If we live long enough, most of us will have an experience that tests our ability to trust: Someone we love may hurt us, we may have been abandoned, or even someone's sudden death can cause us to feel betrayed. I could provide countless additional examples that illustrate times when our capacity to trust is called into question. Regardless of the source of our struggles with trust, at the root of our suffering is attachment. In this post, I’ll explain what it is and how we can transcend it.
Don't Fight Life, Flow with It
In many ways, life is like a river. Each one of us is floating along its currents and most of the time we enjoy the ride. But rather than flowing with the river’s currents, what if we attached to a certain point in our journey, stood up and refused to budge? We would find ourselves fighting the natural course of the currents and struggling to stay afloat. In other words, we would suffer. So by flowing with life, rather than struggling against it, we suffer less. This is one of the most significant lessons that meditation teaches us.
When our eyes are closed and we’re simply breathing, perhaps following a prayer or mantra, thoughts come and go. Sometimes we are completely engaged with our thoughts, while other times we just watch them for a second. In either case, we continually return to our breath. Over time, we recognize that, in the present moment, all is well.
But whenever we cling to anything—an object, person, or thought—we either desire more of it or we fear it. These desires or fears, in and of themselves, will cause us to suffer. For example, let’s say that you’re spending time with someone you love. You’re enjoying one another’s company immensely, which causes you to think “I don’t want this to end,” or “How can I prolong this experience?”
Meditation helps us fully engage with the present moment. By doing so we learn to enjoy the person who’s in our life right now—even though we realize that this moment will pass. Because we recognize that life is constantly in flux, we enjoy those around us more deeply and richly. But what if someone we care about acts in a way that hurts us?
No doubt that when others behave unkindly towards us, it can be difficult. The good news is that once the hurt feelings run their course, learning to not cling to them means that they will cause us far less suffering. But if we choose to dwell on what took place, we prolong our suffering, and we’ll trust others less because we’re fearful of going through the same experience again.
Meditation Teaches Us About Impermanence
When we practice meditation regularly, we begin to see the ever changing state of our thoughts: one moment we feel great and the next we feel sad. We understand that life ebbs and flows, which means that sometimes people love us and sometimes they harm us. We realize that whatever we’re experiencing at the moment—good or bad—will change. As a result, we become less fearful of what comes our way because in the end, whatever is happening now will change. We embrace life with an openness that is rooted in non-attachment to any particular experience.
For example, someone may hurt us. Rather than cling to the painful memories, we engage in learning from what took place. Through our openness, we become more aware. We may ask ourselves questions such as, “Were there any warning signs that this person would hurt me?” Perhaps we recognize that we had moved too quickly in the relationship. By slowing down, we could have decreased the level to which the person hurt us.
From the point of awareness, we can learn from our past experiences and heal from them. As a result, we’re able to move forward, less fearful and more eager to engage with whatever life brings our way. We don't succumb to our fears. Instead, we proceed boldly ahead. We are willing to take the risks associated with bringing someone new into our life.
But meditation is no vaccine against people hurting us. Painful experiences are part of life. What the meditative practice does is that it demonstrates that we’re taking care of ourselves. When we truly love who we are, we’re able to love others deeply rather than needing them to prop our self-image.
Meditation helps us recognize that we have everything inside of us in order to be happy. When we are still and present, we see that all is well. We learn to cling less to our fears and desires. Thus, when we meet others off the meditation cushion, we enjoy their presence knowing full well that they may stay in our lives for a long time or just briefly.
Like a river, life is constantly changing. Meditation encourages us to fully engage with whatever comes our way. When we meet someone new and the old thoughts of past hurts arise, we witness them, acknowledge them and then return to living in the present. We learn to trust that things may not necessarily always go well, but we’re confident that we’ll be well no matter what. Meditation teaches us to flow with life, enjoy it, and be present with it—one breath at a time.