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How To Not Suffer
24m

How To Not Suffer

Combat your overwhelm and return to peace.

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[Thomas McConkie, Mindfulness Teacher] Hello, and welcome to another episode of "Mindfulness+". I'm your host, Thomas McConkie. Thank you so much for listening today. I'm still feeling the intensity of the world's situation. I appreciate you listening last week and participating in a meditation that hopefully invites us to hold the world in a more awake, embodied, compassionate way. I'm going to offer a little different content today, not unrelated, in terms of how we can practice more effectively in day to day life. And true to form, I've got a little story about it. So where to start. I'll start with a confession because confessions are juicy and we like to lean in and hear people's deep dark secrets. Maybe I oversold it. It's not that deep and dark. But I have a very low home improvement self-esteem. I've lived in my current home for about five years. It's a fixer upper, aren't they all? And I'm not very good at fixing up things. And one of the projects that's been going on at our place for several years now is painting the front porch. So it was last summer I decided, okay, I'm going to summon all my manliness and home improvement quotient to get this thing painted. First layer was primer and it was all downhill from there. It was a really hot day, like really hot. It's an east facing porch. The sun's coming up over the east. We're getting into close to 100 degree days at this point in a Salt Lake City summer. And I learned pretty quickly as the sun got a little bit higher and the heat started to rise, that the heat, the direct sunlight on the coat of primer was causing it to get a little gummy. It was a tough consistency, starting to get cakey on the brush, it was hard to paint on. Okay, so I'm frustrated. I'm already off my A game in mindfulness, just trying to get through this project. Oh, but it gets much better. And by better I mean worse 'cause as it got hotter and hotter this metal ladder I was using was heating up. Oh, and it so happens that I didn't have a pair of shoes I wanted to get paint on. So I thought, well it's summer. I'd remember reading about Huck Finn whitewashing a fence. He seemed to be barefoot, that should work out. So I'm barefoot, but the metal's getting really hot. And the metal's got like a corrugation to it. It's got this texture to prevent slipping but it's also painful in barefoot. It's also painful when the metal's really hot with bare feet. So the cake is painty and my feet are actually getting burned on the metal. And oh yeah, I'm way longer into this project than I thought I would be. I have a student coming over to see me for a mindfulness checkup in 30 minutes. So I gotta like, turn on the speed. I've been out painting for three hours. I thought it would take me half that time. And I was, you know, decently miserable up until that last half hour. And then the very last half hour I was especially miserable. Did everything I could to finish up the project. Barely got out of there with my life. And put it off for another six months, another layer of paint. I just didn't want to do it. It might have not been six months, it might have been closer to five months but I just was not gonna get out and paint again. It was such a painful experience. Fall comes around, late fall. I know I want to get this thing painted before the winter. I did a little online research. If it gets too cold that paint's not gonna take very well. I wait for this window. I wait for this really nice temperate autumn day. And I go out there anew. I go out there, a new man with a new resolve to have a much better experience than I had the first time. First thing I do, find a pair of shoes to get paint on. I don't care if they get painted, last time was so painful painting in bare feet. I'm painting with shoes on. And it all got better from there. I had my shoes on, comfortable walking around on the porch. The color of the paint that my wife chose was just beautiful. It was going on silky smooth because the temperature window was just right. I decide to play some tunes this time so I have my favorite music going on the porch. Oh, and it's such a lovely day. My wife and son decided to play in the front yard and watch my handiwork. At one point, and remind you I'd been dreading round two, I'd been dreading it, I put it off as long as possible. And there's a point when I was putting on the second coat that I just paused and I felt this beautiful autumn breeze on my skin and I just breathed in deep. And I think I had a conscious thought that was something like, man, I love painting. So that's my story. What's the application here? I got crushed. My mindfulness practice was crushed by round one. And it occurs to me that this is a great story in pointing out the concept of overwhelm and practice. You've heard me point to it at different times in different episodes and seasons. Overwhelm, it's a day to day emotion we feel but it's also a technical term in the mindfulness practice. And it refers to this window of intensity beyond which, outside of which we're not able to be mindful anymore. Experience is too intense. It's too difficult to process mindfully. So we just start to thrash, we start to suffer. We push, we pull, we struggle. We fantasize about not being right where we are. That's what overwhelm amounts to. And if I go back to the game film, if I look at round one, round two was, if I do say so myself, it was a very mindful day on the porch. Round one there's some cleanup to do there. If I look at all the things that were militating against my positive experience that day. There was the time crunch I ran into. I just, you know, if I had the whole day it might have gone a little bit better but I was under a time crunch. The temperature, had I done research a little bit better, had I not run into the consistency problem with paint, I would've been a lot less frustrated. But it's clear to me as I reflect on the practice that day that the hardest part was the pain in my feet. I was getting burns on the soles of my feet and that metal was digging into 'em. I was miserable. If I only changed one thing about round one, the primer day, it would've been to put on a pair of shoes. Just press pause after 30 minutes and say, you know what? Plan A not working, go to plan B which is ruin a fine pair of shoes, 'cause that's better than spending the next three hours in abject misery. And I did that. I corrected for it. Threw a pair of shoes on round two. Everything was coming up Milhouse, as some of us say, children of the '80s. So the principle we're working with here is overwhelm and learning how to divide and conquer. Because really in life, it's not always that we can step back from an experience, notice what the most intense, difficult to work with aspect of experience is and make it go away or correct against it. Like, oh my feet are in pain, I'm gonna put on a pair of shoes. Sometimes you find yourself in an intense situation, in an intense encounter with another human being. And the most intense thing is that thing. It's the situation itself. It's the conflict you are embroiled in, that you're struggling in. In those cases we gotta just do the best with what we've got. But many times, almost all the time in fact, almost all the time we have some significant non-trivial amount of control over the situation. Let's take this hard situation that I often come back to 'cause it's the hardest situation I know, it's being insignificant conflict with a loved one. Even when we can't change life circumstances, we can't get the other person to see our point of view, we don't feel listened to, appreciated, loved, supported, et cetera. Even then often we can slow down. We can make space for ourselves and recognize as things are right now, I am becoming overwhelmed. It's beyond my threshold to process. It's too intense to keep up with so I'm gonna slow it down. I'm gonna ask for some space, excuse me, gotta slow down. I'm just gonna take a little breath over here. And bam, I'm back in the game. That's what I'm talking about. In any given experience in life, when we're suffering, and this is the intuition we deepen in practice, we realize we don't have to suffer as much as we're actually suffering. Right? Eventually as practice gets more advanced we experience many, many, many tastes of not suffering at all. That's another podcast for another day. But no matter what your level of practice, you can be quite new at the practice and start to realize in any given situation where you're really suffering, there is a way out of that significant suffering into less suffering. Let me take this side road for just a minute here, 'cause it's an important point. The more you practice the more you experience states of decreased suffering. And the more you experience decreased suffering, the more heightened your intuition moment to moment, day to day, when you're in a tough situation, when you are suffering, something new in you, this awareness rises and says, hey, this is how you've done it for a really long time. You don't have to do it this way anymore. It doesn't have to be this hard. We can divide and conquer. We can analyze the situation in the moment. We can notice what the hardest aspect about this situation is to process in a given moment. And we can work with that. So sometimes that means putting on a pair of shoes in the blazing sun when you're in an unenviable paint job. And you just do anything to get out of there. That's one. In other situations, what is it? You know, you're at work, you feel super stressed out. There's more to do in a day than you can do. And yet it has to be done. So we tend to respond to that kind of situation by working harder and faster. But what if we took a moment, in the words of Steven Covey, to sharpen the saw? What if we paused because we have no time to be in a hurry? As Henry David Thoreau famously said, right? So there's always something we can do. And in fact, as I name these examples what I'm aware of is just pacing. Just learning to work with your own pacing and your own time is a major aspect of the practice. It's a major aspect of this part of the practice which is dividing and conquering. It's noticing what part of the situation is too much and it's addressing that. It's how can I make this aspect of experience a little more livable so that I don't suffer so much? That's the takeaway. We're talking about overwhelm. It's all happening too fast, it's too intense. I don't know what to do, I'm freaking out. I'm losing touch with my mindful awareness. Pause. Look at it. What's the most difficult part of this situation you're in right now? Are you suffering right now? Right now, if you're suffering to any degree notice where the epicenter, the nucleus of the suffering is. What if you adjusted just a little bit? Made it just a little better, just a little better. Stuck in traffic, you roll down the window for some fresh air, less suffering. You can't roll down the window for fresh air 'cause you're in a big city and the air's polluted, well then you just take a deeper breath. You let it in just like that. We're gonna practice. We're gonna practice working with overwhelm. We're gonna practice noticing what aspect of experience is the most intense. We're gonna practice correcting for it. Take your position. Working with overwhelm. I want you to open up awareness to the scope of your entire life as it is in this moment, as you experience it. Breathing deeply in and out. Grounded in a posture that supports your practice. Let your awareness free float through the space of your life, past, present, and future all gathered in the now. And be honest with yourself. Where is there significant suffering? Where are the conditions that are most difficult to work with? Take your time here. Sense into it deeply with the body, through the knowing of the heart. And when you pick up on a signal you can use the mind to hone it, to refine it, but don't lean too heavily on the mind as you do this. There's a risk of just thinking about our lives rather than feeling and sensing deeply into our lives as well. Follow the thread, trust your sensing. So how big your life is, all of the conditions, all of the factors that contribute to this very complex state in this moment of you being you and feeling like you. And some conditions are favorable and they feel good. Maybe you have good health. Maybe you enjoy a good reputation in your community, at your company, in your family, wherever, and you love it. And it's nice. And what about the challenges? What about the conditions that really challenge your practice? Your capacity to be openhearted and mindful moment to moment. Places where you're most likely to complain and wish it weren't this way. Go there, go right there and reflect. Excellent. Now I want you to adjust. Note the way in body, mind, heart, awareness that you've been responding to this condition that's particularly challenging. Resenting it, lamenting it, regretting it, struggling with it in any way. What if you were to adjust just a little bit? Relate to it in a new way, find a new approach. What would that be? Trust yourself here, let wisdom arise. There are infinite ways to be and there's always a way to suffer less. Beautiful, stay with it. As you really pick up on a signal, you get clear like, this is where my suffering is. This is the condition that challenges me. Once you're really hot on that trail then at that point, the mind is a friend to us. We can really think through and analyze the situation. And even map out how it's going to be different. We can start to imagine ourselves moving forward, being a different way than we've been in the past. So notice here, I'm pointing out the way we skillfully use the intelligence centers, the body, the heart, the mind. It's good to start with some open sensing. And as we refine our intuition of what's causing trouble we can start to use the mind to sharpen the practice, to clearly imagine how we're going to be different moving forward. Take another moment here. What a beautiful thing that we can do this as human beings. And don't just imagine the future, be the future right now. Be the new self who responds to suffering in a new way. Conditions exactly the same. Who you are and how you respond to the conditions, new, different. Feel the newness, suffering already decreasing, decreasing. Freedom, expanding, expanding. Hmm, oh, I needed that. I don't know if you needed that. I needed that right now. Thank you. So that was a practice. This is a practice you can do all the time. I recommend you do this practice hundreds and hundreds of times until it's second nature. I can't stress this enough. Without this practice, it's my experience that we tend to assume that human life is just going to be full of suffering. We suffer and we think that's normal. And it is normal or it was normal until the earthshattering, life changing insight of Prince Siddhartha, the Buddha, many centuries ago when he realized for himself and for all of humanity past, present and future, that there's a way out of suffering. And the more attuned we become to these subtle dynamics of suffering, the more we're able to pinpoint, where am I suffering? And can I make a subtle adjustment so I'm not suffering so much? And this is where the path takes us to not only a decrease in suffering but the complete vanishing of suffering over time. It's not to say that you'll never suffer again the rest of your life, but to develop a skill of noticing when you're suffering and choosing a new way to minimize, even eliminate suffering if possible, not just for yourself, but for everybody. That's really what we're up to here. We did this in a formal way. We really set up some time, gave ourselves some space to do it, but you'll get so good at this you can instantly notice in the moment where suffering is happening and adjust and respond in a new way. It's a good life. It's a new life when you do it. And it's my sincere hope that all of you listening, all of us human beings, can learn to do this for ourselves and for each other. That's the show today. This is "Mindfulness+". I appreciate you listening so much. Thank you so much to Skylight for the sponsorship, the encouragement to keep going. And the all your beautiful messages, the emails, the little notes on Apple Podcasts and people leaving ratings. By the way, do that if you like us, that helps us get it out. Share us with a friend, share your practice with many friends. All right, I love you all. Thank you.

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