Tuesday, December 22, 2009

If it's broke, don't fix it

"All of us need to become more aware of our own strategy of escape, our own specific patterns of trying to "fix" our experiences. It's a given that we don't want to feel discomfort, but since it's inevitable, we have to learn how to address it. That's why the quality of perseverance is of key importance because we have to learn to just stay."--Ezra Bayda from Zen Heart: Simple Advice for Living with Mindfulness and Compassion

I've noticed lately that I seem to be in a big rush, almost manic in my quest to accomplish the next thing on my 75-item to-do list. I don't think it's just Christmas panic because I'm done with all the major presents--now I'm just adding on those last-minute stocking stuffers that every magazine claims is the death knell of your holiday budget. Today I plan to go to the British stationery store Paper Chase to see if they're having the big sale like they did last year. Do I HAVE to do this? No. A better idea would be to go home and make Pizzelles like I promised my in-laws. But I put go to Paper Chase on 172 Newbury St. on the list, so now I have to do it!

What I'm really doing is fairly obvious even if I didn't study psychology in college. I'm distracting myself from the onset of my annual Winter Blues with petty tasks and unnecessary errands. I know I'm about to face a week off from work, which in theory would be something to look forward to. But I know how I get when I have too much time on my hands. I start to feel depressed. I sleep for hours. I avoid doing the things that might actually lift me from my funk, like writing or yoga. I'm enervated, a sad sack, and eating leftover Spritz
by the handful just makes me feel like more of a lump.

One weekend recently I was in a sad way and I remembered the Buddhist teaching of "staying" with the emotion instead of trying to allay it with a back-to-back Hoarders marathon and a big glass of wine. I tried for an hour to stay with my negative feelings. I'm not going to put a rosy spin on it--it sucked. I also wasn't sure how staying with the feeling wasn't just a form of wallowing. Growing up my parents, especially my mother, had no patience for wallowing. My mother used distraction techniques--unfortunately not taking me shopping or out for a sundae, but by talking to me about something--anything--else whenever I would complain for too long. Which goes back to my original question: is it better to stick with the discomfort or distract yourself and thereby forget about the problem for a while?

It's like when I've written on here before about death. There are times when it strikes me that everyone I love is going to die, and so am I. What then? Yes, I know the answer is to live your life while you're alive, carpe diem and all that. But if I start thinking about death in the Buddhist way of thinking about death--we are all one in the universe, there is no "You" or "I", our ego is to blame for suffering, I feel discomfited. Yes I know that nothing is permanent--if it were, I'd still be in Paris, sitting by the Louvre eating Brie. But death is permanent, isn't it? I don't want to be food for worms. I don't want anyone I care about to be fertilizer, either. I want to have hope.

Not to be excessively morbid here. It's the holiday season, after all. It's better to enjoy the spiked egg nog and presents and your family and friends' company than to try to "fix" these questions of suffering and death. I'm beginning to feel like an Edward Gorey character, except without the sense of humor. But the question remains--if we don't try to "fix" the things that bother us, how can we ever be at peace?

Anyway, I'm just throwing these idea out there into the ether, like so many other people before me.

I plan to immediately forget this post by eating a chocolate from the office candy jar. I wish everyone who reads this blog a joyful holiday season and lots of happy present moments.


Levi said...

So if I "stay" with the emotions, I want to know what exactly "staying" entails? Like do I just sit in a chair and feel like crap? Or when I was listening to something this morning, Pema said something about the 'quality of the addiction' and that basically under that quality of addiction was the 'me, me, me' stuff.
But if I'm feeling like i need to eat or stuff or drink or exercise and it's to get rid of some underlying emotion that I'm trying to bury, how exactly do I sit with it? Do I just sit and think about it? (sorry, have been wondering about this for a couple of days. ;-)

NatureGirl said...

Good questions...

Suecae Sounds said...

Happy holidays to you too. :)

Anonymous said...


Mystic Meandering said...

Hi Jennifer!

Here's my two cents on the subject. :)

"Staying" or sitting with our feelings, emotions *about* something is more about "meeting" them from the space of Presence, not *focusing* or contracting around the *thought* or situation that creates them. The real issue, it seems, is seeing *beyond* the thought/feeling to who we really are - our Beingness/Presence - however you know this to be. Simply Seeing them from the space of Presence just *allows* them to be here - even with our little coping mechanisms, like chocolate :) We can be at peace (or not - who says we have to always be at peace?) - because we *know* who we are *behind* the feelings - behind the mask of "me." One has to discover, *recognize* the true Essence, Being, Self behind the ego mask with its feelings. Feelings are just feelings. There remedy, it seems, is to go deeper than the feeling level and discover what is really there with questions like: "Who is behind the mask of me?" A question I ask when the feelings are strong is: "How does Being/Self/Presence want to relate to this feeling, thought, situation, etc?"

Having said all this :) - A couple of good practical resources to use for "sitting" with feelings is Bryon Katie's "Loving What Is", "The Dark Side of the Light Chasers" by Debbie Ford, and "The Mandala of Being" by Richard Moss. (Not Buddhists, but very helpful in this area.)

Good luck! :)

Levi said...

Hi Jennifer, Christine had a useful response.
And of course, H03 was filled with good news.

Happy New Year to you and yours.