Not Struggling Against Despair

Yesterday I took 2.5 hours to listen to and meditate on some lectures by Pema Chödrön. Today, during my lunch, I did another hour.

I'm glad I did. I think I made progress. For the last six months, I have dealt with emotions and feelings by sitting with them. If I was angry, I let myself be angry, and I felt that emotion. If I was scared, I let myself feel scared. 

The concept is simple and unintuitive. My natural instinct is to flee from emotional discomfort. If I succeed in sitting with those difficult emotions, I begin to separate myself from them.

This week I felt despair fall over me. An unfortunate situation at work, combined with Clare being out of town, and growing apprehension about how ready I am for next year left me feeling empty. I fled that emotion. I tried to push it away. I surfed Twitter and Reddit. I watched shows on my computer. The feelings stayed with me, and I still couldn't face them.

Pema Chödrön talks about a concept called "maitri" which she describes as an unconditional friendliness towards oneself. In her lecture, she covers many manifestations of maitri and the one I needed the most was "steadfastness with oneself." Viewing my despair through the lens of maitri helped me see that one feeling like a collection of fears and anxieties. Sitting with those fears enabled me to move closer to them. Moving closer to them helped me recognize them as ordinary. And seeing the fears as ordinary allowed me to have compassion for myself.

Chödrön then described how by having compassion for your own emotions - you could have an outpouring of compassion for everyone experiencing that same feeling. 

Photo by Igor Ovsyannykov on Unsplash