Lately I've been thinking a lot about the difference between desire and attachment...
When I was on a ten day silent meditation retreat over the holidays, I began to see how my mind would obsess over the same desires over and over again. (Mostly about achieving more, doing more, having more...)
It became crystal clear that those desires - that had once been born out of pure innocence - had become attachments and they were causing me suffering.
In a moment of realization in meditation, on Christmas Day, when I had been feeling quite a lot of pain in my body, I broke down in tears, realizing I had been creating the cause of my own suffering by focusing so much on what I didn't have, and what was not in my present moment reality.
So I did what I could to clear those attachments away. I focused on what was happening in my body and breath and released the need for anything to be different than it already was.
An image flashed in my mind of myself being completely stripped down to simple clothes and a shaved head, meditating - settling into a state of stillness and total presence.
From this state of complete patience, self-lessness and letting go, a ground zero of sorts, I asked myself what was really important to me - and the answer was so simple: time in beautiful natural environments with my beloved, singing and being a teacher and mentor, walks in the back field with my cat, Quan Yin, and going out to dinner with friends. That was it...
From that day forward in the retreat, meditation became so much easier. Pain began to lift on my body, and in the times when it came back, my relationship to it was completely different. I had developed a patience that hadn't been there before. I allowed the sensations to be there, the thoughts to be there, witnessing, knowing at some point they would pass, and they always did.
Carrying these insights into my life, I've found a state of more ease and gentleness.
But what about our desires? Isn't it good to have goals and ambitions? I think it is good to have desires, goals and ambitions, but when we find ourselves suffering from those desires, it's time to ask if we have become attached.
It has been a great relief for me to enjoy life (and all that I already have) from a place of nonattachment - allowing everything to just be as it is.
I can't say I've figured it all out, and sometimes those old attachments linger back into my mind, but that's when I come back to my meditation practice, noticing the sensations and breath, and remembering all that is real and perfect in this moment.
To hear more about this topic, listen to my latest podcast where I share the introduction of my book due to release this summer. If you missed my last email, you'll hear all about the new title, Just Be: A Search for Self-Love in India. And, if this message resonates with you, I'd love to hear in the comments.
1) The Commitment to Not Cause Harm
2) The Commitment to Take Care of One Another
3) The Commitment to Embrace the World Just As It Is
The last commitment stayed with me and I have been integrating these teachings into my life.
What would it be like to embrace ourselves and the world fully, just as they are? What if we were to start living without the constant thoughts of future plans to change the current state of the world around us?
This week as I realized what a relief it would be to embrace my home, my partner, my chosen career and my community just as it was - I saw the beauty in what I already have.
"Each person's life is like a mandala - a vast, limitless circle. We stand in the center of our circle, and everything we see, hear, and think forms the mandala of our life...Everything that shows up in your mandala is a vehicle for your awakening. From this point of view, awakening is right at your fingertips, continually. There's not a drop of rain or a pile of dog poop that appears in your life that isn't the manifestation of enlightened energy, that isn't a doorway to a sacred world."
"Embracing the world as it is" requires us to embrace the difficulty and challenges of life. It is the opportunity to see every moment as a vehicle for awakening.
I thought about my daily life: What was I resisting? What could I embrace more fully?
The resounding answer, as simple as it was: Washing the dishes.
I had slowly delegated the task of washing dishes to my partner without even talking about it. I asked myself, "What if I took on this task as a vehicle for spiritual awakening? What if I moved past my resistance and did this task with total loving awareness?"
The first thing I did was buy some rubber gloves to protect my hands and make the job more tolerable. I went on to wash all the dishes I made that day, even a few more that weren't even mine.
My partner noticed, "Meredith - you've been so helpful around the house today! Thank you!"
I just smiled and replied, "I'll send your thanks on to Pema Chodron."
I took a yoga class with one of my favorite Bay Area teachers this Sunday, Kimber Simpkins. Her theme this class delved into darkness, in order to find more light. She told us about an article she had read, about a woman in Australia in Hospice care who wrote a book called, The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying.
She read each of them aloud to us before the class, and reminded us throughout. Read them through, and ask yourself, do I fit into these? How can I make a positive change in that area of my life?
From the blog inspirationandchai.com:
1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This was the most common regret of all. When people realize that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.
It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.
2. I wish I didn't work so hard.
This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.
By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.
3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.
We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.
It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.
When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.
Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.
You can read the inspiration for this article here