The world is weighing heavily upon us these days. It is easy to be terrified by the chaos that seems to be around every corner. It is easy to feel suffocated by the sadness.
Sometimes I feel as if I’m drowning.
It is times like these when we have to dig a little deeper to find the good, to find the hope, to find the joy of living.
It’s not easy. It takes practice.
Imagine life as a fluid thing, a river. At the surface there is activity, a constant flow. But deep down, far below the surface, there is stillness, calm.
Sit still. Breathe. Close your eyes and cast your mind far below the surface of the river. Try to tap into that stillness. That is where the joy of life resides. (And the catfish).
These days, when I sit, I always begin with gratitude. Gratitude for my for breath. Gratitude for my body. Gratitude for my life. For all of my abilities. For all I see, hear, smell, touch, taste. For all I feel. Gratitude for all of the people who pass through my life. Gratitude for every experience I am able to have.
This is never the sort of gratitude that tries to minimize other situations in the world. I never think, well at least I’m breathing, at least I woke up today, at least I don’t live in a war-torn nation.
This is gratitude that celebrates the things I do have. I am alive! I have opportunity to experience things! I am here! Now! Breathing! Living!
Next, I invite kindness in. Each thought is guided by the intention and the desire to be kind. Every action has behind it the attempt to live kindly. The key word is ‘attempt’.
I look even deeper for compassion. I try to identify the sameness in a person before the difference. The humanness. I try to put myself in their skin. Sometimes it takes an awful lot of digging to find this lately. But I haven’t tossed my shovel away yet.
I try to release my preconceptions, my biases and prejudices, because every moment is a new moment. Although it is built upon all of the moments that came before, it is a brand new experience. And I am always a beginner. I can take a deep breath, clean the slate, and start fresh. I can be truly present in this moment, with no other moments clouding the experience.
I challenge myself to dig deeper for tolerance, and acceptance. Instead of trying to change the situation by trying to change others, I stop, breathe, try to accept them as they are. Then I attempt to move forward with kindness and compassion.
Instead of railing against people and things, instead of resisting, fighting, pushing against, worrying, fretting, complaining, crying, raging over situations I cannot change or control, I stop. I breathe. I try to accept the fact that they are as they are. And I attempt to move forward with kindness and compassion.
I started by practicing on myself. Instead of fighting with myself; wishing I were something I am not, wishing my life were something it is not; instead of regretting, complaining, excusing, I stopped. I breathed. I accepted myself just as I am. Then I was able to move forward, with kindness and compassion and gratitude.
These are the practices that keep me afloat as the floodwaters rise. Acceptance. Kindness. Presence of Mind. Compassion. Gratitude.
These are the practices that buoy me with peace, harmony, love and a deep underlying sense of joy, no matter what is happening on the outside.
Sitting in bumper to bumper traffic. Yelling and arguing with my daughter. Getting unwanted results from a doctor. Watching the world news. Witnessing a tragedy as it unfolds.
This is all on the surface of the river. This is simply the flow of life. Things are always happening. There will be moments of calm. There will be (quite often lately) surges and floods. The levees may break.
But the depths remain mostly still. Calm.
Our exterior life is the current, the flow. We can’t fight it. We have to go with it. But deep down, we can remain calm.
With practice, we can learn to tap into the joy. We can always find it if we dive deep enough.
And if enough of us tread the water together, perhaps we can change the course of the river. Or at least keep eachother company while it rages around us.