The Mind’s Tug of War

Perhaps you are like me, feeling excited about the warming weather all the while feeling a bit off balance as we move out of our various degrees of isolation. Transitions can vary in intensity from subtle to jarring. We may close our eyes or keep them wide open as we transition. We may even cover the eyes with our hands as we peek through with hopeful curiosity or apprehension. Our response to our experience is neither right nor wrong, good nor bad. It is just our experience. In reference to the pandemic, I heard it put this way recently, “it is a normal response to an abnormal situation.” Sit with that for a moment. 

I am currently reading Dr. Susan David’s book Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life. She writes, “[O]ne of the great paradoxes of human experience is that we can’t change ourselves or our circumstances until we accept what exists right now. Acceptance is a prerequisite for change. This means giving permission for the world to be as it is, because it’s only when we stop trying to control the universe that we make peace with it. We still don’t like the things we don’t like; we just cease to be at war with them. And once the war is over, change can begin.”
This can be a hard lesson to learn. When I read this quote, I was like, “So true! I get this!” And then, I find myself once again in a tug of war, thus causing unnecessary suffering. I can even get caught in the fact that I am caught, adding layers upon layers of tension. As a way to visualize this tug of war, I created the image above. I wondered, What if I just let go? Does this sound or look familiar? What I have learned through meditation is that understanding the psychology of the mind as explained by Dr. David is only part of the process of change. We also need to integrate this understanding into our way of being. (Dr. David does discuss this second part in her book. Check out her work!)

In an effort to integrate this understanding, I focused Sunday morning’s meditation on practicing this “acceptance” by kindly witnessing what was true for us in that moment. In other words, through our breath we practiced creating space to relax into whatever was happening – the thoughts, the emotions, the sensations that were arising – pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. It was a practice in both allowing and letting go, an opening to life right here and it’s ever changing flow.

What this meditation and most of my meditations remind me is that we often have to let go again and again. It’s just like coming back to our anchor again and again. This cultivation of mindfulness interrupts our unfavorable habits of mind so we can release our hearts from unnecessary suffering – the tug of war. Just like we practice in formal meditation, we can practice in our everyday lives – beginning again and starting lovingly where we are.
Here is a brief reflection:
  • Where are you right now ?
  • What are you gripping, holding onto?
  • Can you let go even just a bit?
  • What would happen if you allowed things to be just as they are?
  • What do you notice as you become more aware?

Be gentle with yourself as you transition. Just like the perennial plant who endures the harshness of winter only to return in spring with its bountiful beauty, so too will we.

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