Identifying “What Is”
Awareness is an essential tool we bring to the task, and is itself something we must cultivate. It does not spring fully-formed from our minds, like Athena from Zeus’s head. It’s as much a fruit of the garden as it is the sieve we use to sort and the spade to dig. And it comes in many forms.”
I wonder how many of us carry around the fantasy that someday we’ll have it all together and then our lives will run smoothly, sort of like a well-oiled machine? In this view, perfection is always just around the corner. And it’s easy to get caught up in self-judgment and blame, maybe even shame, about the difficulties that life inevitably throws us. The underlying assumption is that if we had done everything “right,” we wouldn’t be having these problems. Whether it is physical illness or anxiety/depression, interpersonal conflicts, sexuality or money/ work issues that are causing us stress, a belief system like this can be a slippery slope down into the depths of despair. This is especially true when the same problems besiege us over and over.
Even if we did make mistakes along the way (and who of us hasn’t??), there is something to be learned and gained from every situation.
Those issues that follow us around and pop up again and again are a rich source of wisdom if we relate to them as our teachers. Within life’s most challenging difficulties lie the seeds of our greatest gifts. Like all seeds, however, they need to be planted in well-prepared soil, then nurtured and watered in order to flower and bear fruit. This takes time and patience and attention. If we are looking for a quick fix, we will most likely overlook the seeds and throw them out along with the chaff.
Awareness is an essential tool we bring to the task, and is itself something we must cultivate. It does not spring fully-formed from our minds, like Athena from Zeus’s head. It’s as much a fruit of the garden as it is the sieve we use to sort and the spade to dig. And it comes in many forms. Sometimes razor-sharp it cuts through delusion, or like a laser penetrates down through layers of confusion or doubt. At other times it may waft out of a dreamy state with surprising clarity or niggle at us from the periphery like a word at the tip of our tongue.
Meditation Can Be a Great Way to Cultivate Awareness
The simple act of sitting down everyday to be with ourselves to look within slowly develops the capacity to hold our experiences in such a way that in those times when difficulties inevitably arise we have the presence of mind and tools to face them. When we first begin looking into our own minds, however, we may see that our attitude towards ourselves is not all that kind. We judge ourselves for the thoughts we are having or even just for thinking, assuming that now that we’ve decided to meditate our minds should just shut up. But it doesn’t usually happen that way.
Awareness Without Compassion Can Do More Harm than Good
It’s very hard to learn from our experience if we’re using what we see to beat ourselves up. We all grow better in an atmosphere of acceptance and support. And yet, here is the conundrum: How do we cultivate these qualities of heart towards ourselves when our minds are so inclined to oppose us? The answer is that all we need to be able to do in the beginning is tolerate what comes up when we sit down and close our eyes to meditate, even the judgment and blame. Believe it or not, just this small step is enough to bring about change. The mind actually knows how to find its way to calm when we can get our ego out of the way.
The calmness and awareness developed in meditation can help us explore our experience from a different perspective, to see beyond the difficulties to the opportunities hidden there.
It’s not that we go looking for this, but that a willingness to be with our pain opens the doors of perception. The whole process is like a spiral that feeds on itself, the very same things we use as tools being themselves cultivated as we continue. As our capacity for awareness and compassion grow so does our understanding and wisdom. Meditation itself is a gift to ourselves that will go on giving long after any particular problem is resolved.
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