Resilience in the Rain

November 7, 2012

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The part of me that has strong weather preferences is surprised to acknowledge how much joy and elation the chilling winter weather is giving me. It reached 46 degrees today in Portland and was 39 degrees when I awoke… a shock for this Southern California transplant. While a conditioned voice had recently stated her concerns loudly, “I am not going to survive the long dreary winter!” (It is known to rain until July 1st in Portland), my authentic experience is qualitatively different. It seems that I have received a blast of energy that comes only from saying YES to what is.

Spiritual practice invites us to turn to our actual in-the-moment experience again and again, despite what we are being told in our heads, and requires us to ask, “IS THAT SO? When something outside our comfort zone comes our way, a limiting voice we are all familiar with says, “I don’t like this, I hate this, I can’t.” With practice, however, we learn to inquire as sincerely as we can into present moment reality and to say YES to the experience we are actually having, instead of assessing it from the perspective of the conditioned mind. Resistance strengthens the illusion of separation and isolation, while acceptance and resilience unlock the door to unconditional well-being. Resilience begins with saying YES to life exactly as it is.

I spent years of my life living “back to the land” in freezing temperatures, in hand-made structures built of the earth. I chopped my own wood for the wood stove and woke early in the morning to tend to frosting garden beds. Regardless of how hearty I became living that way, (and how aware I became of the irrelevance of something like weather for a spiritual practicioner) during my 5 years in sunny Los Angeles, I clearly slid back into a weather comfort zone without realizing it.

From the massive energy surge I am getting from the arrival of winter, I’m reminded how freeing and invigorating it is each time we step out of our comfort zone. We are so much more than our likes and dislikes! Joy has very little to do with comfort and conditions and everything to do with our ability to say YES to life as it is. It has everything to do with the amount of presence and responsiveness we are willing to bring to a situation. Only the separate self is finicky and hard to please. Presence finds joy in a full range of experiences of being alive… physical experiences including pleasure and pain, the vastness of human emotions, and weather as colorful and intense as are the seasons.

In each moment we have the choice to be receptive or resistant to what life brings. Whatever habits of mind we give our attention to we strengthen. Spiritual practice, therefore, is a lot like exercise. Are we strengthening the muscles of fear, laziness, self-doubt, and inadequacy or are we strengthening our muscles of acceptance, resourcefulness, and resilience? Are we cultivating conditional well-being (I’m OK in these temperatures but NOT others) or accessing the unconditional? Just as we work out cardiovascularly to take good care of our hearts and lift weights to take care of our bones and muscles or exercise to strengthen them, it is up to us to exercise the muscles of resilience.

Saying YES reminds us that joy is not dependent on “getting what I want when I want it,” but can be available regardless of what life brings. For me, it is always a relief to remember that joy is not tied to anything other than my heart’s capacity to embrace what is. I would rather live in an interconnected dance with life any day, than have happiness be dependent on something outside of me. I’d rather that joy be a built-in furnace, a warm hearth inside of me, that is not dependent on outside fuel and that I can rely on in any weather.

We are more resourceful as human animals and spiritual beings than we know, and there is a particular vitality called wakefulness that comes each time we access that resourcefulness. For me, saying yes to wintertime means… waking up freezing and realizing how much I actually enjoy the sensuality of cold touching my skin …getting outside no matter what(!) and connecting with the pouring rain on my morning walk…being surprised by the soft subtle beauty of a white grey sky.…taking heart in preparing the garden and the house for wintertime…following the natural rhythm of the sun and going by candlelight in the evening…savoring the experience of a warm cup of tea, renewing my appreciation for hot water and warm sweaters…and sometimes playing in the mud. These are all reminders that pure joy comes in simple forms.

When I really open my eyes to wintertime and wake up to its teachings, which I can’t do when I resist it, I am awed. Everything around me, every tree and every plant I encounter, is a reminder of CHANGE and that we are not in control… Life is. I feel I am participating in a collective catharsis, everything losing its foliage all at once and bare of its protection, every plant, animal, and human responding to the force of the cold. Winter reminds me of our vulnerability and interconnection. It also reminds me that resilience requires coming together. The incessant cold and my awareness of wanting to resist it reminds me of my absolute ability to roll up my sleeves, access an inner roar, and say yes to life as it is.

As awareness practitioners, it is important to pay attention to our comfort zone and to consciously explore beyond it. When we meet our own resistance, it is useful to ask, “What is the authentic lesson of this challenge? What spiritual muscle am I being invited to work out? What is the spiritual teaching here?”

Here are some exercises for giving your resilience muscles a good workout:

• Meditate: Despite the mind’s activity, practice meeting every sensation, emotion, and thought with the willingness to be with what is, returning to compassionate awareness no matter what pulls you away.
• Meet a new edge in yoga not through force but through allowing and listening.
• Next time you find nothing good in the fridge, remember your resourcefulness and make the best with what you’ve got (I just did this with squash, almonds, and miso and the result was decadent.)
• Along those lines, experiment with the 100-mile radius diet and view it not as a limitation, but as a creativity boost and chef’s challenge.
• Take on the sustainability challenge of Zero Waste and find that you have the capacity and resourcefulness to create less/no trash despite the voice that says it will be impossible.
• And next time you find yourself in a challenging situation, like having to change a tire in the pouring rain on the side of the freeway with friends, realize that it’s either a moment of discomfort or a moment to roll up your sleeves and say YES… and see how much fun the situation really might be.

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