On Unpleasant Things And What They Teach Us

The yellowed, dying leaf drifted slowly towards the ground. Its green brothers, luminous and firm, watched silently. In the next instant, the wind moved playfully through them, as if the yellow leaf had never existed.

I took a sip of my morning coffee and pondered, Is this life? In a matter of moments, I had witnessed a decayed leaf fall from its perch, its peer leaves standing by, unmoved, and then things moved right along. Everything flowed, even as it included life, death, and everything in between.

How differently we humans react to such events. If we see a tragedy fall upon a beloved friend or family member or even ourselves, we respond with strong emotions. We feel angry on their behalf, saddened, and distressed, and frantically try to do something to avert the tragedy. We rarely accept an event quietly as it unfolds.

And yet, so often, I have found that what seemed like a catastrophe at first turned out to be a great blessing in fact. Some of my most rewarding moments in life have been the very ones I railed against, and only when I found the humility to see them for what they were (usually after I was spent in fighting it) was I able to embrace the gift they bore.

We are so quick to judge. It’s a primal instinct, I think – fight or flight – to maximize our survival. Even after millenia of evolution, we still seem to be hardwired to instantly colour an experience as desirable or undesirable and then react as instantly to increase its pleasantness or decrease its unpleasantness.

Buddhism has taught me to break this instinctive habit. I am learning to pause, to wait in the space between a stimulus and a response. I am increasing my powers to observe, or rather, my patience to observe. As I adopt a more mindful approach, I am slowing down and making allowances for events to transpire that I don’t find desirable. In the course of becoming aware and studying them, they lose the simplistic picture they initially gave. Instead, as I watch them with a neutral gaze, they reveal themselves to be more nuanced, more wholesome. Even the unpleasant ones. Removing the sheen of judgment that I so hastily and indignantly slapped on an event liberates it to become a non-threatening friend.

Ultimately, the goal is to be like the green leaves, stoic and wise, to be able to stand by as a brother falls, because it is the right action to assist the flow of life.


About Archana

I'm Indian and Canadian, and many other countries in between. I read comics every morning and believe the world could do with slowing down.
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