Going beyond fear begins when we examine our fear: our anxiety, nervousness, concern, and restlessness. If we look into our fear, if we look beneath the veneer, the first thing we find is sadness, beneath the nervousness. Nervousness is cranking up, vibrating all the time. When we slow down, when we relax with our fear, we find sadness, which is calm and gentle. Sadness hits you in your heart, and your body produces a tear. Before you cry, there is a feeling in your chest and then, after that, you produce tears in your eyes. You are about to produce rain or a waterfall in your eyes and you feel sad and lonely and perhaps romantic at the same time. That is the first tip of fearlessness, and the first sign of real warriorship. You might think that, when you experience fearlessness, you will hear the opening to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony or see a great explosion in the sky, but it doesn’t happen that way. Discovering fearlessness comes from working with the softness of the human heart.
We don’t realize that, somewhere within us all, there does exist a supreme self who is eternally at peace.
~Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
Peace is unconditional openness to all that arises. Peace isn’t an experience free of challenges, free of rough and smooth, it’s an experience that’s expansive enough to include all that arises without feeling threatened.
There is no doubt that solitude is a challenge and to maintain balance within it a precarious business. But I must not forget that, for me, being with people or even with one beloved person for any length of time without solitude is even worse. I lose my center. I feel dispersed, scattered, in pieces. I must have time alone in which to mull over my encounter, and to extract its juice, its essence, to understand what has really happened to me as a consequence of it.
~May Sarton, Journal of a Solitude
I figured out while I was still in my twenties that when I spent a fair amount of time around other people, I then had to spend some time by myself to recharge. At the time, I never would have called myself an introvert. After all, I liked being around other people. I was a performer. I choreographed and taught dance. I went out disco-dancing with friends till the wee hours of the morning.
Back then, the generally accepted image of an introvert was a painfully shy person who could barely look you in the eye or have a conversation and would rather stay home and read than be around other people. (They certainly wouldn’t be comfortable getting up in front of people to perform!) Nowadays, however, introverts and extroverts are a little better understood, and I’ve come to realize that, although there are people who would be surprised to hear me say so, I’m a classic introvert.
There are a lot of articles out there these days about introverts and extroverts. You can take any number of quizzes to see which you are. One article I read a few months ago observed (correctly) that it ultimately comes down to energy: introverts give or expend energy when they’re around other people, and extroverts receive or absorb energy when they’re around people. This is why introverts feel drained when they’re around other people for too long without some alone time to refuel and recharge.
“I lose my center. I feel dispersed, scattered, in pieces.” Continue reading
So I sat and meditated—really meditated—this morning for the first time in a very long time. I’m way out of practice, and there was some serious monkey mind action going on, but I stuck it out for probably 15 minutes, and I give myself credit both for making the commitment to sit and for lasting even that long, given that my mind was a veritable pinball machine, with my thoughts pinging and dinging across my brain at lightning speed the entire time.
I know the benefits of meditation. When I was married, my husband and I attended two 10-day Vipassana meditation retreats in Massachusetts, and I meditated regularly off and on while we were married. I think my practice began to go by the wayside as the marriage began to fall apart (I know, I know…that was just when I could have used the calm and equanimity that meditation can bring), and though I’ve attempted to re-establish a regular meditation routine numerous times since then, for some reason, I just haven’t been able to get back there. I’ll meditate a day here and there, maybe even for two or three days in a row, but then I let life get in the way, and there it goes again.
But it just so happens I’m reading two books right now, both of which have passages about the authors’ time spent in an ashram and their experiences with the challenges of meditation. I guess the double hit of meditation talk is what finally got me to plunk my derriere down on the cushion this morning, and—in spite of the brevity and restlessness of my sitting this morning, and in spite of the fact that I got way too little sleep last night and was dragging physically today as a result—I did feel the difference. I felt generally more at ease, less overwhelmed by all the changes and adjustments that I’m dealing with as a result of the move.
Will I sit again tomorrow morning? I don’t know. All I can say for sure is that that’s my intention. One day at a time. Step by step. Breath by breath. Sit by sit.
Therefore, dear Sir, love your solitude and try to sing out with the pain it causes you. For those who are near you are far away… and this shows that the space around you is beginning to grow vast…. be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend. Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn’t necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again; when you see them, love life in a form that is not your own and be indulgent toward those who are growing old, who are afraid of the aloneness that you trust… and don’t expect any understanding; but believe in a love that is being stored up for you like an inheritance, and have faith that in this love there is a strength and a blessing so large that you can travel as far as you wish without having to step outside it.
~Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Waiting is one of the great arts.
Until recently, I’ve shared T. S. Eliot’s approach to waiting. “Hurry up please it’s time.” But it never is time for the waiting to be over, until it’s time. No matter how much wringing of the hands, crying, begging, or bargaining we do, the waiting will continue until it’s damn good and ready, which is rarely soon enough.
It’s been my excruciating experience—over and over—that the torture of waiting only ceases after you’re no longer consciously aware that you’re waiting. You stop jumping every time the phone rings, stop checking your e-mail every half hour, stop pacing up and down until the post arrives. Exhausted, you loosen your grip on the situation. Why? Because you’ve given up, that’s why. Lost hope. Let go. Licked your wounds and moved on. Call it what you will, you’ve detached yourself from the final outcome, as the enlightened would say. But what malarkey that sounds like when you’re driven half mad with desire. Continue reading