Years ago, one of my friends called me from a gorgeous vacation spot where she was sitting at a bar, not spending time with her husband. This was a common theme—he worked constantly, and would book these amazing trips when they were supposed to have some quality time together, but then they’d get there and he’d keep working, or take off and do his own thing. They had three little kids at home, and my friend was starting to despair. A nice house and exotic vacations were not making up for a relationship that was plagued with rage, trouble and pain. It wasn’t all him; it’s rarely one person, but there wasn’t a willingness to look at the issues and work on them.
When I heard her voice on the phone she sounded small and lost, and my heart hurt for her. She told me she was flirting with the bartender for no other reason except that it was distracting her from her own desperation. Years later, after she’d made huge shifts in her life, she told me I said four words to her during that conversation, and they opened a doorway in her mind. They weren’t particularly profound, but they hit her in the right moment: “You are not stuck.”
Most of us fear change, but it’s the one constant. It’s understandable that we’d want to cling, that we’d want some things to count on. Maybe you put your mat down in the same place in your yoga class all the time. You probably have a lot of rituals, we humans like to make order out of this chaos, and try to control some of the uncertainty, and that’s okay. Put your mat where you want it, just be aware that you’re doing it. The problem arises when we seek too much insulation from the normal shifts and evolutions of life, many of which involve loss. When we’re too afraid of change, we also cease to live fully. Life happens on the edge, when we’re loving our hearts out. If you aren’t willing to risk your heart, you’re never going to find your joy or your purpose. These things don’t happen when the primary objective is safety and stability.
For many people, the idea of getting quiet is terrifying. Culturally, we’ve become addicted to busyness, to our devices, to our lists of things that need to get done, so that finding time to sit and breathe and connect to that most essential part of who we are is becoming obsolete. Why are people afraid of silence? When we get quiet, there’s space for our feelings to arise. Not every feeling we have is comfortable or desirable. The attempt to avoid or deny our feelings sets us up for the deepest alienation and isolation—our intuition is lost to us, and we are lost to ourselves.
If you’re unhappily married with three small children, is it terrifying to contemplate making a huge change that’s going to impact these people you love more than your own life? Of course it is. You don’t have to act on every feeling you have, though, and to deny yourself the opportunity to have the conversation, to entertain the possibilities, to come into contact with what is true for you—that isn’t going to lead to happiness for you or the people you love. If any relationship is going to improve, romantic or otherwise, it’s going to improve with communication and honesty. You can’t pretend for sixty or seventy years that you’re okay if you aren’t. Eventually, something is going to happen that turns over your applecart, or you’re going to numb yourself until no one can find you, until there’s no you to find. When you allow the questions to arise, you come into conversation with the answers, even if it takes awhile for the answers to emerge.
There’s no need to be afraid of yourself, and there’s no need to fear silence. I mean, you want to know yourself, right? You’re not a robot or a wind-up doll who can live a life prescribed by someone else, or many someone else’s, you are you. When we sit down to meditate, we don’t try to get rid of our thoughts, we just observe them, the same way we observe our inhales and exhales, and other sensations in the body. We notice the sensations change, the thoughts change, and we watch, and try to cultivate friendliness and compassion toward ourselves, and our passing fancies. If you’re looking to develop a sense of humor about yourself, meditation is a great place to go, because I’m sure you’re a riot. If you’re like most other human beings, you have your particular absurdities, obsessions, stories you tell yourself that may or may not be true, days you feel like a victim, hero, or victimized hero, worries about things that are meaningless and/or outside your control. And so you just observe and breathe, and little by little you come into contact with that essential part of yourself underneath all the noise and thoughts and longings, and that is what we call peace and communion. You are not so different from your neighbor, your ancestors, or the billions of people who’ve come before you and will come after you. You’re part of a grand, crazy, heartbreaking, beautiful mystery, and you’re here for the blink of an eye, so there’s not time to waste living a life that isn’t meant for you, flirting with bartenders and staving off your desperation.
Time is ticking, and there will be losses, and things will change whether you want them to or you don’t. People will love you and understand you and celebrate you, and other people won’t do any of those things. Some people will break your heart, but you get to decide whether beauty can arise from that breaking. You will grieve, you will be confused and inspired and lost and found and lost again. But don’t be lost to yourself through all that, because that would be the real shame and truest loss there is.
The truth is, it feels really good to get quiet, and if you don’t believe me, try this: https://yogisanonymous.com/previews/meditation-intro-to-meditation-ally-hamilton-2586
Sending you love,