Stay With Your Experience

I was driving down the 101 yesterday, on a sunny California November day, listening to the wise words of Buddhist nun Pema Chodron.

In her Getting Unhooked audiobook, she talks about the power of “staying with your experience.” The basic idea is that whatever you are feeling, whether it feels intensely good or intensely uncomfortable, try to stay with it.

Don’t push it away – but don’t cling to it either. Give it space to be there, like opening your home in warm welcome to a friendly guest.

Many of us (me definitely included) try to escape when hard feelings come up.

On my drive I was feeling anxious about some potentially life-changing news that I was waiting to hear. Waiting, day after day, not able to do anything but worry and try to be patient. My usual escapes are doing physical exercise like yoga or dance, eating comforting foods like ice cream or homemade chili, and watching 18th century British period movies (ask my kids, and they’ll roll their eyes.)

I started to wonder, what if I don’t try to escape? Pema says that if we can manage to stay present with whatever we’re feeling, chances are it will shift after a while and move on by, like a cloud in the sky. If we try instead to either escape or hold on to it, it will tend to grow bigger and more powerful in our minds.

So, since I’m always game to learn new things, I decided to try it this morning to see what would happen. I woke up with a grip of anxiety in my stomach, and I said to myself, OK, this is anxiety. It’s perfectly normal to be feeling this right now, and I’m going to just let it be here with me.

Hello, anxiety, nice to see you. Have a seat here beside me. Would you like some tea?

It sounds silly, but I found that the feeling stayed around for an hour or so, then softened, then evaporated when I biked down to a new yoga studio near our house. The anxiety had completely left my body and I was in a blissful state.

Pema talks about this as a practice that we can include in our lives. I know rough feelings will keep popping by to visit me every so often, and hopefully I’ll remember to greet them with love and compassion. Maybe I’ll even be able to expand that compassion to everyone else in the world who is feeling like this right now.

We aren’t so different, we wonderful human beings. And if we can learn to stay and not run away from ourselves, we might find a new understanding. Deeper insight into ourselves, and deeper insight into the human condition.

Wishing you the courage to stay with one tiny experience today, even just for a minute.

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