When I was much younger, I sought out meditation practice in the hopes of quieting my mind enough to give me inner peace. Back then, I thought peace was a quiet destination. A calm bliss. I thought it would relieve my suffering, my angst, my qualms. I had a lot of those. It’s no surprise that I wasn’t very successful with my earlier attempts at meditation.
Then came the day that I embarked again on this journey, and oh, the difference it makes when you learn to relinquish your perception of, and attempts at, control. I’ve since learned that life is generous in offering opportunities to feel fully alive–to experience the full spectrum of feelings. This includes joy and despair, anticipation and fear, anger and contentment. Life’s generosity is boundless, to the point where I say, “No, no, that’s much too much. Please, don’t.” in that pleading voice you use with your Aunt Betsey when she brings over armloads of presents she ordered from infomercials. But life continues to not hear you, like when Aunt Betsey’s hearing aid doesn’t work, and continues to give us circumstances where we succeed and fail, love and hurt, laugh and whimper.
I used to fear the negative feelings. Because I feel too much. I lack the moderation gene, so all my feelings are on steroids. I’m a little extreme, a little intense, a little passionate. By “a little,” I mean “a lotta.”And I used to fear I would be consumed by them. I used to fear that if I felt fear or despair, that I would spiral deep down into that pit and never be able to come up for air. So the irony is that at the hint of a negative feeling, I would step down into a pit of fear, and that fear would weave complicated stories about all the horrible possibilities and outcomes that my overthinking mind could imagine. And I can certainly tell stories.
So it took me a long time to muster up the courage to truly embrace fear and despair and sadness. Doesn’t that sound silly? That I needed to be brave enough to feel sad? Yet to this day, it requires courage for me to decide not to blunt the pain, or avoid the pain, or deflect the pain. It requires courage to not try to outrun the fear, or shop away the anxiety, or overwork to deflect unhappiness. For a long time, I didn’t want to feel that pain, because it hurts. And you know what? I’ve learned that when I fully feel the pain, it hurts.
And that’s OK. That’s kinda pain’s charm–that it’s a hurty sort of feeling. I’ve learned that there’s no avoiding opportunities for pain and hurts. I’ve learned it’s not the events in life that cause the suffering from the pain, but it’s the storylines we tell ourselves about the pain that cause the suffering.
It’s the storylines we tell ourselves about how of course this would happen, things like this always happen to me. It’s the storylines we tell ourselves that once again, I’m not enough. It’s the storylines we tell ourselves as we project into the future and see the potential obstacles, and we tell ourselves things can’t possibly work out, so why bother, may as well throw in the towel now.
It is these stories we tell ourselves that cause suffering. When we tell ourselves these stories, we must remember we are writing these scripts. We are the authors. Fear is not the author. Despair is not the author. Hopelessness is not the author. We can always write another story. It’s really that simple. But simple can be hard. Sometimes simple isn’t easy.
And peace can be found in this space, in this space in between simple and hard. Peace is the place where positive and negative feelings pass through, and you hold each one gently, and then put it down. Peace is holding the feelings without the stories. Peace is trusting that you can hold each feeling without being consumed by it. Peace is a place where the only certain thing is uncertainty.
Peace is treading through life gently and kindly, while holding these feelings without the storylines, the judgments, the labels of good or bad. Instead, knowing they just are. Peace is running into jagged, sharp edges and riding smooth carpet rides with equanimity. Peace is the space where you allow life to unfold and allowing the uncertainty to be uncertain.
Uncertainty because telling storylines can provide the ending to your story by becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy or a forced ending. But that’s where suffering lives. Peace is being open to it all, observing it all, and just being in that space. Peace is knowing you need not do or say anything sometimes. Not everything needs to be said out loud. Not everything needs an action or response. Sometimes things just need to sit, to be, for a while.
I’ve found the strange byproduct of being mindful to practice living in this space is that I’m much more compassionate and empathic. Letting go of the narratives we write that keep us imprisoned in our past or fears or unrealized potentials frees us to remember others have the same fears and hurts and anger. And in that place of connection with others, the anxiety and sadness and fears and pain soften. And this is peace.