“Unexpected” and “Unbelievable”: Two Words I Don’t Use Anymore

2020 will definitely go down in the history books as the year that turned our lives upside down. The pandemic has changed the way we work, the way we go to school, the way we socialize, the way we drive, the way we shop, and so much more.  Over 200,000 people have died from COVID. The murder of George Floyd shot through our collective consciousness and exposed many of us to a deeper level of the systemic racism in our country, and Black Lives Matter became a major movement. And I can’t even begin to find the appropriate descriptors for the politics of the government under the current president. Let’s just say it’s been quite chaotic and often shocking.

I don’t know about you, but I have teeter tottered between hopelessness and hope many times in the last few months. And, I have relied on my spiritual practices of yoga, meditation, and prayer, as well as exercise and nature to keep me going (read my last blog for more tips on coping). I have also decided that saying things are “unbelievable” has just become unnecessary. After what I’ve witnessed, anything is believable at this point.

The practice I am working on is to stay balanced despite the outer circumstances. Here are a few great teachings from Tibetan Buddhism called the lojong slogans that I find helpful.

1. Abandon any hope of fruition

This teaching asks us to let go of our attachment to success or failure. It does not mean that we give up and never do anything. Instead, it suggests that we do our work by staying focused on the present as opposed to being fixated on the results. Too much emphasis on needing to succeed creates a fear of failure and the subsequent anxiety and worry that comes with it. If we abandon the need for results, we can act from the pure desire to do the activities we believe are right and good and that, in itself, is its own reward.

2.  Whatever you meet unexpectedly, join with meditation –

When something “unexpected” or “unbelievable” happens, let that be your bell of mindfulness. Instead of reacting by yelling at the TV or radio, for instance, let your mind rest in the space that occurs at the instant the “unexpected” happens.  You can do any kind of meditation that you’d like, but the one suggested in this lineage of Buddhism is to breath in whatever pain you may be feeling, realizing that others may also feel this way. In other words, don’t fight or struggle with the unexpected but breath it in. Let your breath be a way of alchemizing the shock or disbelief and help you be ready to meet whatever the next moment brings. Meeting the unexpected in this way helps you to practice patience and nonaggression.

3. Always maintain only a joyful mind –

I have been looking for experiences that activate my positive emotions. For instance, I have been watching a lot of stand-up comedians, comedies, and the “best of” America’s Got Talent. Watching people getting up in front of hundreds of people and giving their all to display their talents warms my heart. We need more of the things that warm our hearts and less of the things that bring us down. In addition, being truly joyful is an inner journey that needs no outer circumstances to bring it into being. It is the inner joy that will sustain you through difficulties. Finding and practicing a spiritual path that directs you to this joy is essential. Then your gratitude for everything, even the difficult, is possible.

4. Be grateful to everyone.

This teaching might be a little hard to swallow and I hesitated writing it, but that is why it is so good. It is hard. How can you be grateful for the people that you really just want to get rid of in your life? The idea here is that because certain people are so challenging, they are your greatest teachers in how to be a truly loving and kind person. This doesn’t mean that you have to like everyone. It means you are grateful to them because they show you where you need to do your work of opening your heart.

5. Don’t be swayed by external circumstances.

Again, this teaching is not easy, but it can be quite fruitful in helping you not constantly react to the news and other situations that keep throwing you off balance. Maintaining your quiet center in the midst of the storm is a moment-by-moment practice. It is a practice that benefits from regular formal practice like yoga, prayer, and meditation so that you are familiar with how to find that quiet center. Then when you go into your life you can remember the place of peace within and let that be your anchor.

Lastly, using the phrase “isn’t that interesting” when you encounter something “unexpected” or “unbelievable” can give you a little distance between the event and your reaction. Yelling, screaming, and hyperventilating at each new difficulty or thing you disagree with isn’t helping you at all. Take a moment to pause and reflect on the new normal that we are all living in. It’s going to look unexpected and unbelievable, but it’s really just life as it is at the moment.