Tag Archives: disappointment

Open to Failure, Open to Happiness

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The Buddha told his followers to use their own eyes and make up their own minds, rather than slavishly adhere to his teachings. So a certain degree of “prove it to me” attitude is warranted. That desire to see for ourselves, though, can easily turn into a form of skepticism that prevents us from trying new things and, thereby, discovering whether they are good for our practice or not.

It is difficult to expose ourselves to the possibility of failure. Forget failure – we can be afraid just to take a chance that things may not turn out as good as we had hoped, even if the results are really a success by any standard. Our happiness is contingent upon achieving results that may not actually be attainable. No wonder we are so miserable.

What is the solution? I can say from plenty of past experience that there is no easy remedy to a lifetime spent reinforcing such thinking. The remedy is slow, gradual. It involves “opening your eyes” to the reality of your circumstances. In other words, lean on your mindfulness practice to see things as they really are. Question the “reality” we have woven, the one in which we are unhappy failures. Are there really no positives in our present conditions, no sources of happiness and strength?

Identifying just one beneficial aspect of our current circumstances is a start. It exposes the lie we have woven that our lives are miserable and that happiness is unattainable. If there is one thing worth being happy about, then there must be two. And three things. And four things. Eventually, we come to recognize our carefully constructed “reality” as a massive fiction that we have crafted, and then the floodgates open.

When we close ourselves off to avoid experiencing the things we perceive as negative and unpleasant, we also shut out the things we consider positive and pleasant. We cannot experience what is beneficial to our lives unless we are open to the possibility of encountering things that don’t feel so good.

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An Epiphany in Casper, Wyoming

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Difficult situations are a barometer of the depth of one’s meditation and mindfulness practice and, conversely, a GPS that tells us how far we still have to go. (Technically, I guess depth would be measured with sonar and not a barometer, so sue me.) Reflection afterwards allows us to consider our behavior in the moment of the difficulty and provides insight into the role that our practice has played.

Most days dish out the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune” – or less dramatic and more commonplace indignities and inconveniences . Which means we have ample opportunity to put our practice into…um, practice, and to reflect on the results.

I’m thinking about this right now because I am in the midst of a very difficult travel situation. I travel a lot and, consequently, encounter every form of travel mishap known to humankind. But this trip…oy. I was flying from Milwaukee to Denver, then on to Los Angeles. Bad weather shut down the airport in Denver and we were diverted to Casper, Wyoming. After more than two hours waiting in what passes for a terminal (three beverage vending machines and a nearly empty snack machine), we were loaded back onto the plane, only to discover there was a major mechanical problem. Off the plan again. It being a Saturday and we being in Casper, it would be three hours before someone could get there to make the repairs. By that time, the flight crew would be past its 16 hours and therefore not allowed to fly. We were stuck.

So, I got to see downtown Casper. In the dark of night. Check off another state I’ve visited (using the broadest possible term for visit, obviously); only four states left to go. Maybe next time United will divert me to Honolulu.

Stayed overnight in the Casper Ramada. Back to the airport for a 12:40 flight to Denver, 2 hours and 10 minutes after the flight I was rebooked on from Denver to Los Angeles. There are five more flights to LA after I arrive in Denver (presuming I arrive – I’m taking nothing for granted, considering it’s 12:25 right now and boarding has not begun – heck, I don’t even see a plane outside to board). I’ll be on one of them, right? Think positive!

There was a time, not too long ago it seems, when this rigmarole would have set me off like a nuclear bomb. I would have ranted at everyone who would listen and everyone who tried not to. I would have acted as if the entire mess was a plot against me, as if I were being victimized.

So here’s the amazing thing: I didn’t experience any anger at all. Not once did I think, “Why is this happening to me?” I didn’t fret over whether I’d make my connecting flight or when we’d hear an update from air traffic control. I admit to being a tad annoyed when the person at Enterprise told me, when I called to say I would be picking up the car today instead of yesterday, that my cost went from $191 to $327 – for one less day. I politely – seriously, I was polite – told him to cancel the reservation, and I called another company and got a cheaper rental. Okay, I also admit that, when we got back on the plane, and the pilot told us the bad mechanical news, I muttered under my breath, “Oh stop it.” I’m not sure who I was talking to. Other than that, though, I was a paragon of calm.

That realization made me feel pretty good, I confess. I consider it a major silver lining to an otherwise fogged-in travel day to have recognized this measure of the benefits of meditation and mindfulness. Really, despite everything that happened, I am grateful for the epiphany, and thankful for a million other things that make me a very content, happy, and lucky person.

 

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Change – get used to it

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“Chaos is inherent in all compounded things. Strive on with diligence.” ~ The Buddha

Natural occurrences of order are fascinating, like the way Fibonacci sequences appear in sunflowers and nautilus shells. Not only are such occurrences beautiful to look at, they are oddly comforting—evidence that life isn’t totally random and unpredictable. I think they grab our attention in part because so much of life is, in fact, disordered—if not chaotic.

But let’s not confuse these oases of orderliness with the swirling maelstrom of everyday life. If predictability in life becomes our aim, our expectation, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment, frustration, and ultimately suffering. For life is motion—it is dynamic, it is constant change. Moments of calm and order can be enjoyed and appreciated for the respites they are. But, like the eye of the hurricane, they are ever-so-brief interludes in the midst of the storm.

Our expectation, if we must have one, should be change, surprises, the unexpected. Because much of our disappointment and suffering derives from just the fact that things have changed, and not even what the new circumstances are. Even changes for the better can be sources of suffering because of our intolerance for and aversion to change. Grasping for a particular time, a specific set of circumstances that no longer exists, is full of pain. Accepting impermanence, the inevitability of change, is the balm for that pain.