The kitchen is a hot mess. So I begin the task of scraping then rinsing dishes before putting them away in the dishwasher, hand-washing the bulkier pots and pans…you know the drill. I’m enjoying myself. My newborn grandchild is out with her parents, and I am alone for the first time in weeks. It’s satisfying to unhurriedly clean the kitchen, watching the space return to its early morning freshness, the counter tops beginning to gleam and reveal their open pristineness.
I am ready to make myself a cup of tea, when I notice this small cluster of plates and glasses that escaped my attention. Just as I’m about to put these away the thought crops up, “if you do that, then no one will notice the kitchen has been cleaned.” I chuckle, and go on to put away the errant dishes.
I know this “attention seeker” well; she’s hungry for attention and only the complimentary kind. She is a master planner with a single-minded strategy – pain avoidance.
Even now as I write this article there’s a background hum of agitation — “no one is going to read this or resonate,” “this sounds stupid,” “you should be, you’re supposed to be” and so on.
From years of meditation and inquiry practice it has become clear that getting enmeshed in this voice and this need to be seen as a “someone”– be it the smart one, or the caring one, or the one who gets things done, the wise one – is an indicator that I am in pain. The “attention seeker” can take up a lot of headspace being directive about how to get noticed, how to be good, how to be efficient, and how to remain in control of whatever image I’m trying to project – it is a “self” perpetuating cycle.
It goes without saying that this strategy involves a whole lot of mental activity – planning, worrying, “shoulding,” measuring, incessant imaginary conversations, comparing, judging, blaming, collapsing – all in the name of avoiding pain but really doing quite the opposite. Because no matter how much applause the “attention seeker” gets for this project, or that presentation, there’s always the next one, and looking externally for recognition, applause, approval, security puts me smack in the middle of the pain spin cycle over and over again. Do you my reader friend feel the sadness, the weight, the agony, the frustration of this? So, whether I call it pain or suffering or stress or anxiety, it plain hurts to be stuck in the vice of the “attention seeker.”
It is this pain that brings most of us to mindfulness practice. We might think of this practice as the panacea to managing our stress, but mindfulness and inquiry are so much more than stress management tools. In my experience the gold in these practices is that the pain is the portal to Being, to Presence, to True Nature, to Essence, to Buddha Nature. You choose your word or phrase. The hurt, the sadness of not being seen the way the young me wanted to be seen, the feeling of being rejected are all gifts, are all re-presentations from Being in this moment to know the truth of my nature as Being itself.
So I slow down feeling my feet on the floor, finding my breath, feeling the support of the ground under my feet and I allow the “attention seeker” free rein, not just in my head but through the felt experience in my body, feeling her need to be seen as a tightness in my throat, the rivulets of tension in my face. I sense deeper into the places of tension, and sadness arises and the tears begin to flow. Being present doesn’t always mean it is pleasant. It is simply the truth of my present moment experience, and this moment, this experience is all I’ve got.
As I speak the truth of my immediate experience out loud the inquiry deepens and I feel this river of aliveness flowing through my arms and legs, there’s a quiet in my belly, a shimmering strength in my legs, and I know these directly as Being, as Presence. I sense the feeling of being held in the immediacy of the moment. The “attention seeker” has loosened her grip, and I feel the expansiveness of Being. Maybe she will be back but I see her not as an intruder but as a gift to digest what remains undigested from my history of being born human.
As Ben Bradlee from the Washington Post said, “The truth, no matter how bad, is never as dangerous as a lie in the long run.” Meditation and Inquiry is our opportunity to get in touch with the truth of the moment. It is not an intellectual exercise, but a direct seeing of whatever is here right now, the good, the bad, the ugly, all of it without judgment. Because the truth of now is all we’ve got.
So Being continues with the remaining dishes, and Being enjoys her cup of tea. It is Being that is living our lives, and always has been anyway.