After working as a psycho-therapist for many years and after speaking about non-dualism for nearly 20 years, my impression is that most of us spend a lot of energy and time trying to control and limit our experiences. We think that if we resist or push away pain well enough, we will feel good or at least not feel so bad.
It’s easy to understand why we do this. We have so much conditioning from childhood and also from our adult lives. So much of how we react to the challenges of life is dependent on our past experiences. And often there is little or nothing we can do to prevent negative reactions. But we do have a choice about how we respond to our negative reactions – to me that seems the most important thing.
Fortunately, there are some very simple and easy ways of facilitating more positive responses to painful or difficult experiences.
We have to tighten up in order to suffer. For most people the most obvious expression of that is a restriction of breathing. If we allow a gentle softening of that restriction, then there’s a quiet, effortless sense of well-being. We also have to restrict our breathing in order to perpetuate limiting thinking. And the effortless releasing of that restriction helps us to appreciate that we’re not our thinking. Suffering evaporates.
What we really are is never damaged or tainted by the things that happen. We don’t need to cultivate or purify what we really are. Our identity, our true nature, is already complete and whole. What is helpful is to develop our capacity to be open to that, which never changes. It’s always helpful to appreciate that we have an option: ‘Do I continue with the limiting thinking or do I allow a benign attitude to myself and others?’ We need to deal with the issues that come up in our lives, but doing this is very different, when we give ourselves the space to remember who we really are. Being open to this means being ready to soften when the automatic contraction system takes over.
The first step is often to notice the contraction, to accept: ‘Okay, this is what’s happening’, and then to allow a gentle softening. It’s about allowing, not doing. When we’re suffering, we’re generally not allowing for our innate sense of well being. It’s all about allowing a shift of focus from struggling with the content of our lives to a more spacious, benign knowingness, which is always available and not affected by whatever our circumstances may be. It’s really an effortless shift in perspective, which allows for a very different experience.
If we pause and ask ourselves: ‘What’s my direct experience now? What am I feeling? What am I thinking? Am I tight, pissed off, hurt, angry?’ and in response allow that gentle softening, then the thinking will evaporate and the feelings will dissolve. It may be difficult to believe it can be that easy, but it really is true. But you don’t have to believe me, experiment for yourself. It’s not about analysing our feelings or necessarily understanding them. We simply allow them to pass without denying them or needing to analyse them. This is worth practicing when we are in a good space. Meditation can help with this or simply taking moments during our day to remember to pause and allow softening. The more we can practise this when we are feeling good, the more we can apply it when things are difficult.
Peace and well-being are innate and therefore always available. In a curious way what we tend to do is resist well being. This is what suffering is. We try to make something happen that would otherwise spontaneously happen in a very natural, innocent way. Life needn’t be a struggle. We add the struggle.