what to do when things get shaky

When things aren’t firm they get – surprise, surprise – shaky.  But is that what Kabir means when he asks: can you stand firm in that which you are? What exactly does ‘that which you are’ mean?

Well, I guess it means ‘shaky’. 

Now, I reckon ‘shaky’ means uncertain, not sure, apprehensive, vulnerable. Perhaps even fearful. I reckon all those things (or qualities of experience) are ‘that which you are’.

Your mindful life is saying: put the welcome mat out to shaky stuff. Stand firm on the welcome mat of shakiness.

I need some wise counsel here. I mean, I get it intellectually. But I need someone to help me feel this. In my heart. After all, that’s what we’re saying isn’t it? That things start in the body. That emotionality is felt.

So where to go? Best place? Usually Pema Chodron. How about this from ‘When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times’.

When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something. We might realize that this is a very vulnerable and tender place, and that tenderness can go either way. We can shut down and feel resentful or we can touch in on that throbbing quality. There is definitely something tender and throbbing about groundlessness.

So now I realise something. ‘Standing firm’ is not some pugilistic declaration of resolve. What it actually means is standing soft. Softening up. Opening up. Actually ‘going to’, ‘journeying towards’ that ‘vulnerable and tender place’. Problem is (and this is definitely my problem despite all my mindful resolve) you can ‘shut down’, you can feel ‘resentful’. Why? Because it’s bloody hard (some people might assert that it’s ‘bloody soft’) to stay with that ‘throbbing quality’, that ‘groundlessness’ that Chodron advices. Also, conceptually, I’m struggling with standing firm in your ‘groundlessness’. I don’t want groundlessness in my life. I want firmness, I want security.

What else does Chodron have to say about this?

"Life is a good teacher and a good friend. Things are always in transition, if we could only realize it. Nothing ever sums itself up in the way that we like to dream about. The off-center, in-between state is an ideal situation, a situation in which we don’t get caught and we can open our hearts and minds beyond limit. It’s a very tender, nonaggressive, open-ended state of affairs. To stay with that shakiness—to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic—this is the spiritual path. Getting the knack of catching ourselves, of gently and compassionately catching ourselves, is the path of the warrior. We catch ourselves one zillion times as once again, whether we like it or not, we harden into resentment, bitterness, righteous indignation—harden in any way, even into a sense of relief, a sense of inspiration."

Here’s the learning:

Things are always in transition. Problem is we don’t accept that.

Acceptance involves allowing the ‘off-center in-between state as an ideal situation’

Acceptance involves tenderly staying with emotional discomfort, emotional pain

We have to get into the knack of compassionately catching ourselvesin our shaky state and relaxing into that state

Our emotional life is embodied. We have to allow the pain in rather than push it away.

Meditation is a training ground for this. It is the practice of staying with, it is the art of accepting reality.

The next question is: how do we practically attune ourselves to this discomfort so that we can face up to our fears?

I guess we need to work on that.

It starts with: can you feel the 'throbbing-ness' of a feeling? Can you lean into a feeling as you feel it in the body? Don't judge yourself, just feel the feeling of what it is to feel an emotion. It can be something simple like the feeling of wanting coffee, or the rumbling of your stomach at the thought of food. Practice the literacy of bodily awareness. Just see if you can stay with a feeling for a few moments. Be curious. 

What's the purpose of this? To know that your thoughts start in the body and that you can - curiously enough - cultivate a certain curiosity about that. So what's the point in that? To use your bodily signals to train yourself to be less reactive.

Try it now.

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