I had a moment of shakubuku this weekend.
In case you haven’t heard of it, shakubuku is a Buddhist term for a kind of aggressive spiritual guidance, but I prefer the meaning as given by Minnie Driver’s character in Grosse Point Blank (one of my all-time favorite movies):
“A swift, spiritual kick to the head that alters your reality forever.”
I was taking out three bags of trash because I finally decided to stop acting like I’m 12 and be a grown-up.
Except for the part where I was taking a shortcut across the yard, and every time I take this shortcut I think “I should not be cutting across the gravel and river rocks because the rocks are loose and I have a bad ankle to begin with and I’m not exactly svelte.” But I’d do it anyway, in that ridiculous eternal human conceit that I’d probably get away with it.
I fell. Hard. Half on rocks and half on asphalt. I twisted everything that could twist in the effort to keep from falling, but at one point I realized there was no stopping it and I was going to hit the ground with my entire body AND my head and it was going to hurt.
Strangely, what I felt was relief.
Fear of falling is so entrenched, so primal, that when it’s about to happen, one’s entire being is focused on trying to prevent it. In the mind, in those moments, falling is the absolute worst thing that can happen, to be avoided at any cost.
Yet when I realized it was going to happen and I couldn’t stop it, I felt such a sense of letting go.
Because the worst had happened, and you know, it wasn’t that bad. It scared me and it hurt, but I didn’t die. And when I didn’t die, I lay on the ground getting my breath back and laughing. It took about half an hour for my heart to stop racing – my wonderful neighbor came outside to see if I was okay because I had to keep stopping to breathe as I walked back to my apartment (the long way, not over the river stones) – and that added to the weird sense of positivity I got from the whole thing. I didn’t die AND I have awesome neighbors!
When I finally came back to myself, I found I’d wrenched my back and my bad ankle pretty good and I’d broken a toe (again – I’ve now broken all my toes except the big ones) but otherwise I didn’t have a scratch, and never even developed any bruises. All of my energy, my entire being, was focused in preventing that fall, and the worst injury I sustained was a broken toe. Sure it hurts when I step a certain way or bump it in bed, but all things considered, that’s pretty freakin’ minor.
We spend so much time worrying about the future, what might happen or could happen or what we think should happen, and we spend so much time trying to avoid certain outcomes, convinced they’ll be the End of All Things in some hyperbolic, hysterical human way, when the end result is just not that dire.
This isn’t a new concept, of course. That suffering is an unavoidable part of life is a central tenet of Buddhism, underlying all Four Noble Truths. But the thing about deep truths is that we always have to learn them in new ways which apply to our lives and the worlds we live in, and because of the nature of humanity, we have to keep learning them over and over and over.
So I put this new lesson to work all the time now. When I become aware that I’m dreading or avoiding something, I imagine that the thing has already happened – even if I’m anxious about something huge, like winding up homeless or the world ending. I keep finding that once I open myself to it all instead of trying to fend it off, none of it is that big a deal. I mean, even when it is, it’s just not. I’ll do what I can to deal with whatever it is in the moment, and what I can’t deal with I’ll accept, and even laugh about.
Turns out the actual suffering isn’t the worst part, it’s all the energy we expend trying to avoid the suffering.
It’s liberating as hell.