There's a way in which we can find ourselves fighting with our own experience: knowing we're frustrated or anxious, yet wanting to feel something different: more calm, safer, and free. When this fighting stance spills over into everyday life, difficult moments can feel even worse.
This episode explores the question, what if we could relax just a little bit more, even with the hard stuff? Could we be happier and more content? Check it out, on today's episode, which is the 300th Wake Up Call (happy anniversary to us!).
Welcome to the Wake Up Call. This is Judi Cohen, and this is the 300th Wake Up Call. Happy Anniversary to all of us! Some of you have been here on the Call since day one – thank you for being here, week after week, supporting the Call by your presence, financially, and most importantly with your practice. I’m humbled and honored.
Today I want to continue with the practice of G.R.O.U.N.D. We’ve explored the G, feeling the earth beneath your feet or your bottom, sensing into that connection to the earth where all beings have been born, lived, and died, our connection to one another: the ground beneath our collective feet.
Then R, rest. Using the out-breath to rest, and also doing that with each task or endeavor: resting while walking, eating, reading, listening, speaking.
O is the next letter in G.R.O.U.N.D. and is about opening to whatever is present, bearing witness to what’s present, which is not easy. I get to O, and open and see anger or frustration or affront or remorse, and it can feel so painful, so shameful. And, it can also be healing, when there’s plenty of self-compassion, which is the secret ingredient, the indispensable ingredient. Self-compassion and also no judgment. In other words, no, “How could you be resentful, Judi,” or “you should know better,” or, “again??” And somehow, over time, opening, bearing witness, with curiosity and courage and compassion, builds resilience – not tough, lawyerly resilience, that, “I can do anything, I’ve got this, I don’t need help,” resilience, but resilience that’s infused with care. Resilience that says, “life is full of difficulties and it’s hard and I’m here for whatever arrives.” Like the poet Rumi reminds us,
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Today I want to talk about the U in G.R.O.U.N.D. U stands for unclench or untangle or untie.
Imagine you’re grounded and resting in the present moment and you’re opening to what’s there. I was doing the practice and what I opened to a solid, sticky, feeling of resentment. I was staying open to it, staying curious, being self-compassionate, and it just wasn’t where it felt wise to land.
So I sat longer and, as the great teacher Ajahn Chah instructed, let go a little more. It amounted to unclenching or untangling or untethering myself to the resentment, which, like all afflictive states, is nothing more than that: a state of mind, or a state of heart. Yet it felt so powerful – I literally felt stuck in its clutches. Then I heard something helpful, from John Dunn, a wonderful teacher at Richie Davidson’s Center for Healthy Minds in Madison, Wisconsin. John was talking about The Boddhisatva’s Way of Life, a seminal text from the 8th century written by Shantideva, who says, “although enemies such as hatred and craving have neither any arms nor legs, and are neither courageous nor wise, how have I been used like a slave by them?”
That was exactly how I felt. The resentment wasn’t solid, it was just a formation of the mind. And yet it felt powerful, I felt clenched around it, like it was part of my story, the story of “me,” at least on that morning.
And even more, I could see how I not only felt like a slave to the resentment, but also, I was doing battle with it: waging battle between something that resided in my own heart, my own body. I knew better, but the sense of not liking the resentment and wanting it to stop, was powerful.
The invitation of U, unclench, is to lay down our arms. To get grounded and feel the support of all beings. To rest in the moment. To open to what’s present. And then to unclench.
The Tibetans have a story about a great yogi called Milarepa. Milarepa lived in a cave and one day when he returned to his cave after gathering firewood, his cave had been taken over by demons. So first he thought, “I’ll conquer those demons!” and he attacked them. Which is what I was doing and what we’re taught to do as lawyers: open to what’s present and then if it’s not what we want, or what our client wants, or what’s best for the client, do battle with it. My impulse, my training, was to conquer the resentment. But Milarepa’s story is pretty accurate to my experience: the demons – the resentment – just sat there staring, eyes bulging, blood dripping from their mouths.
So then Milarepa decided to teach them mindfulness, compassion, impermanence. That’s me, too, and also our training: use reason, use persuasion, go for the ah-ha moment. But no big surprise: Milarepa did that, looked around, and the demons were still there.
So then Milarepa surrendered. He said to the demons, “I give in. What can I learn from you?” And he meant it. He unclenched his fists, maybe he got grounded and took a breath, and then he opened to whatever the demons – the present moment and all of its afflictive states of mind and heart – had to teach him. That’s the invitation of U: to let go of wanting things to be different, and instead to see what these really uncomfortable moments can teach us. What can my resentment teach me? I know I have so much to learn – might as well start right here. When Milarepa did that, almost all the demons disappeared – all except the biggest, fiercest, most terrifying one; the one breathing fire and dripping blood all over the cave.
What now? Milarepa realized he had to unclench even more. So he walked over to that last, huge, demon and he laid his head in its mouth. And he said, “Eat me if you want.” And there was such a profound unclenching, letting go, and, really, love, in that gesture – Milarepa loving all the parts of himself – that that last, huge, demon bowed to Milarepa, and dissolved.
When we get to U, the invitation is to unclench and surrender at that level: to level with ourselves, to see our demons and get curious and love them. To stop fighting with ourselves, stop fighting with our practice, and instead – with great self-compassion – to see that resentment and all the afflictive states are just part of being human. That we can’t conquer or reason with or cure them, we can only learn to be with them. We can only learn to lay our heads in the mouths of our demons, in the slime and the muck and the flames, over and over again. To lay our heads in the laps of our wounded hearts, day after day and day, saying, “here is resentment and longing; fear and confusion; delusion: everything is here, and I am here, too, not clenching, not fighting, not turning away, not trying to be better, not trying to be or become anything. Just laying my head down, with an abundance of love.”