It was the summer of 1991 and I had just obtained my teaching certification. The previous years had been quite busy and stressful; going to school, working two part-time jobs and going to Greece to be with my mother who underwent bypass operation.
There wasn’t much downtime and, by that summer, I was burnt out.
Neal and I were were actively involved with a retreat center in upstate New York. We decided to celebrate my transition by spending the summer there; volunteering as we had done many times before. Our goal was to unplug, focus on our spiritual practice and gain a new perspective on life.
It was a bustling summer. There were thousands of people coming through and my job was to welcome people and help them navigate the center and its workings.
During one of the weekend meditation retreats, I was one of the people responsible for facilitating the flow in and out of the meditation hall. There were more than two thousand people in the center that weekend and, by Sunday afternoon, I was feeling tired and overwhelmed.
The wooden doors to the meditation hall were big and heavy and I was standing outside making sure people were entering quietly and at regular intervals. Our meditation teacher and head monk would come join the meditation sessions once everyone was settled.
All was quiet. Suddenly, a group of people appeared out of nowhere, lining up to enter the hall, when our teacher arrived. I stood by the doors, ready to open them so people could enter. I don’t remember the exact details, but there were people surrounding me and I was trying to create space for the teacher to enter.
Somehow, I positioned myself with my back supporting the heavy doors and trying to push them open. It wasn’t easy and I almost lost my balance. That’s when my meditation teacher reached out, took the door by the handle and opened it for me; effortlessly! Then, she looked me in the eyes and said . . .”You don’t have to make it so difficult for yourself!”
Suddenly just as all these people had appeared, they went through the doors and into the hall and I was left alone and quiet in the foyer to contemplate what had just happened.
Did I really make things more difficult than they had to be? How often was I doing that? What were some of the situations when I made things more difficult for myself? Did I really tend to get in my own way? How? What did it all mean?
The answers came loud and clear. Yes, for the natural tendency of making things a lot more difficult than they had to be. Yes, to complicating things for myself and, a resounding yes, for often getting in my own way.
As I stood there, in the silence of that hall, a myriad feelings washed over me. There was the overwhelm and exhaustion of the last six years. There was the fear and anxiety about my mother’s health and an uncertain future. The sadness and guilt that stemmed from the life decisions and changes I had initiated. And then, constant self-doubt and an overarching sense of responsibility, fighting me from the inside out.
Finally, there was peace and calm and a deep sense of sinking into silence.
“You don’t have to make it so difficult for yourself!” Stop pushing the heavy doors of life with your back and gain some leverage. Step behind them and take hold of the handle. It’s easier this way. Be gentle with yourself. Ask for help.
Deep breath! Yes, I can do this. I can be kind to myself. I can stand behind the heavy doors and stop trying to push them open. The hard way isn’t always the best way.
I’d like to tell you that this experience transformed me overnight. It didn’t. But it gave me a good head start. Recognizing and accepting a situation are the first steps to transformation. After that, it’s all about practice.
I’m still practicing. I’ve given up thinking that I should get it all perfectly figured out. Some life lessons take a lifetime to learn and that’s all right; as long as I’m learning and practicing, that is!
These days, I can catch myself in the act and step backwards. Am I always successful? No, but I’ve made great progress and I know myself. I can bring me back.
Sometimes, the best way of going through the doors isn’t the hard way. Or, at the very best . . . not the only way!
All images and content Copyright ©2012 Yota Schneider | the art of pausing