Standing on my head, looking across the room at the empty wall, I wondered whether I might put a poster there, upside down, to remind me of a few simple things I forget to do on a daily basis. Simple but powerful practices which, when done regularly and in a focused way, can improve my life. A couple of days later I thought about it again and three things came to mind: smile, breathe, and let go. This post is about the astonishingly simple things which can transform our experience of ourselves and of life itself, and how important it is to practise them whenever we can because, when we need them most, they can be slippery and elusive.
Made more conscious of these three instructions, I noticed that whenever I brought them to mind, the breathing would always come before the smile. And so when I finally printed the poster it read: BREATHE – SMILE – LET GO. It now hangs upside down in the loft of our new house, across from the place where I do my daily exercises.
During this process two other simple reminders came to mind, both from listening to the words of the Buddhist practitioner Jack Kornfield. The first is from his own teacher who, whenever a student reported emotional states such as anger or frustration, simply responded that the student must (still) be attached to something. When I first heard that story, its simplicity and power struck me with equal measure: MY MOOD SHOWS ME MY ATTACHMENT.
The second point is that in whatever situation we find ourselves, regardless of how we feel or the desires we may have, it is only transient: THIS TOO SHALL PASS. I am familiar with this from previous experiences, yet it still seems bizarre to me that although we know the good times will end, it always feels as though the bad times will go on forever. But they don’t. They never do. Nothing ever does. That’s the beauty and the challenge of life. Everything changes. Everywhere. Always.
And so it was that last week I had ample opportunity and reason to put all five of these simple practices to good use. A week after moving house and six weeks after becoming a father, I felt lost. There seemed only a tenuous connection to either of the new elements in my life: as though I was living in someone else’s house, looking after someone else’s baby. My sense of self was undermined, as was my relationship with the one other person who is in this with me. Diminishing connections to the familiar left me doubting everything. I wondered about the person I seemed to have become compared to the one thought I was (or thought I would become). ‘There’s the attachment’, I thought to myself. ‘Let it go. Breathe.’ It helped a little.
The smiling proved more difficult because it feels so forced when in a bad mood. The key, instead, is to smile at the spectacle. Be entertained by your mood. There are times, for instance, when I discuss my moods (or my annoyingly detailed thoughts) with her and we laugh. Having someone know me so intimately and with whom I can laugh about it all, makes it easier to smile to myself during the times when I realise I have yet another story to tell her. (It’s still not easy, though, because my moods are stubborn and demanding, and tend to want to exclude all other options.)
There was still the final lesson to remember: this too shall pass. As seems to happen more and more these days, it passed quicker than it felt it would, and a few days later the world seemed much better. The wave of uncertainty had abated and I was able to relax more into the life I have chosen for myself. As Karaj once said to me, it doesn’t matter what choices we make because there is doubt, joy, success and heartbreak along every pathway. Now, whenever my foundations are rocked, I need only go to my loft, stand on my head, and stare across the room at an upside-down poster.