The ‘stickiness’, to which Kabat-Zinn refers, can (ironically) be a very ‘slippery’ creature, creeping into our thoughts and desires when we least expect; contriving all manner of justifications, rationalizations to support our choices; setting its hooks in ways that make it very difficult to shake loose. When we meditate, when we still the mind and open ourselves to a period of silence without ‘benefit’ of distraction or busyness, we are very often fertile ground for this little critter to nest in – let’s just call him attachment (or his equally dark twin, avoidance). Christening them two of the three poisons, Buddhist teachings feel sufficiently strongly about these two to assign them (together with ‘ignorance of the truth’ – i.e., self-delusion or confusion) primary responsibility for the dissatisfaction and unhappiness we experience in life. (And here I thought it was the Leaf’s not winning a cup since 1967.) Attachment (aka: addiction, obsession, codependence, control, greed, jealousy, conditionality – to name but a few aliases) and avoidance (aversion, phobic anxiety, hatred and resentment) are evidently a potent pair indeed.
Notice too how you are relating to this image, thought, sensation. (Getting back to our two poisons), Am I attached to it – obsessing about it, ‘needing’ it? Fearful of its going, leaving, of losing it? Am I needing to control it; having it be a particular way, turning out in a particular fashion – to ensure my happiness (the conditionality of I’ll be content if and only if. . .)? Alternately, do I just need it to ‘go away’ – am I averse to or avoiding of this image, thought, or sensation? Do I resent its presence, perhaps rejecting it, even ‘hating’ it? These are not ‘analyses’ of what you are experiencing; they are simply suggested questions that may help identify the nature of your ‘relationship with’ the experience. Once established as attachment or rejection/avoidance, the work is done – no need to get caught up in the why.
Letting go of the need to have or make things be different than they are (in this moment) – or its flip side, lamenting that things are as they are right now – is an important element of this process as well. This is the letting be of what is, trusting that change is inevitable; circumstance will evolve in its own time; and equally we cannot hurry or force that process. Skills that come into play here are non-reaction and acceptance, the latter seen as one’s ‘agreement to experience a situation, to follow a process or condition (often a negative or uncomfortable situation) without attempting to change it, protest, or exit’ (online definition). During meditation, a helpful exercise in this regard is to metaphorically place the person or image of a ‘triggering’ (preoccupying) situation on a chair – directly in front of and facing you, as you sit. (This is the metaphoric opposite of trying to avoid it.) Gently observe him/her/it. Develop a benign tolerance of his/her/it’s presence. No need to engage or respond – just observe, ‘sit with’. Being human, the investment we have in the object before us will change, usually diminish, as we remain, non-reactive and accepting of its presence. Again, back to the toxic tandem, the aspects of our relationship that ‘keep alive’ the intensity of this unholy bond with the overly desired or the intensely shunned is the degree to which we are attached or averse – not something inherent in the object itself.
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
One final thought about letting go. Perhaps the most profound example of this process is that of grieving a loss. In his very helpful little volume (Grieving Mindfully), Sameet Kumar makes reference to a five-step, sequenced protocol facilitating closure, one that is equally applicable to much less weighty circumstances:
Examining our regrets around. . . (the apology)
Cultivating compassion toward. . . (the forgiveness)
Cultivating empathy / understanding of. . .(the loving)