Allowing Chaos

FB_IMG_1499915438640 (1)Our instinct is to avoid pain and suffering, and chaos is certainly something that we all know can lead to both, so it makes sense that we’d like to avoid chaos as well. There are times, though, when we can’t avoid the craziness of life. That’s when our best bet is to allow it to be. Here’s how:

Choose to let a few things go. For example, I recently bought a house and am not fully moved in and, because of some home improvements, it will be awhile before I’m settled. In this case, I choose to let some things just be as they are. The house is messier than I’d like, but I choose to let it go for now, knowing that in time I will make this house a home.

Notice that you are not the chaos. Whether it’s drama or stress created by others, circumstances beyond our control, or even fall-out from our own mistakes, we can choose to be the observer. Take a few mindful, centering breaths. See the situation from a distance. Notice all of the facts. Allow emotions without attaching, and remind yourself that you are not the chaos. The chaos is moving through; it’s not who you are or the totality of your life.

Practice self-care and boundaries. Probably one of the best things we can do for ourselves when the shit hits the fan is practice self-care. Do loving and nurturing things for yourself with presence and intention. Some examples are: eating healthy food, getting extra rest, taking a warm bath, being in nature, and spending time with friends and loved ones who uplift you. Practice self-compassion by directing loving kindness at yourself through words and actions. Also, set boundaries around the chaos. If it’s a particular person, take breaks from communicating with them. If it’s the news and current events, go on a media diet.

It’s easier to gain our footing in a changing and uncertain world when we’ve first attended to ourselves, calmed our nervous systems, and fed our bodies, hearts, and souls. Allowing things to be as they are is a gift to oneself. By releasing our resistance, we reduce tension and open up to new possibilities, solutions, and outcomes.

Even in a Storm There is Stillness

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As a native Floridian and also as someone who lived in the South Pacific, I’ve been through many hurricanes and a few typhoons. They are frightening, to be sure, but they are also fascinating. Just last week I watched hurricane Micheal through the windows of my new home as he tore through Tallahassee. What I noticed is how the storm ebbed and flowed. It reminded me of giving birth: between intense contractions there are moments of peace and rest. The strong gusts would come, and then the wind would slow down. There were even moments of stillness. At one point, the sun shone through the clouds and for that brief moment it seemed that there wasn’t a storm at all.

In mindfulness meditation, we often talk about the still point within, or the inner refuge. It’s a place we cultivate through our practice and that we can retreat to at any time. It’s the stillness within the storm. Even as the world around us is in chaos, we have this inner resource that becomes a place of calm and comfort.

Our breath is the gateway to our inner refuge. We can enter it anytime, anywhere, by coming into the present moment through mindful breathing. During the recent hurricane, I meditated as the wind whipped branches and pinecones at my house and a tree snapped in half outside my window. Doing so was more than mindfulness practice, it was recognition that even amidst great uncertainty and duress I have a choice in how I respond and I always, always, have access to the calming stillness that I’ve cultivated within, as do you.

Embracing Impermanence

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To embrace impermanence and accept that the only constant is change, we need to compassionately address our attachments and our propensities to cling and to grasp. We’re wired to seek safety and security in our environment and with other people, so be kind to yourself as you explore these human tendencies.

Some things to notice:

  • How do you feel when you lose an item that belongs to you? Aside from the monetary loss, is there an emotional attachment? If so, sit with that feeling. Where is it in your body? What does it remind you of? Is it familiar or foreign to you? Why is that?
  • When a key personal relationship ends or changes, how do you respond? In addition to potential grief, heartache, or loss, are you holding on to an idea about the relationship? What does it feel like in your body? What other thoughts, feelings, or memories come up? Are any of them surprising to you? Why?
  • If important life plans are suddenly changed, how do you respond? What’s the first emotion and the first thought? Where do they come from? What or who does your internal voice sound like?

The Only Constant is Change

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Just when we think things are settling in and a period of change is over, here comes yet another unexpected shift. It may be in our personal life, on the world stage, or in our family or community. Sometimes, it’s in more than one place. Change is everywhere! Over the last few years, there has been major, earth-shifting change in all areas of my life. I’d like to say that I’m used to it, but it still surprises me. This steady stream of change has taught me to allow people, things, jobs, homes, ideas, beliefs, and more to come and go. When I begin to cling to something, I invite suffering (looks like the Buddha was right about that one).

Nothing on this earth is promised to me, or to you. We can have legal ownership over things, partnership agreements with people, and a sense of belonging to places, but none of that comes with a guarantee. What seemed to be ours one moment, like the sunhat I wore on a river trip this summer, can quickly disappear and, in this example, be swallowed up by moving water. 

Knowing this, we can practice presence, savoring, gratitude, and focused awareness. We can be here now, knowing that it’s truly the only moment and that change, like it or not, is always on the horizon.

Being With What Is

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The Buddhist concept of hopelessness means to look to the present as it is instead of looking to the past or future with fear or hope. It asks us to be with what is, as it is. To do this, we must cultivate feelings of neutrality and equanimity. Being with what is means that:

  • We allow our present moment experience without judgement.
  • We notice our thoughts, feelings, and sensations as an observer.
  • We release attachment to making things different.
  • We notice our emotional response with kindness and curiosity.
  • We allow ourselves to feel how we feel without self-criticism or attachment.
  • We recognize the transient nature of our experience.

The Art of Surrender

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It takes a great deal of strength and courage to allow life to be as it is,  and equal amounts of awareness to notice when we’re resisting the simple reality of our experience. Many of us resist as a matter of course. We’re trying to make things a certain way. We’re working, we’re efforting, we’re creating, or so we think. Sometimes, all of the effort and puzzling out gets in the way of life’s natural unfolding. We’re so busy trying to change or create, that we aren’t able to take in what’s right in front of us. We miss important information and enriching experiences. Mindfulness helps us slow down and be in the present moment so that we’re better able to take in and savor the goodness of life, and also to notice when opportunity is ripe. There’s less efforting and exertion when we surrender to the present and trust that all will be well.