So, as a morning person, I do a lot of thinking in the morning. And this morning I got myself into a good old tailspin of some negative thinking.
The particular what's, why's, and wherefores of said thinking don't really even matter. And, they're private. But a really good thing just happened to me around said bout of badthink.
A good friend approached me offering to lend support, and I sort of judo flipped the offer. I didn't want to discuss the churn in my head. But I did value their support, and said so.
Here's exactly how that went down.
My Friend: "Good Morning Mako"
My Friend: "How are you?"
Me: "So-so. Just have a lot on my mind."
My Friend: "Do you want to talk about it?"
Me: "No, but thanks. Hugs."
My Friend: "Hugs."
Funny thing. As soon as we had had the exchange, I started to feel better. Then it struck me why, exactly. It's not a simple why.
Over the course of my many years of meditation and contemplation, I've stumbled across several ideas, several practices, which I find transformative, helpful, and healthy in my life.
One is being mindful, staying present. That means being in the moment, even if the moment doesn't feel very good. You feel in totality what you're feeling. Then, you feel the next thing. I had been all caught amidst a bunch of expectations, frustrations, fears, and judgments. But when my friend messaged me, I was beginning to feel something different: supported, loved, cared for. I started to feel better in part because I was moving on to the next thing.
Another has to do with some instruction I learned from Pema Chödrön. It's a meditative practice called leaning into pain. You take the thing you're looking at, that bothers you, and really focus on it. If it's a fear about the future, you follow it down the rabbit hole to its potential ultimate conclusion. If it's a lament about circumstance, or past pain, you look it full in the face, and see what that circumstance really means.
It's a rewarding but challenging sort of thing to lean into one's pain. What tends to happen is that whatever-it-is that's so painful to you gets its teeth blunted. It's not that there's no bite there, but that the pain stops being front-and-center and all consuming, and recedes into a more manageable place. A mistake you have made becomes just one among thousands you have already, and may yet make.
Being mistreated by another person gains context. It's not that you forgive them, or that it doesn't hurt. But you see that they, just like you, are fragile and imperfect.
The thing causing you pain still causes it. But you begin to see that the pain is transient, fleeting, like every single thing in your life, including your entire life.
Third, and this was maybe the key thing, I saw that I was okay with not being okay. I wasn't running from my discomfort. I was staying, sitting with it, moving through it. That's samsara, the "wheel of suffering", from Buddhism. Often we expend more energy trying not to suffer than the cost of just experiencing the suffering in the first place. I didn't want to rehash my negative thinking with my friend because it had already happened, and I didn't need to run from it, just through it.
That actually felt good to see. Now, about an hour later, I can barely remember the thoughts which were so hot and painful just a little while ago.
I do this sort of processing, moving through things, all the time. But it's rare that I take the time to mindfully detach from it, and watch it. I've spent 12 years acquiring and honing these skills, and each time I use them, it's still work, still a practice. I'm going to be doing this same sort of meditation and contemplation for the rest of my life. That's inherent to the very nature of the practice - it's not work you start, or stop. It's work you do.
I'm thankful for it.