“Our deepest stress is that we are at war with ourselves,” Tara Brach

We spend a lot of our days being driven by a vague existential clutch that something is wrong, something needs doing right now. And so we speed up. It’s not in our basic design to remember we can simply pause, breathe, notice the beauty around us. There is risk in relaxing. Our ancestral survivors lived because they were hyper-vigilant. Our DNA tells us that only the tense will survive, and this creates a driven joyless demand on ourselves and others to be perfect, which equals safety.

Tension is the body’s way of not allowing life as it is, guarding against wrongness, especially our own imperfection. We feel called to action, to change, and then inevitably to regret what we’ve done to try to fix the problem. As we awaken to our busy-ness, we recognize in horror that we are overreacting yet again, and do not like ourselves very much. When we meditate, breathe, sit with a teacher, even flop down on the couch between chores without distraction of TV, we might feel the freedom from this unnecessary tension for just a moment. And so we make the error of thinking, “Now this is the right way to be, more perfect, calm, kind, able to love life as it is.”

Then the phone rings, or we see the dust rhinoceros under the bookcase, and are back grasping and gasping, feeling the drive to multi-task and accomplish and correct and judge. “Oh, no, I’m doing it again,” and up comes self-loathing for not being able to change, to seek peace.

To be free is to be without anxiety about imperfection. This means not being triggered by the messiness of being human, to be forgiving of the obsessions or reactivity that everyone has, including ourselves.This is the unnecessary suffering that the Buddha spoke of when he said we all must suffer, but needn’t heap pain on ourselves because we are not perfect.

It is inevitable that we will be imperfect. We will make poor choices and eat too much and do too much and gossip and watch TV and not get up early to meditate. We slip into directing and correcting those we love, insanely expecting them to appreciate our loving attention. As we helplessly watch ourselves doing the same thing over and over, despite our desire to live in peace and harmony with what is, we have the opportunity to stop blaming ourselves for being stuck, to stop repeating "Something is wrong with me, I’m not okay." But we are deeply organized to be afraid to accept ourselves: "If I accept my controlling, judging, messy imperfection, I’ll only get worse." And so we increase the stress by waging war with our imperfectness.

Tara Brach describes a simple way out, a truce, by exercising “the sacred pause," three deep, sweet breaths that bring the mind and body back to the present. With the first you can release some of the physical tension. With the second, loosen mental tightness by observing the thought that says you are bad for not being a better person. The magical third breath opens the door to loving-kindness, and often the desire for another breath or two. This is the start of making friends with life and yourself as you are, right now.

A relaxed attention is the deepest form of love. It notices and allows. All you need is already within you, if you can approach yourself with the patience you would show a beloved child.

Thank you, Tara Brach, psychologist and Buddhist teacher, for so many of these concepts elegantly explained. www.tarabrach.com

Author's Bio: 

This article was posted on my blog www.cynthiawall.wordpress.com It also contains my bio. I am avaialable for consultation by phone or Skype webcam. 707 964 5229