Recognizing Shenpa and the Struggle of Attachment

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I hadn’t planned to come to Mexico City, but when my program at Esalen fell through due to the storms we had this winter I did a quick whirl through my mental rolodex of places I’d like to go and people I’d like to see. So here I am, staying with an old friend from my summer in Santa Cruz. I’ve experienced every emotion this week- the empowerment and terror of solo traveling, the peace and stress of moving through a new city, the joys and sorrows of being alive. I came here with lots of notes I’d made on things I wanted to write about over the last month, but sitting in Maria’s peaceful apartment this morning, this is what came out of my fingers as I sat down to write (and to wait for Sufjan Stevens tickets to go on sale, if I’m being totally honest :P).

Two things have been surfacing for me lately that I’m working on reconfiguring, both necessitating the release of attachment (which it turns out continues to be amply hard to do).

The first is my tendency- knowing or unknowing- to use stress to motivate myself through my perceived to-do list. On the days I don’t roll out of bed and bike to the gym, I have a few hours before I need to be out the door. And yet, I find it so difficult to relax in my routine. The notion that I should just trust myself to get everything I need to do done makes me anxious. Instead of focusing on making coffee, and then focusing on meditating, etc, I run through the list in my brain, trying to move as quickly as possible. I’m not sure why I’m so afraid of being late- I rarely am. This tension between my mind wanting to get everything done before I run out of time conflicts with the pace my body wants to move at, naturally creating stress. I get attached to the idea that if I don’t finish everything, I’ll be late, and then everything will crash and burn. (My subconscious really has its melodramatic side). I wrote myself a note on an index card that says, “It’s okay to not get everything 100% done. It won’t kill you.” We’ll see how the does for inspiration.

The second is something I’m realizing has been a long term shenpa for me, something that has caused me pain repeatedly. (Worth reading anything by Pema Chodron for more on this). I’m very aware that I try to create a sense of security in my life by planning, which gives me a false sense of control. Taking that idea further though, I’ve realized how much pain I’ve caused myself when I’m applying this to situations of uncertainly. I think it started with watching my parent’s relationship dissolve slowly over many years. As I progressed through my adolescence and teenage years I numbed out my feelings whenever I heard them fighting, turning to music, books, situations that took me outside of my house like summer camp and my first serious relationship. It always broke my heart to leave the seemingly stable “family” communities or dynamics I found among groups of friends at summer camp, and I’d cry the whole way home- from the time I was 12-15. I dealt with hard outcomes by not really dealing with them, and at age 17, when my parents finally announced they were getting divorced, I was utterly devastated.

So I took to assuming the most negative outcomes for uncertain situations, and then trying to prepare myself for them. Unknowingly, of course.

This, coupled with an inability to validate and communicate my needs and feelings (which two years of therapy has begun to finally resolve), has gotten me into a lot of bad situations. If you assume that people are going to disappoint you, that your relationships will fail, that people won’t return the effort you put in- then how can that not become a self-fulfilling prophecy? Attaching to these negative outcomes made me feel like I had the upper hand, that I could act first and not get hurt. Turns out that doesn’t work at all. (Shocking).

I’ve been reading and re-reading two books by Rebecca Solnit recently- A Field Guide to Getting Lost, and The Faraway Nearby (which I think everyone should read). I came across a section in the latter which reads, “Buddhism takes change as a given and suffering as the inevitable consequence of attachment and then asks what you are going to do about it.” She continues later, “The coolness of Buddhism isn’t indifference but the distance once gains on emotions, the quiet place from which to regard the turbulence. From far away you see the pattern, the connections, and the thing as a whole, see all the islands and routes between them. Up close it all dissolves into texture and incoherence and immersion, like a face going out of focus just before a kiss.”

I connected wholeheartedly with these passages as the main focus of the work I’ve been doing through therapy, meditation, acupuncture and efforts of self-care and self-love over the last three years. As I begin to zoom out from my actions and understand what motivated them, I feel aftershocks of pain at the ways I acted and the ways I treated both myself and others. My therapist reminds me that I was young, and my friends remind me I can’t carry guilt for things others don’t want to work through. I’m surprised by the grief I’ve found in these reflections and new perspectives, but I’m sitting with it.

If nothing else, I can be empowered by the lessons I’ve learned, the actions I won’t repeat, and my continued effort to free myself from attachment across the board- however difficult and arduous of a journey that may be.

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No Excuses, Play Like A Champion

url-1Friends on the east coast are always surprised when they hear about my annual pilgrimage to Coachella. Whenever the topic comes up I hear the same frustrating sentence, nearly word for word. “I would love to go to Coachella, but it conflicts with school/work/life. Maybe someday.”

It isn’t this sentence that bugs me so much, but the mentality, the attitude implied.

Someday I plan on having a family, a few kids, and a well established 401k. Now is the time to do the things that responsibility will prevent (or at least make logistically more difficult) later in life.

When I first began making the mid-April pilgrimage to the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival back in 2010, I had no idea that the festival would come to have a major impact on my life. As a lover of live music, I had dreamed about going to Coachella ever since first coming across my dream line-up of bands as a wee sixteen-year-old.  So when my freshman year of college rolled around and I finally had the opportunity to go, I jumped at the chance, and never looked back.

Each year that I’ve returned to Coachella I’ve learned new things about myself. I’ve experienced lessons in life, love and friendship, not to mention extreme heatunexpected rainstorms, group dynamics, channeling creativity, managing expectations, being prepared, and most of all, having fun.

Every time I go to Coachella, the three days of the festival seem to be concurrently the longest and shortest days of the year. I try to take a moment, each time I wait in line to enter the campsite on the Thursday evening before the festivities begin, to appreciate where I am, and the joyful rumpus that I know is about to take place. I know that before I have the chance to blink I will be strapped into an airplane seat, dirty and tired, with six to eight hours of travel ahead of me. It is during this time that I am best able to reflect on the year that has led up to this moment, and think back through my years of previous Coachellas.

I’ll leave you with a few nuggets of wisdom that I have collected over the last four years. 

When it comes to getting out of your comfort zone, don’t let yourself make excuses. Go on adventures with the people that you love. You will never regret getting to know them better, and you will learn more about yourself in the process. It may come as a surprise, but you can always learn new things about yourself, if you take the time to do so. You can never be too prepared, and you will never regret time spent appreciating art and nature.

 I may go back to Coachella next year, I may not, but I will be heading to Burning Man for the first time this August so I know one thing for sure: many more adventures await me.