“Daaaaaaddy!” It’s 2.a.m and her crying rouses me from much needed sleep.
I rush up the stairs and open her door. “Daddy..” Her cry has turned into a whimper. She snorts, trying to breathe through a clogged nose and the frustration of not being able to breathe makes her break out into more sobs.
I grab the menthol plug in and place it next to her bed and sit down with her, box of Kleenex in hand. “Try and blow your nose sweetie.” I hand her a tissue and she just kicks her legs and flops around like a fish on dry land. She is over tired and sick and the only reaction I manage to get from her is more of the same.
I gently talk to her, rubbing her small back, and the sound of my voice slowly soothes her. Eventually she reaches for a tissue and starts the act of blowing feverishly, one tissue after the next. Before long, the floor next to her bed looks like a snotty, crumpled holocaust of half used tissue. I try and ignore the waste and instead just encourage her to keep blowing.
Before long, the blowing and lack of progress upsets her and she is back to flopping and doing the overtired moan/growl (maybe she will sing in a death metal band when she gets older).
She sits upright and says she wants to go out into the living room; well, she gesticulates and groans but I get the picture. Her being my third child, I have become proficient in the intricacies of tantrum sign language. She grabs her blankie and makes the trek into the living room and plops down on the floor. I set up blankets and pillows and lie down next to her. Before long she is soundly snoring, curled up next to me and I sit and stare at the ceiling fan, miserably uncomfortable.
This happy, sad, tantrum, peaceful slumber transaction is often how we meet and interact with our dharma practice. We are excited and filled with ‘new convert’ zeal in the beginning, just knowing we will be enlightened within a week or so, and then the zeal starts to fade and we are faced with our old neurosis again, frustrated that this crap isn’t working.
Our once dedicated and intense practice turns into a lackluster love hate relationship and we start to question if it really works and if it’s really for us.
Eventually, for those that stay the course, we begin to notice that the quest is becoming less a struggle and more of a comfortable fit into the daily grind and toil. Our once visceral reactions, so trite and forceful, begin to take a back seat as we learn to silently observe.
Eventually, the observation becomes more and more a part of our practice and the “beginner mind” starts to become present again, yet without all the preconceived naivete. It is now an open and active engagement with the process of life in its ebb and flow instead of a frustrated attempt at escapism.
Like my daughter, frustrated in the closed environment of her room, we need to leave the confines of our set state of mind, our rigid certainties and encounter the greater aspects of life with an openness that cannot be found in rigid and guarded dogmatism.
This comfort is found only in an open armed meeting with each moment. This isn’t saying we will never find ourselves frustrated but it is the difference between kicking and flailing and gently accepting the tissue of mindful medicine.
This however seems to rarely be the case with our engagement of our practice. We instead meet it with passions and pre conceived ideas, set on making it our own, fitting into the world as we see it. We stomp around in our room, frustrated, angered, loving the practice one minute, hating it the next unaware that simply letting go of those fixed ideas and greeting the world where it is allows for an immense sense of emotional freedom, a calm that allows for a refreshing slumber.
Changes like these are gradual, there is no doubt in that. We cannot expect a cold turkey removal of a lifetime of patterning. We can however, take baby steps, or like my daughter, one tissue at a time, at her own pace, as we sit into moments that frustrate us. Allowing ourselves to see them simply for what they are and not trying to strangle it for everything we think it’s worth.
Let the moment be what it will be. Know there is joy or frustration in it and then let it go.
Don’t chase after the moment trying to force it down or force it to change in a futile attempt to be what we think it should be. Just watch and be content where you are. The moment will be what it is regardless of our interaction. All we can do is meet it with open hands and closed mouths. Feeling its gentle touch or cold callousness and then moving on.
The moments will not change but we can. Suffering arises and falls in our expectations of it. Shift around a little, get comfortable, and just let go.
You never know, the landing might not be so bad.