As I was driving to the station this morning mulling on my blog, Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody started to play on my playlist, with the starting lyrics:
“Is this the real life?
Is this just fantasy?
Caught in a landslide.
No escape from reality”.
This resonated with an experience I had this weekend. I was walking the dogs in the beautiful Auchenroden forest near my house. It was sunny and there was an abundance of birds singing.
However, I was talking with my walking companion about how we had been feeling quite low. We are very fortunate ourselves, but many good hearted people that we know and love are struggling with horrendous challenges of physical and mental health, addiction and continuous work stress. Our conversation strayed from particular instances to the generalities of brexit, failing democracy, lack of support for the vulnerable in our society, species extinction and climate change. It sometimes feels relentless and all pervading. It feels overwhelming.
I was walking in beautiful woodland. ‘Is this the real life?’ I was talking about, thinking about and caught up in all the challenges. ‘Is this just fantasy?’
In relation to my own life, sometimes I take a stance that problems in my work and personal life can be solved. This is based on a few assumptions.
One assumption is that I and those around me are rational beings, who will behave in a rational way. But this assumption is not valid. I assisted Rob Nairn in a meditation retreat several years ago called ‘The irrational mind’ and can see within myself many instances of irrationality. Rob has described us humans as ramshackle collections of habitual patterns and the more I understand myself, the more I can see this. My ramshackle collection of habitual patterns have little rationality built in to them. Caught in my habitual patterns feels out of control.
It is not just my habitual patterns I am subject to. It is the habitual patterns of those around me, and of those in the wider world. The habitual patterns of our politicians, business leaders, culture and society. Interdependence! These habitual patterns feel totally out of control at the moment. Caught in a landslide?
Another assumption, linked with the first, is about control. I have a conditioned belief that I am free to control my life. In reality, I can’t even control the thoughts that arise in my mind! So very little chance of controlling those around me, much less the wider causes and conditions within which I live. This lack of control gives me a sense that I am trapped with the causes and conditions that manifest within my life. No escape from reality.
I am sure that there are many other assumptions. Some of which I am aware of and some of which I am not aware of.
So what to do?
The next lyric in Bohemian Rhapsody is:
“Open your eyes.
Look up to the skies and see”.
This happened on my walk. Literally, during the conversation, I looked up to the sky and came into the present moment as it was. Patches of blue sky within the clouds. When I looked back down I really saw the trees. The new bright green leaves, the lichen, the primroses. I heard the birds and I was amazed again by the pleasantness of the presentness. In this patch of blue sky awareness I felt my body walking, the breeze on my skin. However, the clouds once again gathered as we then continued our conversation about everything that was wrong.
It happened again on Sunday, when I read Kristine’s WonderWords blog on Tilopa’s six words of advice. It sums up all of our mindfulness practice. These are words that I carry around with me on my phone to look at from time to time. Here they are:
Let go of what has passed.
Let go of what may come.
Let go of what is happening now.
Don’t try to figure anything out.
Don’t try to make anything happen.
Relax, right now, and rest.
However, I had forgotten to look at Tilopa’s words for a while.
Can we do this? Open our eyes to the reality of this present moment. ‘Look up to the skies and see?’ Just allow our awareness to rest in this moment? For a moment? Easier said than done. My experience is that my habitual patterns soon have me off in the landslide again. But I keep practicing to open my eyes.
I am lucky that I am in a position where I can help others to open their eyes and begin to free themselves from their landslide. But how can I do this best?
What I know is that the more I am stuck in my own landslide, the more miserable I get. There are significant problems in our world and I am doing what I can to do my bit to address them. But once that is done, ruminating on them and moaning about them just brings me and those around me down. This depletes my energy to act and is counterproductive. To me that is just common sense.
Tilopa has another quote that is ascribed to him.
“The problem is not enjoyment.
The problem is attachment”.
It doesn’t feel right to enjoy my life when so many of those around me are struggling.
So here it is. I am attached to my habit of moaning about and thinking about all the things that are wrong with the world. It involves a lot of blaming others. Even though it is a negative habit I am strongly attached to it. In some perverse way it feels good in the short term, but in the long term it lowers my mood. Also, I feel bad about feeling good when others are struggling. But with practice I can have a choice. I can choose how I relate to my experience. I can choose to let go of these habits and be present with what is. Then I can then enjoy my life a lot more and build the resources I need to help others.
So can we ‘open our eyes, look up to the skies and see’? Try this today. The sky is always there when we look up. Can we relax, right now and rest? Can we choose the present moment reality, rather than the reality created by our rumination?
Can we let go of trying to control? I love the ending to Bohemian Rhapsody:
“Any way the wind blows”.
Heather will be delivering our Level 1 Mindfulness training at Samye Ling Tibetan centre in South West Scotland over two weekends and a one week retreat, starting this October. For more information, please click here. To book your place on the first weekend of the course, please click here.