It was one of those months. Death in the family, complicated hospitalizations, interrupted meditation retreat, equipment failures, delivery of damaged goods, dental infections and car accidents, not to mention the general chaos associated with the holidays. Every time some sort of major event happened, I thought to myself, “There’s a lesson to be learned here.” And each time I thought I knew what the lesson was, something else would happen to shift the gaze, sharpen the focus.
It sure seems that sometimes the universe hits you with a lesson, and keeps beating you harder until you finally get the message. I wondered, “What do a death in the family, an automobile accident and a meditation retreat, have in common?” In each case, what seemed to be important was that there is much to be gained in recognizing what is, and shifting the relationship to an incident or situation.
It is an important lesson, and one that bears revisiting, but it turns out that wasn’t what I was supposed to learn. In fact, it’s one I teach in my classes and to my clients regularly.
The day my rental car (which I had because of an auto accident that left my car unhappy about making left turns) had transmission problems and got stuck in Park, I felt that I had reached the end of my proverbial rope. I thought I’d been relatively patient and sanguine about everything that had been happening to our family up until that point, but I could feel myself on the verge of snapping. Then a friend of mine said, “When at the end of the rope, be the end of the rope.”
That’s when I got it. There was a sense of everything clicking together.
Just the day before, a friend was talking to me about some very old business and baggage she had, and that what she feared most was the kind of humiliation she had endured at the hand of those in power over her during part of her childhood. A friend said to her, “Be humiliation.”
She said, “I got it.”
You see, it’s not just about being in an okay place with not okay events. It’s about not seeing ourselves in opposition to events, or even separate from them. Once we find a way to “become” that which we fear, dread or antagonizes us, the duality disappears. Good/bad, this/that, me/you are revealed as the artificial constructs that they are — if only for a moment.
In that moment, the distinctions become so blurred that we cannot help but begin to find a state of peace with the source of our distress. This is not to say that we need to see ourselves as the cause of our troubles, just to try to experience, fleetingly, the seamless nature of reality. Out of that experience, we discover that suffering occurs as a result of differentiation, not from immersion.
Unfolding from this realization is an equanimity that does not present as inappropriately optimistic or false. It is a state of recognizing the reality of the situation calmly, without the need for an emotionally loaded reaction, a “woe is me” approach, or a sense of victimization. There is an acceptance that this is, in fact, how things are.
How do you “become” the antagonist? In the long term, the best strategy is developing a meditation practice as a tool for cultivating this ability. This does take some time and practice, and so, in the meantime, try thinking about a bell. It can help to work with an actual bell. A bell is a bell because it makes sound, but the sound is only possible due to the emptiness it contains. Take turns being the bell, the sound and the emptiness, noticing that none of them can be without the others.
The difficulties we encounter as we make our way through life can tempt us to indulge in a great deal of drama, immersing ourselves in misery, anger, or self-pity. To quote Shakespeare, this is only “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” The calm created by the equanimity found when letting go of differentiation is not only physically healthier, it leaves us with greater clarity with which to tackle our situation.