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To Be With What Is

In Lithuanian this can be said in one word - išbūti, it means to stay/be with what is, usually with something unpleasant, irritating or plain painful (I guess Lithuanians had that as part of their every day life for a very long time, thereby the word). It's not to survive, to fight, to change the situation, it's just to be in it until something changes (sooner or later it does). Most often, it's one helluva hard thing to do.

Recently I experienced a pain that kind of locked me down to a bed in a very inconvenient time (as if there is ever a good time for that). It's an interesting thing about pain, as there is the physical one but another part of it is the emotional, psychological pain, or the pain about the pain - the worrying, the anxiety that takes over (how long this will last, what if it doesn't get better etc.), to a point where it can be harder to deal with the psychological aspect of it than the physical one. It's similar with the emotional pain, when feeling down, it's hard to believe that things can be different, even if we know that all the times when we felt miserable before, the feeling eventually has passed, but at the moment the only thing we can do is stay still and be with what is. 

Writer Eckhart Tolle in one of his interviews* talked about the idea that being stressed means wanting to change the current situation, not being able to accept it and therefore getting frustrated about it. Let's say you're stuck in a traffic jam and you're getting annoyed because you want the situation to be something else than what it is, you want to get out of where you are in the moment. And it makes sense that we're frustrated, we feel we didn't choose that situation, it was imposed on us and we are powerless to change it. But you know what, turns out life is full of situations that don't depend on us, in fact, when you think of it, so very little actually depends on us that it's almost scary (or liberating if you prefer the more positive version of it).

Actually, a big part of what makes us unhappy is not how we're feeling or what we're experiencing, but the expectation of how, what and when we should feel. If we're on a holiday - we're supposed to feel relaxed and calm, if we're in a party - excited and energetic, in a relationship - passionate and light-headedly in love etc. Not being able to embrace how we truly feel in the moment and to accept that it's ok to feel whatever we feel at a given moment (it's ok not to be ok), even if doesn't match the script of what's expected, makes us more unhappy than any feeling itself. Our feelings are following it's own script, they come and go as they want not as the external circumstances demand. 

There are more things likely to frighten us than there are to crush us..; we suffer more often in imagination than in reality /Seneca/

I don't know about you, but I definitely suffer way more in my head, thinking of all the scenarios where things could go wrong, situations that could get worse. Being a very impatient and somewhat anxious person doesn't help "to be with what is". Just to sit still is already a challenge for me (there goes the choice of being a dancer..). To sit still when I'm in pain is level 3.0. Also, I'm not a fan when phrases "everything happens for a reason" and "you can learn from even the worst experience" are thrown around. But I did learn something from mine and I want to share that.

When you're in pain you don't have any other option just to be mindful about it. Not in the unicorn sparkling way, but in a way where all you can think of is your physical experience in the moment and how you are feeling. If you're teaching a class at the same moment (or doing any other work), you can hopefully concentrate on two things - what you have to say and how's your body doing. It's not pleasant but you're freakin' present (it even rhymes), you're here and now with every thought and every move. It's ironic but it felt somehow brightening being able to put away all the "noise" thoughts (from "what's for lunch" to "I wonder if my arm looks ugly when I do this move"), all the "noise" thoughts that distract us from being in the moment. I felt I was so intensively present, aware of every person around me and what I wanted to say came out in a very concentrated, direct way.

There are so many moments where we have the choice of "being with what is", whether it's stressed, scared, lonely, in emotional or physical pain, bored, heartbroken, sad.. you name it, OR numbing it, trying not to be in the moment of the unpleasantness (we choose scrolling, drinking, smoking, eating.. again you name it), but we can't numb it for too long.. eventually we start looping ourselves in a weird logic and become the drunkard from The Little Prince who drinks to forget his shame and he is ashamed because he drinks.

Imagine for a second that all of our emotions and experiences are like guests in our house of life, thereby we have to treat them like ones. We can't just shut the door and not let them in (because they will eventually find a way to break the door and when it breaks.. it will take a while to fix it), we can't treat them poorly else they will get upset and their visit will become unbearable. So, even if we don't feel ready to host them, we have to open the door, make some tea and at least sit down with them, be with them as long as they feel like staying. It might be easier with the "nice" emotions and experiences, so nice in fact that we will not want them to leave our house. With the "difficult" ones.. that's where we have to be patient, to keep their company as long as it takes and... be with what is. 


* If you want to feel some calm - Eckhart Tolle talk:

* Cover picture: my cat being with what is captured by my sister Luka

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