I just received a holiday newsletter from one of my favorite inspirational writers, Brenda Shoshanna, the founder of Compassionate Care. (See end of this post for her website and more info.)
Not only do I find Dr. Shoshanna’s advice to be incredibly wise, but since her writings are grounded, practical, and simple, they have unique sticking power in my mind, long after everything else has faded out of awareness.
I’m hoping that her essay below on healing holiday stress will be timely and helpful for you, even if it helps you shift your thinking just an inch. It was something I definitely needed to hear right now, and will keep in my seasonal storage bin to reread each December.
Healing The Secret Disease of The Mind
We all have a great longing for things to go well, exactly as we want them to.. Especially during the holiday season there is a tremendous pressure to be happy, wanted, loved, to do what’s right, make others happy. Rather than rest in the unfailing presence of love, so many find themselves on a treadmill of having to prove themselves in all kinds of ways. Instead of joy, sadness, pressure and anxiety appear. A great deal of this difficulty actually arises from a little known disease of the mind.
This disease of the mind is so natural and common in our lives, it is rarely diagnosed. It becomes particularly active during a season when there is such a demand that we be happy, things go well and that no unwanted situations appear.
However, “To separate what we like from what we dislike, is the disease of the mind.” Our lives are run by this disease, by the the desire to run after and cling to what we like or want, and to run away from and reject what we do not like, whatever feels upsetting. We think something upsetting is bad for us, and something that feels good is positive. But this is not necessarily so. We may be rejecting that which could be meaningful – we may be staying attached to what which is harmful, because it is familiar. It’s impossible to realize what is truly beneficial when we live in this way.
Living in this way, a sunny day will make us happy, as soon as thunder storms arrive, our happiness is gone. Like a leaf blown in the wind, we have to be constantly on guard, controlling everything. As people and conditions constantly change, where can true joy and contentment be found?
Notice: what is it you chase after, and hold onto for dear life? What is it you routinely avoid, reject or, hide from? Can you see what toll this takes on you? Does this way of being bring comfort, safety or happiness? .
A simple road to healing this illness is to open your hands, minds, hearts to everything. Forget about clinging to the good. Stop rejecting what seems to be bad. Realize that what you like or dislike is not a measure of anything. Your likes and dislikes are constantly changing anyway. One day something that you adored may cause you to recoil.
When Dogen, a great Zen Master, was young he went to China to study Zen. When he returned after many years everyone came to greet him. They wanted to know what he had learned all those years. “I came back with nothing but empty hands,”he said.
These empty hands are precious. When your hands are empty, not grasping, they become supple and available. They can feel, they can touch, reach out to others. They can give and accept gifts in return. These hands don’t hold onto what they like and push the rest of the world away. they are willing to accept and be with it all.
Instead of Rejecting Life, Reject Fear. Deep within we do not allow much of life to be. We judge, condemn, refuse it, and harm it in many subtle ways. Now, turn to this pattern and say No. Say No to grasping, and unhealthy attachment. As you do so, you are restoring yourself to flexibility and spontaneity. Once you open your hands and let go of the grip you’ve so tightly held, you will be amazed to see all the wonderful new people, experiences, and inner freedom that come into your life. Learn how to live with open hands. Rather than being attached to a particular outcome, let life happen as it does. Let those who are to come to you, come. Let those who have to leave, go. Do not harbor any particular agenda for how life has to unfold. Do not hold onto a specific notion of the respect due you, or of how important you are. All of that is just a wish for personal security, but it makes you fearful and insecure.
By opening your hands, you naturally let go and become able to give yourself fully to all. As you do so, you not only find a place of security that can never be threatened, you begin to rest in the unfailing presence of love.
Dr. Brenda Shoshanna, Ph.D., is the Founder of Compassionate Care, http://www.caringwithcompassion.net