Stepping Off the Wild Ride
“It’s easy to be grateful at a banquet.”
Caroline Myss, author and spiritual teacher, likes to say “It’s easy to be grateful at a banquet.” But what about when life throws you curveball after curveball after curveball? Can you still be grateful then?
About eighteen months ago, Jen and I were attending our year-end retreat. This is the time where we lie on the floor and investigate all that has transpired and determine what we want to create for the future.
Our coach requested that we discuss what we had accomplished, and the list was long. We had accomplished everything—and I mean everything—we had ever wanted both individually and collectively. Yet, as we reflected on our successes, we found ourselves both deeply suffering.
I have spent the intervening eighteen months in an inquiry about the suffering, the suffering of getting everything you want as well as the suffering that comes when life doesn’t unfold as expected.
The Buddhist teachings speak to eight dynamic tensions, called the vicissitudes, through which we all cycle: gain/loss, fame/disrepute, praise/blame, and pleasure/pain.
Whether we are aware or not, we are riding the waves of these polarities daily. One day we are praised for the job well done, the next day blamed when things go wrong. We have the experience of gain or “getting ahead” at moments of commencement, marriage, launching a new career or company, or buying a new home. The stock market rises, we are promoted, we’re making money, and it seems we just might win at the game. Then something happens. Just when we thought we were getting somewhere: a cancer diagnosis, our marriage fails, we’re fired, the stock market crashes, and the house is foreclosed on.
Many of us let where we are on the proverbial scorecard dictate our moods, relationships, and our entire experience of life. We move to seek pleasure and escape pain, so much so that even the slightest discomfort causes us to avoid what may be in our own best interest.
Lately, I feel like I’ve been on a wild roller coaster ride, being whipped around and jerked side to side under someone else’s control. And the more I investigate, the worse things seem to get. For instance, my husband started a new job with the federal government, and a month later they closed because of the shutdown. He was out of work for five weeks. Or, one day our biggest client said they weren’t going to work with us anymore, and the next week they changed their minds. This year, the ups and downs have been coming faster and faster and faster.
Whether good or bad, up or down, I need a break. I suspect we all need a break, but there is no break from the vicissitudes.
So, what can we do? No matter how easily our brains focus on what is not working, what we do not have or where we are not satisfied, we also have the power to focus on what is here, now.
This is how I am stepping off the wild ride.
First, through shifting my awareness, I have stopped trying to seek more pleasure, more praise, more of ANYTHING. More is not better. I have stopped the push toward the “happy, perfect life” because there is no such thing. Unwinding from the tight grip of the proverbial scorecard requires us to interrupt the patterns that keep us unaware and asleep.
Second, I am naming my experience to my community of support, which includes colleagues, family members and friends. This has allowed for gratitude to arise regardless of my feelings in the moment.
When I face tough times, I have learned that I need to practice taking heed of where my attention lies moment by moment as well as practice resting in the ecosystem of support I have created. When life throws you a sharp curve, what practice can you commit to that will help you step off the wild ride?