This past December, I was at a party speaking with my dear friend Bennett. I don’t remember what I was eating or drinking, but I do recall that, in the midst of our chat, I consumed something I really didn’t like. I made the classic scrunched up face, pursed my lips, and said, “Eeew, this is bitter!” Bennett caught my eyes and said very carefully, “No. It’s bitter.”
Did you catch the distinction? Because, in that moment, he forever changed the way I think.
Noticing the trap
The trap I was falling into—the one Bennett implored me to become aware of—was the tendency to judge each and every experience on the scale of my likes and dislikes. Using this scale, the things I like—good coffee, sunshine, connection with friends—fall into the “good” category. I seek them out. I try to hang onto them. I mourn a little bit every time they pass.
On the flip side, the things I don’t like—nasty smells, over-crowded dance floors, paper cuts—fall into the “bad” category. I work to avoid them. I try to push them away. I mourn a little bit every time they arise.
Bennett’s comment was a reminder to stop judging. Every minute of every day we’re assailed with a storm of inputs—sensations, feelings, thoughts. Because we’re humans, we try to assign a category to each of those inputs. This is a desirable sensation. This is a bad feeling. This is a deep thought.
The trap is inside the adjectives. If we truly want to learn how to embrace each moment of our lives, rather than pulling some close and pushing others away, we need to understand that a sensation is neither desirable nor undesirable. A feeling is neither bad nor good. A thought is neither deep nor shallow. It’s just a sensation, feeling, or thought.
This coffee is just coffee. This crowded dance floor is just a crowded dance floor. This bitter taste is just bitter. No layers. No judgment. No choosing one over the other.
If you haven’t practiced this, it may sound like we’re stripping out some of life’s joys and sorrows. Don’t we want to rejoice in the pleasant experiences and reject the unpleasant ones? Well… yes and no. I think the real goal is to rejoice in every experience. Because it’s just an experience. And every experience gives our soul another opportunity for growth.
In other words
Michael Singer, author of The Untethered Soul, encapsulates this concept beautifully when he talks about the importance of keeping your heart open. He says:
“… two kinds of experiences can occur that block the heart. You are either trying to push energies away because they bother you, or you are trying to keep energies close because you like them. In both cases, you are not letting them pass, and you are wasting precious energy by blocking the flow through resisting and clinging.
“The alternative is to enjoy life instead of clinging to it or pushing it away. If you can live like that, each moment will change you. If you are willing to experience the gift of life instead of fighting with it, you will be moved to the depth of your being.”
The implications of this commitment are massive. By choosing to live inside each moment, without judging its relative worth, we find true inner peace. We can take pleasure in the moment of connecting with our friends AND take pleasure in the moment of leaving them. We can accept the so-called irritants life throws our way without stumbling or losing our equilibrium.
We can eat something bitter without recoiling.
Significantly, by consistently applying this practice, we can also learn how to rejoice in things we might once have considered undesirable. And I’m not talking little things, either. Believe it or not, we can say yes to the loss of a job. We can say yes to the disappointment of a failed relationship. We can say yes to a scary medical diagnosis. We can say yes to uncomfortable change. I’ve seen people do it. I’ve done it myself.
There is exceptional grace to embracing what is and then carefully choosing your response. The people who navigate these experiences mindfully gain wisdom, self-knowledge, and fortitude. They discover the reservoirs of their inner strength. And they stand as an inspiration to us all.
I’m not suggesting that we look to attract negative experiences into our lives. We don’t need to do that; life conspires to make them appear despite our best efforts. What I’m saying is, when they do arise, we get to choose how to react to them. We get to choose the extent to which they will harm us. We get to choose what behaviour to model to our children, our parents, our friends.
So the next time life throws you a curve ball, see if you can avoid the “eeew” and simply accept that this one is bitter.
About Aviva Rabinovici
In the corporate world, my bio generally underscores my extensive business experience. After earning a law degree, I started up my own company called AR Communications Inc., which is now one of North America’s leading copywriting boutiques. I’m proud of these achievements, but they don’t tell the story of what’s closest to my heart. What truly makes me shine is having nurtured a passionate, loving marriage for almost 25 years; raising three phenomenal children who light up my life; sustaining a 20+ year yoga practice; and most recently co-founding Conscious and Carefree—a blog dedicated to exploring how to live life fully in joy.
Originally Posted: http://bcarefree.com/2016/08/25/calling-it-like-it-is/