Expect Nothing

Expect nothing. These were the words our guide, Shantum Seth, told to our group as we began our Buddhist pilgrimage in India. I must admit, when I heard them my anxiety level rose while at the same time a smile crossed my face. Why? Because I know India is like that. I heard that there is chaos and to expect chaos. I also heard that if you could learn to let go, and see beyond the chaos, you will come to find calmness, peace, and order.

I waited for this journey for a long time. I needed to be ready to go. Whatever ready meant to me I did not know at the time. However, while there I found out. I needed to be ready to drop expectations. To drop what is normally my comforts and my predictable routines, and to drop attachments. This is one of the hardest things to do. I admit, there were many comforts of home I was desiring. I missed my family, I missed my daily routines. There were discomforts that were very unpleasant. It was through the tolerance of discomfort that I was able to accept, understand, and not just tolerate, but respect the differences. The letting go of expectations opened the door to receiving so much.

I practiced this within my traveling Sangha as well. We were a group of 18 to start. Three members left after a week and two more joined in. I witnessed how the release of expectations and attachment allowed us to smoothly say goodbye to those who left and joyfully welcome in those who joined. It just happened, even with sadness we were able to allow newness and joy. We shared the discomforts together. As a matter of fact the discomforts were the events that sparked the greatest coming together and bonding. We shared medications, tissues, food, mosquito repellent and cameras. As well as our lives, emotions, vulnerabilities, smiles, laughter, understanding and compassion. Traffic jams and the lack of bathrooms along the road provided the opportunity to bond with nature and each other! Food magically appeared on the bus and Chai tea appeared at rest stops. We learned that the chaos on the road somehow worked and developed faith and trust in our “guru” of a bus driver. We developed a deep appreciation and respect for the people of India, the sacred sites we visited, and for one another. We traveled through the unknown, and sometimes unbearable together. Our hearts ached together as we witnessed the lack and the need of children, animals, and villages. We learned to bear the heavy burden of compassion. We laughed and cried together. We shared deeply knowing we would say goodbye and let go at the end of this journey. Not just let go of India, but also let go of one another and all the shared experiences. India and our Sangha became a practice of impermanence.

It was in the letting go that moments opened and I received everything I needed. Letting go of comfort and familiarity gave rise to peace and equanimity, and letting go of attachment to another gave rise to joy, compassion and love. The practice I have taken home with me is expect nothing and receive everything. As I meditate on this I can feel the embodied release. Tension fading from the release of resistance, from striving and holding on. What remains is softness, openness, and this very moment.

Thank you India!

Change and the Unknown

I recently heard a Dharma talk in which the teacher summed up what he felt was the most important Buddhist teaching: change is the constant.

I don’t know about you, but I can feel my body tighten and tense when I consider this reality. I can  intellectually grasp it but feeling it is another story. As along with constant change comes uncertainty and the unknown. We are wired as humans to long for and desire to know what is next. It is actually built into our brain and it is what separates us as humans from primates. When faced with the unknown and not knowing what is next we tense, and fear and anxiety arise in our bodies and minds.

Wrestling with change and the unknown is one of the greatest obstacles when someone is recovering from an eating disorder. Fear of change of body and self create obstacles to moving forward. I often hear my clients say, “but I don’t know what’s next. At least I know this.” This can apply to all areas in life, not just recovery. We have all been faced with transitions and the fear of going forward because of the unknown.

When I am faced with fear of change I turn to what I know best soothes me, self-compassion. Self-compassion soothes the unknown. It softens fear by responding directly to it. The following practice can be used when you feel you are in a frozen place due to fear of change and the unknown:

1) Name it to tame it!– You may have heard this before. I say it often. When fear is present, rather than avoid it, name it. Say, “I am afraid.” “I am scared.”

2) Find it in your body and release- Our neuromuscular system directly responds and reacts to fear. Find the areas of tension in your body. Gently massage them at the same time as labeling it for what it is. Such as: “It’s okay to let go. You are just scared.”

3) Compassion and more compassion- Now is not the time to berate yourself for feeling stuck and afraid to change. Instead, gently understand that you are just trying to protect yourself from what you don’t yet know. Say the following: “I am only trying to understand and know what is next.” “I can allow myself to not know what I do not yet know.” “I can take a breath to soften and soothe the fear.”

And since we are on the subject of the unknown, I am venturing off this month to India! I will be embarking on a Buddhist pilgrimage where I will discover the path of the Buddha and his teachings from birth, to where he reached enlightenment, and to where he is buried. March’s newsletter will come a little later in the month after I return. I am sure I will have a lot to share!