The Sound of Loons
Dear Friends, I recently returned from lovely long weekend at a friend's cabin on an island off the grid in Canada. Before I left, I was feeling stretched pretty thin with many different activities, travel, guests, and the resurgence of one of our adult child's life challenges. I looked forward to cabin time, surrounded by beautiful blue lake, the sound of loons, and growthful conversation with my two dearest girlfriends.
When I woke up on day three, lounging in my bed watching the ancient pine trees billowing in the wind, I felt a lot of gratitude for the time I had set aside, and for the mind space that had been created during those three days. And yet, I realized that even with all of the support there, even with all the sharing, even with the beauty and stillness, my difficulties had not disappeared. I guess you can't blame me for thinking that spending three days on an island that is a 2 hour flight, 6 hour drive, and 30 minute boat ride away from my life might be a chance to escape.
It was a classic "if only" moment. I had been thinking that "if only" I could get away for a few days everything would be ok. "If only" I could be with my BFFs, I would no longer be over-scheduled and stressed out. All my problems would disappear like the sun setting on this lovely lake. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, "Wherever you go, there you are." Even after three days of sleeping late, playing, talking, laughing, and napping, I felt physically better, but was still the same person with the same challenges. What had shifted was my awareness of this, which, in turns out, was quite helpful.
"We think that if we just meditated enough or jogged enough or ate perfect food, everything would be perfect. But from the point of view of someone who is awake, that's death. Seeking security or perfection, rejoicing in feeling confirmed and whole, self-contained and comfortable, is some kind of death. It doesn't have any fresh air." ― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heartfelt Advice for Hard Times
When I woke up that third morning, and knew that my stress and sadness were still there, I was forced to remember that there was no escape. So I finally stopped running away and turned toward my stress. I was being chased by a monster and finally reached a dead end. I had no choice but to turn around and face the monster. And when I did, I found that the monster was just a sad and slightly desperate little mouse dressed up as a monster. I held my little sadness and stress and let it know that it could stay as long as it needed to stay. I recognized that it must have a good reason to be there. And I reminded myself that I could hold my stress as it was and still enjoy the beauty of the island. I didn't need to expect that the island time would solve anything, I could just enjoy it for what it was. As soon as I let go of using the weekend to solve my problems, I immediately felt more relaxed, and I could experience the range of my feelings. There was sadness for my child, fatigue from being too busy, and profound joy in the beauty around me. And all of it could co-exist.
“Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape -- all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can't stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain.” ― Pema Chödrön, When Things Fall Apart: Heartfelt Advice for Hard Times
I think I have re-learned this lesson about a million times. No amount of quiet time, money, vacation, meaningful work, loved ones, or friends will prevent me from having difficulties. This was the first noble truth that the Buddha taught. But he didn't stop there. When we look honestly at our life, we find that there is happiness to be found even in the midst of the most stressful times. There always is. We can stop resisting and just enjoy the moment, expecting nothing special from it. And then the ordinary sound of the loons on the lake can become a source of joy.