This is officially the fifth or sixth week that I have been home due to COVID 19. With each passing day, it seems that something new is revealed to me. This week I have found myself more attentive to the nature of my relationships. Or rather, I have found myself paying a greater degree of attention to my perceptions and experiences of myself and others while engaged with my relationships.
In doing so, I have found that there are some relationships in which it feels like a real struggle to remain fully present. In others, I have noticed that I quickly become agitated, angry, disappointed, or annoyed. While in others, I find a great deal of comfort and relief in simply being able to connect with this person in a given moment especially across distance or time.
Within each of these interactions, I have started to observe the thoughts that come up – especially in those instances when I feel a bit unsettled. The thought patterns in such instances, needlessly to say, are mostly negative and tend towards a feeling of lack. On some level, I feel that something is missing or something is wrong.
As I have continued to sit with these observations and attempt to process them, it seems that in most instances, at the root of all these moments of disease there is a feeling and experience of disconnect. Things are not as I expected them to be. Things are not as they have been in the past.
In other words, when I feel unsettled or agitated or annoyed within a given interaction, it feels that I am also disconnected from the reality of things as they are in a given moment. This sense of disconnect applies to being out of touch with the reality of the person with whom I am interacting as well as my own personal reality. (Let’s not for get that there is also a sense of denial of the reality in which we both are existing at the current moment. ) This disconnect in turn results in a lot of actions (i.e. failed attempts) to change a situation based upon inaccurate information.
The best example of this, as usual, comes from the relationship I have with my mother. It seems that in many instances, we hit an in-pass because I make “suggestions” based upon what “I” think is best for her – irrespective of her own unique perceptions of reality. All because I am not fully seeing that I am holding onto some aspiration, expectation, and longing that she, that I, that this situation we find ourselves be different than it is.
This of course brings to mind a teaching I learned from Pema Chodron in When Things Fall Apart. In this work, Chodron suggests that much of our suffering comes because we are attached to one particular coin. This coin on one side houses Hope, on the other side it has fear. Thereby suggesting that we can’t have hope with out fear.
Here I would like to insert the following language for the word hope so as to be mindful of how many of us are attached to that word. So instead of hope, think of longing, attachment, aspiration, or expectation. Consequently, our aspirations are often accompanied by our fears. And when our expectations aren’t met, we often suffer. Or when we fear that our longings will not be satiated, we suffer.
Her suggestion to this is that we each switch out our coin of Hope and Fear for the one of Hopelessness and Confidence. And again, for those of us with specific notions of “hopelessness” you can insert the words non-attachment, receptivity, contentment. In such a state of non-attachment, she suggests that we have the capacity to fully meet the needs of a given moment. With that power of presence we in turn develop both the capacities as well as the confidence to respond to the needs of a given moment because we aren’t attached to a particular idea about how things, people, or situations “should” be.
Now mind you, just because I understand the concept, doesn’t mean that I have gotten to the point where I am fully able to apply and integrate this teaching into my life. Just like you, I am working on it, and me, day by day. And it seems that within many of my interactions with loved ones, I have a lot of unconscious and unexpressed longings, aspirations, hopes, and expectations – not to mention the accompanying fears about those longings, aspirations, hopes, and expectations not being met.
That being said, the questions that I have for you, the ones I am trying to answer myself are: How can I begin to notice the longings I have of this moment, this situation, or this relationship? What fears, worries, or anxieties accompany those expectations? Where can I begin to soften my attachment towards things being a particular way and trust that I will have the skills to respond confidently to the needs of this moment, this relationship, this situation?
As a reminder, when working with finding a greater sense of clarity around all this, I encourage you to remember to work evenly with Maitri. This word is often translated to mean loving kindness or compassion. Paraphrasing Chodron once again, without Maitri, your clarity is only meanness.