Albert Einstein said, “There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.” I believe Einstein is talking to us here about our perception and our perspective. It is very like a small calligraphy I have had in my office for many years by Thich Nhat Hanh which reads: “When we live in awareness it is easy to see miracles everywhere.” Both of them are expressing their experience of living mindfully which often leads to a sense of awe and wonder at all the things around us, the seemingly ordinary things that we may take for granted, like having enough food to eat, like being able to walk and work and smile. We can bring a great spirit of appreciation to all things when we really pay attention with an intentional perspective.
In Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Classes , the first practice we learn is a lying down awareness exercise called the Body Scan. Feeling our bodies part by part with an open curiosity about what the sensations are in this moment only- with out trying to change anything, is a very different way of experiencing our bodies. Usually we are criticizing them or trying to improve them . Lately when I meditate I say to myself, “Ah- experiencing.” This opens the moment up to me in a neutral way that reminds me that yes I am meditating , but that is just a word, what I am actually doing is experiencing what is to be an alive human being in this moment.
As is often the case after the first week of practice, many people report that taking the time to do the Body Scan, and the actual doing of it is really hard. We hear that word quite a bit, as well as the word difficult. I ask people, “What is hard?” “What does difficult mean to you?” They find it a challenge to put into words, but they might say, “Well, I’d rather be doing something else.”, ie doing what they usually do rather than this strange thing of lying or sitting still and systematically moving one’s attention from one place to another and feeling the different parts of the body. So another way of expressing it might be, that it is diff-erent rather than diff-icult. Notice what happens in your body when you say to yourself “This is different.” Then notice what it feels like to say “this is difficult.”
I tried this with the phrase, “This is hard.” I found the image of myself at about age eight stomping out of my bedroom with my math homework in hand complaining to my Mom about how haaard it was. I felt a sense of victimhood, a heaviness in my body, with some accompanying thoughts like “Why are they making me do this?”(picture slumping shoulders, whining voice…). When we have a thought, without recognizing it as just one thought or belief among millions, and we take it very seriously and as the gospel truth, we are very likely to react to it and then produce a whole string of thoughts and feelings around it. So it becomes “This is hard, and I don’t want to do it, I have so many important things to do and my back hurts and so on. As one of my patients said, “I make a whole three act opera out of it.” We can pause during the overture now and reconsider, seeing the thought as a small cloud in the vast sky of our awareness. Seeing “Oh this is hard.” is actually just a thought, and then return to the breath or whatever part of the body we happen to be on.
The morning after class, I looked up the words, hard and difficult in my dictionary; here are some of the words I found in the definition; much effort, trouble, reluctance, unwillingness, hardship, predicament, dilemma, severe. Not visionary- practical (that’s an interesting one.) Needing much effort, ability or time.
Then I tried on the phrase “This is challenging”. I found myself standing up straighter, my chest opening up, my muscles feeling stronger and engaged. I felt courageous. I looked up ‘challenge’ in the dictionary and this is what I read, “Something that commands attention, interest and passion.” Here’s my favorite, “A stirring call to action.”
As you approach your practice this week, I invite you to try on these phrases and attitudes; “This is different!” This is a challenge!”