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How to be Okay, even when Everything feels Overwhelmingly Not Okay.

 

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Why is it that anytime we have a delayed appointment, long queue to the restroom, flight delay, or something similar, time crawls on its belly like a reptile?

As human beings, our minds are not as habituated to the unexpected as we might wish them to be, and we rarely live up to the ideal of the “patient immortal.” The fact of the matter is that any unplanned delay in our “flow” is usually a big annoyance, and subsequent plans become larger than life dominoes, contributing even more to our moment of stress.

When we say “okay” to something, then everything is, in fact, okay, but when we don’t say “okay” or agree to a situation, then it is most certainly not okay.

Everything is fine if we have anticipated it, but we don’t deal well with unplanned interruptions. When we are in our groove, everything just flows—until the music stops. It is okay to go into the meditation hall and face the wall for an hour, but it is not okay when our scheduled flight departure is pushed back an hour. Why is that hour any different than the planned meditation hour? Why is the unplanned hour not okay for meditation, but the planned one is?

Why is it when we say “okay,” things are okay, but when we don’t say “okay” things are not okay?

We like to be in control of our affairs, but how can we think that’s even possible? Upon reflection, is it not a ridiculous assumption? All of our affairs involve others, and therefore include an unpredictable variable. Even when we are in the “flow,” another player can interrupt it at any time.

The idea of planned disruptions should be built into our psyche but it isn’t. We have long been habituated to inconveniences, in fact that is why anything that doesn’t go as we wished is termed an “inconvenience.” Why can’t we welcome incongruous intruders to our flow with a built-in response that allows us to view them as opportunities, rather than inconveniences or annoyances?

The delayed flight is okay, or not okay, depending on how we respond to it. If we seek distractions and view disruptions as an invitation to eat, drink coffee, gossip, and so forth, we have obviously deemed the interruption as not okay. But what if we decided to make the best of our delay by, God forbid, finding the meditation room in the airport (now common in many international airports) and tucking ourselves away for an hour?

The only reason things don’t go our way is because we believe there is “our way.” There is no reason that “not okay” should stay that way when we have the opportunity to turn the situation around and meet the challenge that “not okay” hands us. If we humbly accept the hand dealt to us, things might turn out differently. Just because we are not meeting our coworker at the chosen time, or boarding our flight when we planned, doesn’t mean we cannot cross our legs somewhere, straighten our spine, and stop being so damned spoiled and annoyed.

I meet people all the time who would like to meditate but claim they don’t have time for it. But do they have time for interruptions in their day?

It is a ridiculous question because interruptions are forced upon us. If we look in the rearview mirror, unplanned interruptions are often frivolously used, and seldom put to engaging, satisfying use. We may call to check in with our daughter, who is busy cooking food and has no time to talk, or call a friend, whose mother died earlier that week, or an acquaintance who reminds us of a debt we haven’t settled, and, only with considerable luck, find someone willing to be the trash bin for our down time.

If we look back on our day, how was the delay dealt with? Do we feel we are a better person for it?

The model of fixed time for daily meditation is a model for monastics, but difficult for those of us immersed in the real world. Monasteries are run by the clock, after all, but the real world is not so. Much of our ordinary day is unpredictable.

Meditation is not only suited for monastics who keep a schedule, but for those of us who want to meditate, but habitually misuse spare time delivered to us unexpectedly. Rather than becoming annoyed by unwelcome interruptions in our flow, why don’t we create the habit of getting together with ourselves, quietly tucking ourselves away in a corner, perhaps donning our shades, and checking in with ourselves?

If “not okay” is to ever become “okay,” we should stop engaging in actions that disguise it rather than remedy it. “Not okay” can be “okay” if we give it no purchase.

The purpose of “mindfulness,” an overused term these days, is not something that is turned on and off, but reflects the effort of making all the moments of our day equal. A minute is a minute whether engaged or distracted, happy or sad, depressed or elated, angry or calm. No matter how a minute is disguised, that disguise cannot affect the underlying equality holding our day together. If we learn to identify with that equality, it will mitigate the ripples in our day.

If there were a good strategy for making all things equal, as they are, it would be to watch our breath or recite a mantra and be nobody, when our day is telling us as much. We need to listen to be better at listening, and abandon the urge to pointlessly search for gratification.

The highs and lows of our days are created by our anticipating and calculating mind. The anticipated and unanticipated flow of events creates likes and dislikes, an illusion of time unevenly flowing with spikes and deadlines. The disappointment felt by events not going as planned need not hijack us into passive resignation, but rather challenge us to turn events to our favor.

The spare time that forces itself upon us throughout the day could be used to make an appointment with ourselves and ultimately, to build a meditation practice.

~

author: Richard Josephson

Image: @elephantjournal/Instagram

Image: Luke Stackpoole/Unsplash

Editor: Nicole Cameron

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Richard Josephson

Richard Josephson lives at the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, in Northern California, but his schooling was in Los Angeles and Santa Monica. He is 73 years old, has lived half his life in India and Nepal, married a Nepalese, and has three children. He’s been a practicing Buddhist all his life, 10 years as a fully ordained monk. Follow him on his website.

You can also email him: [email protected]