April 20, 2011

Looking Inside

I saw a blog post today by Peggy Senger-Parsons, a Quaker pastor in Oregon. (April 16 at http://sillypoorgospel.blogspot.com/). It’s a beach scene with these words printed on top of it: “Dear God, I have a problem. It’s me.” She titles the post, “Honesty.” I like Peggy's posts for being so practical. To me this one says something about looking inside when we are tempted to look outside.

Because I have noticed that we – and I include myself here – don’t always do such a good job of looking inside. When something goes emotionally very wrong, we almost always reflexively think that either 1) the problem is outside of us, or 2) the solution is outside of us. It certainly happens with our responses to the big problems: the alcoholic family member who can’t hold a job, the young girls who have sex and get pregnant, the teachers whose students do poorly on the state tests. We do the same thing as a nation, with Republicans blaming Democrats, and Democrats blaming Republicans for the problems we face together, and then passing laws designed to curb the excesses of the other. It’s where we are in our development, I guess, to blame anyone but ourselves, and to respond by trying to control others and our environment, rather than breathe into the problem, accept it, and learn from it so that we can respond differently.

It happens with the small problems, too, the ones where we could be getting really good and frequent practice so that when the big problems come along we’d be ready for them! For example, I might feel angry that my wishes are not being respected around a particular problem in our shared household. My first impulsive thought is that if my partner would only change his habits, we wouldn’t have this problem! (My mistaken belief is that the problem exists outside of me. He is the problem.) One of the effects of some recent poor diet choices I made was an experience of sudden and severe muscle seizures. When they would hit, usually in the middle of the night, my first reflexive motion was to make it stop, get away from the pain, run to a hot bath, shout for help. (The mistaken belief was that the solution was outside of me, rather than in my response to the pain.)

Perhaps it is a Western thing, with our valuing of armaments and industry and engineering and hard science. We want to make things happen the way we want them to be. But mindfulness practice leads us to just the opposite: to receive the experience, accept whatever it is, be relaxed with it, and eventually respond as led - in my language, led by God. Some people get their shorts tied in a knot about the idea of “accepting” something that is unjust or just plain wrong. But for me, accepting doesn’t mean that I agree that this situation should be here now. It is just noticing that it is here now, and that I can’t ignore it or pretend it isn’t here and that wishing it wasn’t here is not going to do me any good at all, at all.

So, the next time the muscle cramps come – please, God, let them be milder, let the practice be successful – I will try to notice them. “Here you are again, cramps. Come to tell me something about how I’m treating my body, eh? Thank you for showing up so I can pay better attention to my body’s needs.” And then I will breathe. "Breathing in, I know I have a body. Breathing out, I am at peace with my body." That’s my intention, anyway. I am willing to experience my life and my body as it is. I expect that, as I continue to practice, I will get better at it.

What are you working to accept in your life? Can we hold each other in the Light?



Joann said...

I'm working to accept the uncertainty about income and employment that has arrived unasked on my doorstep. The undercurrent of anxiety and vague guilt that accompanies me daily drains the joy out of living. Who knew that my peace and openness to 'what is' were so dependent on having plenty of money available? It's a little sobering to contemplate what I've been crediting to spiritual maturity. Breathe in; I have what I need. Breathe out; I am content. BUT THE FUTURE! I can't assure I always will be! Ah, that. True. Breathe in; I have what I need. Breathe out; I am whole and alive and content. When the "out there" problem resolves itself (as it will sooner or later) I hope I've used this opportunity to practice the inner shift that's been exposed to view. Breathe in; I have what I need. Breathe out; I am whole and alive and full of options and content

Merry Stanford said...

Joann, you are so very good at being in the lesson. Thank God for you, dear friend. Breathe in, you are loved. Breathe out, you are surrounded by Love.