I was standing in line at the airport security point, coming back from the Salt Collective’s weekend away in San Diego, and I got to chatting with the men in line in front of me who were in town for an international psychiatry conference. We were trying to figure out which line was the fastest to get through the scanners, “What, so we can be sooner to sit at the gate and wait?,” one man chimed in his southern French accent.
“I’ve always thought they should put meditation and mindfulness prompts in places like this.” I offered, having mentioned that I taught meditation.
“But the surroundings are so business! They need a waterfall or peaceful images and then maybe we can.”
“If you’re waiting for things around you to be calm so that you can be calm, you’re going to wait an awfully long time.”
He wrinkled his forehead and began a smile.
“But look,” I asked, “how many shades of brown are in those stones on the wall? Can you listen to all the sounds of the room at once? Can you feel your heart beating inside your body?”
At this point, he broke into a knowing look, admitting defeat. “Ok ok, I see you are very good.”
Besides my ego being flattered (and being grateful to the kids I teach every week for making me a better teacher who can think on my feet!) – I realized that this pattern runs so deep. I am caught in these traps as well. Sure, I might not get elevated by slow airport lines, but I fall into this: when I have a more stable income, when the weather warms up, when I make more time to make art… then I can be happy, peaceful, and calm. When my sister’s wedding is over, when my boyfriend’s work schedule slows down, when my friends are settled in their new jobs – then my relationships will be easy. When traffic finally lets up, when you lose that last bit of weight, when you get that promotion – then you can be content.
If you’re waiting for things around you to be calm so that you can be calm, you’re going to wait an awfully long time.
You can’t outsource your peace. You can’t abdicate responsibility for your own calm. Do you see how helpless this leaves you? Every changing whim can knock you over, and that’s a precarious place to be.
How can you get grounded now? How can you be flexible now? How can you be content now? The offerings sound so clichéd and so simple – because it’s very simple, though by no means easy. Like in the airport – can you notice what’s in front of you? Can you look at the bigger picture? Can you tune in to your own feelings and be clear about them?
It’s more sustainable to deal with the issues as they arise than to wait for a time without issues. To know how to fight and resolve instead of waiting for the perfect relationship without any disagreements.
Zoom out further: if you’re waiting for this unpredictable and destructive president to move along before you move forward… you’re going to wait and awfully long time.
None of this is to minimize the very real danger and discomfort of situations. I’m certain that what you’re in is tough and discouraging. But I’m also certain that there is some bit, however small, of breathing space.
And if you can fill that with your attention and intention, maybe you can carve just a bit more, and carve just a bit more, until you’ve shawshanked yourself out of these prisons we feel confined by and can make real and lasting change.
Meditation, mindfulness, peace does not and cannot come from outside of you. There is nothing to wait for. There is nothing that needs to change for you to start moving towards ease.
And that’s wonderful and terrible news. Start anywhere.