No Exit? Pay Attention!

no exit

The anxiety is palpable. We sit in our car, five of us, having just attended the graduation ceremony. The line has not crawled an inch in twenty minutes. We are in an underground parking facility, and no one has cell service. We are the hosts who should be hosting—guests already await our arrival. We are to serve food and drink to celebrate our son’s college milestone, but here we are, frozen in queue.

A car door slams. And then another. Some of the curious venture to the line’s beginning to find out what is wrong. They walk back, their bodies tense with frustration. No one seems to know why the automated system is down. There is no exit.

Some in our car cannot bear not knowing. Constant is the guessing, speculating, concluding, and brooding. Churning mind. Waiting. Churning mind. What about our guests? Maybe if we knew just how long…

The effort to find explanation, the wish to be already home, are both futile attempts to find comfort. If we knew the source of the problem, would the knowing make the line move? We cannot escape conditions as they have come to be. There is no exit. There is nothing to do… nothing to do but wait. Or so we assume.

What is waiting?

Waiting finds discomfort. Waiting is ignoring what is while yearning for something else—the preferred version. The achievement of the substitute is impossible. We cannot escape conditions as they have come to be. What has come to be is life’s current expression. Here/now is where life takes place.

Our carload is in the parking garage now… there is no escape from now. In an effort to fulfill our desires, we judge what is against our desires and preferences. Emotions arise with this attempt to will reality into a preferred version. Attaching to the wish, the desire, the wanting, or the preference, is the source of annoyance and anxiety. There is another way.

Simply notice, return to this. Here/now can arise as an engaging conversation, an echo of heels on pavement, the rise and fall of breathing, the inherent peace found in not knowing. Here/now becomes vibrant simply by taking an interest. Sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, thought… each beckons awareness to this here/now experience… boundless, unknowable possibility.

Go ahead… prepare to be annoyed. Live in a fabricated world bound by unfulfilled expectations. Or shift awareness to this. Engage in this. Bring interest and flexibility of mind to the boundless possibility born from circumstance. Waiting vanishes. Engagement takes its place.

No exit? Pay attention!

A first version of this piece was posted in 2011 under the title Waiting. What is It?

© 2015 Bev Forsman and Letters from Emptiness. If you share this material, please include direction to the original content. Thank you.

Snow, Shoveling, and Sisyphus

We have had more than our share of snow this year in Minneapolis. An early December storm brought nearly twenty inches. January offered us only three days without snow. In these most recent days, the air has again been thick with white flakes. Another foot of sand-like crystals has covered our world. We have been shoveling, and shoveling. This year, winter is demanding attention.

We might feel like Sisyphus who, for eternity, was condemned to push a boulder to the top of a mountain, only for it to roll to the bottom with every attempt. Like Sisyphus, we suffer because we want to get out of our situation. We measure what we want against what is. This is suffering.

We are a culture that is in constant yearning for what comes next or what we want instead. We yearn for the weather to be different, our job to be different, our looks to be different. At every turn we find dissatisfaction. Living within the boundaries of our hopes, we completely overlook the amazing, interesting life that we’re living Here and Now. Here and Now is where our True life takes place, and it is impossible to escape. Life cannot be different than it is right here, right now, but it is far more rich than the container of our concepts.

As humans, we are endowed with gifts of the intellect; memory, imagination, planning, calculation, measurement. These wonderful skills, however, become curses when our characterizations, assessments, and definitions are believed to be truth. We grasp at concepts. While shoveling, we compare the activity to not shoveling. For many, not shoveling is preferable. We reject this current situation, and imagine it to be snow-free, shovel-free. We’d rather be inside, and warm. We measure what remains left of the task, against our current definition of happiness. We anticipate and relish being finished even as we hear there’s more on the way. Our minds race ahead to ideas of what comes next. Surely it’s better, we think. This grasping at concepts and context is suffering.

We can be released from “shoveling,” even while shoveling. We can be released from “winter,” even when cold and snow are abundant. We can simply shovel, in spite of our ideas of shoveling and our yearning for the next season. This doesn’t mean to push away our ideas, explanations, measurements, and desires. When yearning for this moment to be another, simply notice the yearning and return to the activity. See, hear, smell, taste, touch with interest. There’s no need to yearn for yearning to cease, since it brings yet more dissatisfaction. With simple noticing, already the feel of the shovel in the hands, the cool flakes landing on cheeks, the deep breathing of exertion, can arise through the seeming barriers of the intellect and its held ideas of truth. Take an interest in shoveling. Take an interest in now. Snowflakes drift gently. Sunshine radiates through frigid air. Simply notice. This is to return to the activity that is our True life right here, right now.

© 2011 Bev Forsman and Letters from Emptiness. If you share this material, please include direction to the original content. Thank you.