“Smile at your patterns.” ~Tsoknyi Rinpoche
Partway through Eckhart Tolle’s Conscious Manifestation course, I furiously jotted down his teachings about challenges and obstacles to remind myself that they’re not only a normal part of the human experience but necessary for spiritual growth. “Yes!!!!” I wrote in agreement.
Human nature is wired to respond, resist and resent to difficulties. This adds suffering to already stressful situations. I am prone to this reflexive tendency. My mindfulness practice has taught me how to observe and disentangle the cascading pattern of my mind, disengaging it from me. Or, to accept and calmly move forward with calm actions and a still mind.
When we can practice acceptance and equanimity, when we can say, “Okay, this is my present moment experience, and I can allow it because it’s already here,” we soften and open in the most tender way. We can also open our hearts to receive the wisdom and lessons that our stubbornness often blocks.
A few days after listening to Eckhart’s talk, I had to see several doctors and get lab work done to address symptoms I’d been experiencing. I had small problems throughout the week.
First, the doctor’s office lost my lab sample, so I had to go back and give another one. Then the labwork processing got delayed, and in an attempt to access my results, I made a phone call, explained my experience, got transferred, waited on hold, explained my experience, got transferred, waited on hold…you get the picture. Nearly two hours elapsed, and I still didn’t have an answer.
Final performance: The universe finally gave me my final hurdle. When I tried to get a follow up appointment, it cancelled the appointment and told me that there was no doctor available.
After explaining my circumstances and expressing my frustration, the assistant helped me to book another doctor. I softened, thanked her, and sat down, acutely aware that I’d lost my (spiritual) way.
Each setback made me resentful and resistant. My husband was like a snake who releases its venom. I sent him a stream of frustrated messages and felt my body tightening with fire as if it were facing a predator.
The truth was that I had only softened toward the medical assistant when she said what I wanted. This insight enabled me to view the entire sequence of events with compassion and nonjudgmental eyes.
With clarity, I realized that my attempts to make things easier were only creating more problems. I saw that I had been behaving as if everything were a threat—like the healthcare system was out to get me—and that the real predator was my own mind. Instantly, my internal release was likened to a balloon that is slowly being deflated with the pinprick. The realization dawned on me that fighting was futile. It was clear that I had the option to give up.
My appointment was over, so I went to the lab. It felt overwhelming: there were people everywhere and red ticket numbers flying overhead. There seemed to be an interminable wait. I took a deep breath, pulled a number, and decided that I was going to use the wait—which I now perceived as an opportunity, not a threat-for mindfulness, presence, and spiritual practice.
As I looked around, all of the people seemed familiar. As children pushed elderly relatives in their wheelchairs with care, a woman who was pregnant patiently engaged her children and a man who struggled to limp from the ticket machine with a heavy leg brace, I observed.
It occurred to me that everyone was here for some reason; everybody is having health problems; everyone takes time from their day to be here; everyone waits.
The kindness and patience that I saw was amazing. Suddenly, my story became enveloped in everyone’s story. They were me and I was them. I felt a deep kinship—a tenderness that made me feel a part of, rather than a target of, the human experience.
As I became more aware of myself and began to feel connected with people around me, my awareness increased. When I saw the pregnant woman sitting next to me, I said that I admire her patience. Then, when she told me she was doing half-day of lab work related to pregnancy, it made me more humble and I realized that patience can be a choice.
A man I saw underneath the mask made eye contact and I felt his gentleness. We didn’t say anything, but we said everything.
The room had changed from being chaotic and unattractive to a place I loved and wanted to remain. It was also a space where I found deep meaning and connected to it. The space didn’t transform, but I changed how I felt about it.
My buoyancy was evident when I left the laboratory. I felt energetic, connected, and complete after leaving the lab. It was overwhelming to realize that my entire week was an experience of learning a lot from difficult situations. The first was what I experienced when I tried to force them away. Second, I witnessed what happens when they are invited in with open hearts and open minds.
“Challenges as gifts” left the theoretical world of quotes and concepts and burrowed into my lived experience. When I let it shine, it stays put and reminds of me of itself.
Allie Fiffer, a coach and mindfulness meditation teacher, focuses on increasing accessibility and belonging to the space.
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