Learning to Stay

Our society cultivates busyness and urgency. It's easy to feel like we're "on our way" to something else, even as we do what's right in front of us. This uneasiness is baked into our DNA. We scan the horizon for predators and don't fully open to the moment. We flee the uneasiness, yet it remains. It remains until we learn to stay.

In my mind and body, there's an undercurrent of fear. It's my loyal companion. Regularly I try to escape: make to-do lists, drink wine, obsessively check Flickr, strive to improve (in every way), or sink into murky judging-mind. None of these escapes works. They feed my tension and dis-ease. So if I'm not mindful, I go through loops of empty escape.

The loop is broken once I stay. When I make the choice to pause and allow for fear, it morphs. Instead of a scream it's more like a background hum. Staying isn't easy, but it can be cultivated. And it must be re-applied again and again. Staying requires awareness, curiosity, and self-compassion. It's a way to be my own best friend. 

In meditation, I choose a posture I can maintain the entire session. If I feel the urge to move, I stay. If I get an itch, I stay. Movement isn't wrong, sometimes it's even necessary, but it's habituated; it's a reaction instead of a response. The experimental lab of meditation allows me to see all the ways I mindlessly react. If I feel an itch, I want to scratch it immediately. If I feel pain, I want it alleviated immediately. If I feel uneasy, I escape to my thoughts immediately. I notice these reactions while in meditation and, more importantly, I also notice gaps. Staying with my breath, I see space where I can make a choice; where I can respond mindfully. And this translates to my daily life.

Pushing away my uneasiness—escaping the present moment—takes more energy than actually staying with my experience, as-is. Learning to stay is one of my greatest life lessons. It's allowed me to access the difficult and savor the positive. It lets me connect deeply with myself and others. And it provides real choice. I feel more present in my own life. I feel more free.