No Control

When many of us sit down to meditate the first thing we notice is that we can’t hold onto the stillness most of us are seeking.

One or two breaths in and that trickster mind is off and running. Back to the breath – maybe a centered second or so and then, again, off we go to make to-do lists or run virtual errands or rehash a long -ago conversation.

A student tells me she can’t meditate because whenever she sits, her mind churns with all the undone things. I say, ‘no problem’ that is meditation.

Recently, my sons’ father was diagnosed with early, severe dementia. This is not something your recover from. And my mind was swamped with tortuous memories of how this man once was – so verbal, engaging, full of stories and experiences most of us can only dream of – visiting the tin shack with Rita Marley where Bob wrote No Woman, No Cry; backstage with Bruce discussing The River, or Beckett with Bono. Etc…so many backstage conversations, books written, tours around the world. All mostly forgotten.  Now he walks in circles around the perimeter of the memory unit. I have experienced the deepest, most painful feelings, wishing this were not happening to him, wanting it to be otherwise. Agony.

All of my own making. Because the sadness is real, yes. This is certainly something to be sad about. But I am compounding the sadness by holding onto something that is gone.

Like wishing ice cream didn’t melt or flowers wouldn’t every fade, that my hair might not keep going gray.

We are set to die and fade as soon as we take our first breath.

The lesson of meditation is exactly this. You cannot hold onto anything, not even the idea that this moment of clarity and stillness will necessarily be followed by another. There are no sure bets.

This is no small lesson. It is one to be learned over and over on your cushion. Observing with friendly curiosity just how fickle your mind is – coming back to the breath, your home, your anchor. See that there really is nothing hold onto. Yes, your breath is what you can return to, but it too changes.

In this uncertainty can we find peace?

The illusion that we can control or fix a difficult situation is as wrong as it is painful. But letting go is NOT to stop engaging or caring. In this case, letting go is like the maybe apocryphal story of the guru who said – “I can’t stop the waves but I can learn to surf.”

And so, the waves crash and pull back from the shore. The water is cold and wild.

I’m no surfer but I am a strong swimmer. I raise my head above the waves and take a long breath.

You can too.