We have entered the season of fall, the metal element. The energy retracts here, goes inward. Things decline. It is a phase lush with both inspiration and grief. We receive new breath as we release the old. It is a sensitive, vulnerable time of reflection.
In Chinese medicine, the metal element corresponds with the lung and large intestine officials. The lung draws inspiration, and the large intestine releases that which no longer serves. It is a delicate balance. Without the promise of something new, we would never let go of the old. Conversely, without letting go of the old, we would have no room to bring in the new. These officials move together as one, in an intricate rhythm of trust.
In contemplating fall, it struck me that this process—that breath itself— is an effective model for working gracefully with fear, doubt, and other unproductive thought habits. We all have the capacity to bring in a sense of richness and compassion so that grasping and discontent may fall away.
But this is where most of us get stuck, at the capacity. Bringing this process to life seems so elusive.
So often, we talk about “letting go,” “releasing,” “cleansing,” etc. We clear, clean, purge, diet, flush our colons. We engage in therapies to release our physical and emotional selves from the past. We want to get rid of so much. We want to break free. We place excessive focus on what we don’t want. We effort, effort, effort. Get it out, get it off, get away. We max out our willpower, throw ourselves into extremes, short-lived bursts of self-denial. We get fed up. We rebel. We swing to the other end of the pendulum arc. Over and over, we get nowhere. We get mad at ourselves for getting nowhere. We want to release that, too. It never ends, really, a loop like this.
The reason our attempts at letting go are so often ineffective is that we are neglecting an entire half of the process. Ironically, we are leaving out the fun half. We are forgetting to allow ourselves to move towards inspiration. We are forgetting to connect to the excitement and freshness that comes with inviting and receiving new energy into our lives.
If we were to direct attention towards what we would like to receive, what we would like to draw into our lives, then we would naturally release the things we no longer need, because we would have a sense of fullness. We would feel rich with inspiration. There would be no need to look down, no room for lack to exist.
It is possible to feel a sense of richness and inspiration in any situation. Most of us, however, have habituated ourselves to thought patterns of fear and doubt. We have also made commitments to false beliefs. We don’t believe that contentment and joy are unconditional states of being. To break these loops, to dismantle these beliefs, we need to learn to find inspiration in all things. We need to actively repattern our minds. The process is simple, but requires consistent, daily practice. It also requires a look at the nature of mind.
We are thinkers. We will always have thoughts. We will never “empty our minds” because that is not what minds do. Minds are always doing exactly what they are supposed to do. They are being exactly who they are supposed to be. Our discontent comes not from our thoughts, but from our beliefs about what our thoughts should be, and our wishes of how they might behave differently.
Notice how we do the same with other people.
Once we learn to stop being so mean to our thoughts, we can begin to see them for what they are. We can see that we don’t need to be afraid of them. We don’t need to fight with them. We don’t need to judge them. We can let them be. It is here that we can begin to work with them.
Notice how we can do the same with other people.
If we can learn to let our own thoughts be, we can learn to let other people be. For me, this is the ultimate aim of meditation practice. (This is a discussion that will eventually get a blog of its own.)
Once we have made friends with our thoughts, we can begin to collaborate to write new scripts. Knowing that our minds are such eager creative enthusiasts, why don’t we start writing stories that bring us joy? Why don’t we start actively contributing components that inspire us? Why don’t we bring an unconditional sense of richness to our thoughts, rather than relying on them to set the tone? Why don’t we stop playing the helpless victim, always waiting to see what they’ll do next? Why don’t we stop basing the way we feel on how our thoughts behave?
Notice how we can do the same with other people.
Too often, we give our power away to external circumstances. We base our sense of stability and serenity upon the wind. I am suggesting we reclaim it. I am suggesting we fill ourselves and then bring that fullness to every moment. Let’s find our center and stand in it.
While contemplating all of this recently, I asked myself a question: If I’m not consumed with thinking about the ways in which everyone and everything else needs to change, if I am not constantly engaging the fears of what might happen in my life, then what WILL I think about?
Maybe I can begin to think about my dreams. Maybe I can think about what I love.
Maybe I can notice the space I am in and the people I am with. Maybe I can think about how much joy I have. Maybe I can think about possibility.
Maybe instead of trying to manage and manipulate the external world in order to attain a sense of serenity, I can manage my internal world and begin to cultivate my own.
Maybe I can bring the peace that I cultivate up and out to share with the world.
Maybe I can stop being so obsessed with what the world might bring to me and start focusing on what I can bring to the world.
Maybe I can start moving towards rather than running from.
Maybe I can come back to my breath. Maybe I can place my focus on drawing inspiration and trust the release to happen on its own.
Maybe I can keep asking new questions.
Maybe I can ask one now.
What would it look like if I approached today with the singular intention to make every person that I come into contact with feel as good as possible?
What would it look like if we all did this?