A few years ago, I saw the ad in Tricycle Magazine, and booked the event immediately, fully four months in advance, feeling so lucky to have gotten news of it before it sold out. So proud of myself for planning ahead. Such a smart girl, me.
When I bought that ticket, I didn't know that when the day finally came for this event, my 87-year-old mother-in-law would be in the hospital with her second broken hip. This reverberated through the family. Mrs. T is the last standing member of her generation, and a beloved elder. My wife and I were her sole day-to-day caretakers at the time, (she shouldered the lion's share of responsibility), so it was a big deal that this had happened.
Stressed and tired, but undaunted, I left for the Friday evening session that preceded the all-day Saturday event, certain that these teachings were exactly what I needed to get me through the coming six months.
Tara Brach is a fascinating human being. She has a wry sense of humor and her insights are profound. In one exercise, just as she was starting, she actually asked everyone to turn ON their cell phones and beepers--which became little mindfulness bells, opportunities to practice, later on in the talk.
She also has an incredibly calm and steady voice, but it doesn't have much dynamic range. It's almost hypnotic if you combine it with stress and fatigue. Upon hearing her speak, all I wanted to do was find a comfortable place to lie down and sleep. It was so strong, this desire. I called it resistance. I called it lack of commitment. I called it laziness, all kinds of nasty names.
And then I listened to what she was actually saying. I listened to her words. They moved my life, quietly, almost invisibly, in the direction of true compassion. A compassion that took a very unexpected turn. Here's what happened.
She's known for teaching on the acronym: RAIN. Recognize (what’s happening, what you’re thinking/feeling; Allow (let it be so, whatever it is); Investigate (look more deeply into the underlying elements of what you’re thinking/feeling); and Non-identification (or nonreactivity—don’t resist anything you find in that investigation. Just rest in natural awareness).
Just for grins, I decided to apply this to my attitude. I recognized I was sleepy. Then I allowed it to be so, stopped calling myself names about it. As I investigated the underlying elements of my state of being, it dawned on me quietly that there was an undercurrent of “not enough” that drove much of what I did, including coming to the city for yet another spirituality workshop, because *I’m not there yet. I need more training. I need someone else to tell me I’m all right. Or show me how to be all right.*
What followed was a dance between my keener sense of fatigue, and then noticing and allowing all the thoughts around it. I was aching with exhaustion. And my mind was judging, declaring I had no right to such fatigue, there were people out there with real fatigue and I was not one of them. And while we were at it, (mentally smacking myself upside the head) PAY ATTENTION! You’re at a Tara Brach teaching, for cryin’ out loud. Stop whining about being tired. It was useful to notice the inner diatribe. I let it go over and over, returning to my body. Bone deep fatigue. Diatribe. Allowance. More fatigue. Diatribe, noticing, allowance. Fatigue, etc.
When the closing meditation came, I ran for the subway, which eventually screeched into Penn Station just in time for my train home. I wondered if I'd gotten anything out of the evening, but was too tired to worry about it much.
The next day was the all day training.
Saturday morning, I awoke and every molecule in my body wanted to stay in bed. I lay quiet for a while, listening, not bolting into motion the way I usually do. The little bit of RAIN that had fallen the night before had miraculously silenced the yapping nazi within.
As birds negotiated at the feeder near our bedroom window, I felt my body aching for rest. I felt the delicious warmth of our little family, two-legged and four-legged. I allowed all of that to be so, without other layers of interpretation. Investigating the underlying elements of my fatigue, I remembered the non-stop stress, the long hours managing emotionally charged situations one right after the other. And I practiced non-identification: none of these thoughts are who I "am." They're just water flowing by.
The train came and went from the Floral Park station that morning and I was not on it.
Many might argue that I should have gone in anyway. For some, it might have been fruitful to do this--pushing past the fatigue, practicing non-identification with it, and going into the city, receiving the exact medicine they needed. But for one who has been tyrannized by perfectionism, who has lived a lifetime of ignoring her body's cries for rest, and who has repeatedly run away from her family (and the present moment) to dive into imaginary "redemptive" hard work, this compassionate opening was a small miracle.
The full fruit of spiritual teaching can be as simple as "Stay home." Sometimes, the greatest discipline involves the determination to choose rest over busy-ness. The story I related happened in 2013, and although I've grown some since then, on that occasion I stayed home.
In more ways than one.
I stayed home in my own experience, my own body, mind and heart.
I stayed home, snuggled in with my family, and tasted a brief, beautiful moment of real freedom.
Maybe next time, I'll be able to attend the whole weekend. Maybe not.
But now I know that it won't matter, so long as I remain truly present.
May this and greater freedom continue to expand in my awareness.
May all sentient beings everywhere feel it for themselves, and benefit.
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