Apparently, a key indicator of how well- (or how poorly-) controlled my anxiety is, is how much I’m meditating. As in, I tend to wander from the mat when I feel like my life is unfolding in a more or less manageable fashion, only to drag my scattered, recalcitrant, self back to my seat when I just Can. Not. Deal.
Which is why I was meditating earlier today, for exactly that reason, the whole not-being-able-to-deal thing: Too many competing obligations and responsibilities—no single one actually costs that much in terms of time or attention, but while I can manage 5 things with some equanimity, I just start to go squirrelly when the things number in the DOZENS (well, only two dozen—but turns out that two dozen things a day is 1.5 dozen too many). Too many different people, wanting or needing too many different things. And just too many Provocations. So many Provocations: IT, HR, the road, the guns, the ignorance, the prejudice, the stubborn, benighted, commitment to doing things badly, unethically, stupidly, and/or hatefully.
I don’t want to be anxious, distressed, or angry. But I’m all of those, too often. Remember all those f*cks I vowed I was going to stop giving? Turns out I’m useless at not giving a f*ck. Or, more accurately, I’m way too good at giving all the f*cks about all the Provocations, without seeming to change a single one of them, which is, in a very important way, one of the most provoking things of them all.
So to attempt to deal, to get a grip, to give slightly fewer f*cks in order to give my poor mind a break, there I was, meditating, or trying to, which means I was trying to stay focused on the breath, no more and no less…and in actuality thinking obsessively, ruminatively, and with a lot of very genuine hostility about all the Provocations, and about how much time and energy I waste trying to counteract the Provocations, and how much additional time goes into composing all the speeches in my head wherein I imagine telling the Provocations just how wrong and obstructionist they are, plus all the time wasted scolding myself for being so easily and distractingly provoked in the first place.
All this time that I was very much not focused on the breath, a very kind, mindful woman was speaking in gentle tones about the theme of this particular meditation session, which was “surrendering to what is.” We were several minutes into the session before I realized that’s what our theme was, because I was too distracted by the unremitting, uselessly-imaginary battle going on in my head, in which I was (channelling Brienne of Tarth) absolutely, stubbornly refusing to surrender in my noble defense of Reason and Justice.
I tried to focus on the breath. In. Out. In. Out. The kind, mindful woman reminded me of just how much distress we experience because we insist that things must be different than they are. I kept breathing, and tried to accept her argument, to surrender to it.
Nope. Nothing doing.
That is, I know she’s right…kind of. I’ve worked on this in meditation, and therapy, and self-help books, and Oprah’s magazine. I’ve made a lot of progress, really! I am far, far more accepting of What Is, of Provocations over which I have no control, than I used to be. That’s Progress.
(see, this is how the non-surrendering always goes, always starting with “but…” escalating to “moreover” and then spiraling out of control from there…)
But: there are things in this life—Provocations—that are so provoking at best, so terribly destructive at worst, that we cannot, must not accept them. Nor can we surrender to them. Sure, you can’t control whether you enjoy this person’s company, or despise that one, or fall in or out of love with the other. You really (alas) can’t magically transform yourself to be more clever, or beautiful, and thus more successful, desirable, or loved. Certain things just Are the Way They Are. Moreover, WE are just the way we are, and, as the kind, mindful woman advises, surrendering to the inevitability of being ourselves is probably the most compassionate (most difficult) move we can make. Yes. Agreed.
But: the Provocations are things that are, that should not be, don’t need to be, oughtn’t to be. Moreover: no kind, compassionate person who cares, not just about the peace of her own existence, but about the well-being of others in the world—no good person can just let those Provocations stand.
Sometimes the Provocations seem relatively inconsequential: the little mind which insists on a foolish consistency, the bureaucrat or functionary who puts their need to feel important ahead of educating, healing, or, simply, helping to make others’ lives easier. These Provocations are, in the grand scheme of things, petty—and yet, how insidious such selfishness and complacency and obstructionism can be! When we are distracted, worn down, side-tracked, and aggravated by these seemingly-petty, unnecessary, obstacles, we are thwarted—a little bit here, a little bit there—in our efforts to teach, to create, to care. The energy that we want to put into being good gets sapped, and—sadly—it’s too easy to do harm, to respond with pettiness—which can never fix the initial insult that provoked us and so just ends up becoming a Provocation to someone else.
The hurt and resentment and self-protective stubbornness fostered by those petty provocations makes it harder for us to prevent the really serious ones—the ignorance, fear, intellectual or moral laziness, or selfish indifference which fuel prejudice, hatred, and violence.
Would it be better for me, more relaxing, if I just let go of my anger and distress when confronted by petty, bureaucratic tyranny? Almost certainly. But: if I surrender and accept mediocrity and incompetence so that my life can be easier, I run the risk of making life more difficult for others, which seems very wrong.
Would it be better for all of us, easier, to just surrender to what is, to accept that we live in a hate-filled, violent culture where too many of our neighbors believe that the way to really feel like they’re somebody is to take power, happiness, safety, and life away from others? Of course it would be easier—it has been easier—which is why racists, misogynists, homophobes, and every other kind of bigot can hijack nightclubs, theaters, schools, communities, and laws.
That’s where I draw my line in the sand. I don’t know if resisting, kicking and fighting, will change much—it often doesn’t seem to—and it’s certainly not going to make my life easier, or less stressed. But: too much of what is, just shouldn’t be. I can neither accept it nor surrender to it; moreover, nor can you.
Instead: we can accept love, kindness, thoughtful courtesy, learning, creating, and caring. We can surrender to the uneasiness, the messiness, the vulnerability that ensues when we don’t hide behind self-centered indifference. We can accept that it’s not just understandable, but necessary, however uncomfortable, to combat ignorance and hatred. We can accept compassion. And sometimes we can, we must, surrender to the anger, the outrage, which motivates action.