a moment, and first witness all the thoughts I’m believing about my situation. I’m too old for this. Something terrible might happen. Something might come up that I can’t handle. What if my back goes out, or my knees buckle at the wrong moment? If I’m this tired tonight, I will never make it through tomorrow, much less four more tomorrows.
Remember that there’s a big different between being trapped in those thoughts and being a witness to them. It’s the difference between being in prison and being on a picnic blanket by a river. So that’s the first thing: identifying the various thoughts that have been in the driver’s seat in a situation.
Then I examine — just like a scientist investigating — what happens when I believe those thoughts. What happens when I believe I’m too old for this? Let’s see, I envision disaster for the coming day, which makes me seize up physically. The back of my neck tightens. I get a headache. I double my pain. I feel sorry for myself. I feel even weaker than I am. I start obsessing.
Somehow just noticing everything that happens as a result of believing a thought begins to free me from its grip.
Then I ask, “Who would I be, in this situation, without the thought I’m too old for this?” So I return to my moment of ‘despair’. It’s the end of the first day. My right knee hurts. My back hurts. My feet hurt. And I feel tired. Can I see all of this without the lens of I’m too old for this? If I remove that lens, who would I be?
I would be a woman on a bed getting ready to go to sleep. I would be aware of the pain in my body, but also aware of my functioning mind, and my creativity. I feel gratitude for all the opportunities I have — the stroller that carries him for me, the car seat that enables me to bring him to the park, the fact that he’s wonderfully mobile on his own, that he can and does amuse himself endlessly on a play mat in his own home. I see that I’m not at all too old for this because I am actually doing it. I am also aware that if this were a high drama emergency situation (earthquake or fire or whatever), none of these aches and pains would even register. I would just be there with him. Period. And I feel the preciousness of my living bones and muscles working however they work, giving me all they’ve got, the sweetness of this fleeting moment with my grandchild.
Now that I’m in a more spacious place, I take that original thought (I’m too old for this), and I turn it around…just for fun, to see what might also be there. If the original thought is I’m too old for this, what would one of the turnarounds be?
I’m just the right age for this. Examples: 1. I am the age that I am, and I’m here…so I must be the right age for it. 2. I have 64 years of experience, 42 of which have been as a mother. Life has aged me like fine wine, and this is the optimum moment for me to show up for my grandchild in exactly this way. 3. Because I am this age, this activity has blessed me as a gateway to awakening.
This is a practice. It is a meditation. It is a way of being with what is. Instead of trying to escape your experience, you find yourself holding hands with it, letting it show you the way to freedom.
This story was just one example of how I open my invitations. It’s loosely based on the work of Byron Katie, whose book “Loving What Is” was my first introduction to this practice.
But however you open your invitations, may you be profoundly happy and free, and may all beings benefit.