A life of practice can be grumpy and life-enhancing work. It does not keep us from getting into trouble. Or end our troubles.
It does help us to notice when we are in trouble. Sometimes that noticing slows us down enough to turn directly into the trouble and work with it.
Here’s an example of what my friend Carol calls the “grumpy work” of waking up.
My husband Gideon and I had been preparing for a major interior painting and floor-refinishing after 30+ years in our home. This involved months of sorting and packing and discarding and giving away STUFF. This definitely left us each grumpy, and weary, from time to time.
Finally our movers arrived one morning to do a walk-through. We needed to make a more or less final plan for how they would pack up and move our belongings around the house without putting anything into storage. I’ll leave the details of our respective reactions to this whole undertaking to your imagination. Suffice it to say that Gideon and I each had our own version of overwhelm on display that morning, and didn’t fully appreciate one another’s concerns.
Shortly afterwards I left for a dentist appointment, grumpy and breathing heavily.
I thought to myself: this state of mind is not going to mix well with dental work.
On the 40-minute drive I turned directly into what was going on inside of me – a well-worn old program of assuming the whole burden of whatever needed to be done.
I repeated to myself: Take it back in. Take it back in.
Then: Take responsibility. Take responsibility.
Then: Be responsible. Be responsible.
Then: Sara, rely on your own goodness, which is not personally-owned.
Rely on Gideon’s goodness, which is not personally owned.
Don’t rely on his neuroses.
Or on your own.
Do/be what you can. Trust that Goodness, Godness, Reality has my back, not in any small ego sense.
I am not alone in this.
As I went through this process, I was able to invite in the thoughts and feelings that were present within me. I was also able to choose which thoughts and feelings I wanted to dominate – not something I can often do.
During each step in this process I was inviting in my limitations. My desire to let myself off the hook. My tendency to see the negative in myself, in Gideon, in the whole situation. My deep belief that whatever is going on in life, I carry the sole burden for figuring it out. For getting it done. Nested with each limitation is some wisdom, some intelligence: responsibility, goodness, the actual availability of help and support.
I call this kind of inquiry getting into life-giving, nourishing trouble.
This is not a linguistic or psychological sleight-of hand, not a formula for processing difficulties. No such formula exists. The language came to me fresh and alive in the moment, and it came from turning directly into my discomfort and my limitations.
By the time I arrived at the dentist, I was breathing normally, no longer grumpy.
This was a relief. But I warn you, this practice does not reliably bring relief from suffering. Sometimes it brings us through a kind of false suffering, like self-righteousness, into a place of true or primary suffering: fear for our safety, or a deep unsatisfied yearning to be met by the world.
Relief from suffering or no, it brings us to the truth of who we are in the moment.
That is the true grace and fruit of practice. It does bring us into relationship with what is going on inside ourselves and in the world.
You’ll have to decide if it is safe for you to do this while you are behind the wheel.