by Donna Quesada: Everything Feels Overwhelming

Donna Quesada awakenEverything feels exhausting. Ever since the pandemic, it seems everyone I talk to feels similarly…what used to be a routine work day, with routine work tasks, now feels overwhelming. Completing the most ordinary of daily errands requires a Herculean effort. But strangely, even “enjoyable” obligations feel… well, like obligations.

I feel it too, and I hear it in my own mental chatter as I begrudge things that are supposed to be pleasant, like birthdays, get-togethers, or other leisure activities. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but when the moment comes, it doesn’t sound appealing anymore… Do we really have to go? I hear myself say. And then more thoughts… I just dont have the energy to drive there to make conversation

But all thoughts of what the event will be like are future thoughts. Even the simplest first thought of not wanting to go is a future thought.

Theyre All Just Thoughts

I found that the key is to catch ourselves before we start to fall into the sinkhole of despair. Don’t suppress the thoughts; simply observe them. A subtle shift occurs with the mere act of watching. That internal begrudging dissipates. Those thoughts aren’t reality; they’re ideas, and ideas are future thoughts. Staying out of the idea of not wanting to go, and out of the mind that complains, allows us the freedom to enjoy our lives again.

I remember when I was first introduced to the challenge of staying present…

With a budding interest in Eastern philosophy, I took a class which featured meditation as a college course with a Japanese professor, who told us to call him by his first name, Eiichi. Such a class was an unusual find in the university setting, but the nine of us in the class enthusiastically purchased our zafus, or Japanese meditation cushions, lined them up along the wall, and eventually got to the point where we were sitting on them for forty-five minutes per day.

Sometimes, after sitting, he would play old subtitled, black-and-white video clips of Zen masters talking about things that seemed mysterious to me then. They said to leave no traces when we act. I later saw that this message, far from being mysterious, was a reminder to come back to the ordinary, which is right here, right now.

I remember a classmate asking, “What’s so great about now?” The professor’s simple reply: “Stillness is in the present.”

My sweet Japanese professor spoke of the millions of thoughts that clutter our minds at any given moment, thoughts that spring back and forth like pogo sticks, from past to future, and back to the past again, never stopping here. The catch is that you can’t will them to stop here because suppression doesn’t work. You have to let them settle themselves, and to this end he gave us the metaphor of the revolving door…Continuing the process of observation, watch as your thoughts enter the already-crowded lobby of your mind—but watch, also, as they leave again on their own, as if through a revolving door, so long as you don’t attach to them.

When Zen practitioners say that meditation is hard, it seems incredible that sitting still could be that difficult, but it is because being HERE is not someplace we’re used to being. It requires constant reminding to come back. The job of meditating is to do just that. It is the training ground for the mind, where it learns to sit still and stay.

Experiment with simply noticing how often you fall into the longing and loathing thoughts. The mind is a time machine, scurrying back and forth between thoughts of the past and of the future, every waking moment of every day.

To attach is to simultaneously resist. It is to willfully bind yourself to the unreal world of thoughts rather than to swim with curiosity in the current of life in real time. Those thoughts are the same ones that keep you trapped in the idea that things are going to be tedious.

Adopt a Walk-Around Mantra

Let’s together create the liberating habit of proclaiming our presence, and the joy that comes with it. Sometimes I do this with what I call my “walk-around mantra”… At this moment, I am happy. It is the only place happiness exists, after all. Every time I remember to say it to myself, I come back… to the here and now, where life is joyful.

Coming back is something that gets easier to sustain with practice. At that very instant, resistance magically disappears. It is instantly replaced with inner gladness, the way the slightest crack of the curtain floods the entire room with the morning sun, and displaces the darkness in a flash

Even though we can’t really stop our thoughts, there’s an eternity between one thought and the next. And in that “gap” between thoughts—whether it be in traditional seated meditation or in a lovely walk through nature—a timeless moment of peace is found.

Between the disjointed movie scenes and endless montages in your mind, between flashbacks and instant replays of events that happened yesterday, and errands to be run tomorrow, a softness is found: Aha!Just a glimmer, a sparkle, and the droplet becomes the ocean. Then, just like that, with a blink, it’s gone.

But with practice, the glimmer becomes a way of life. You hold it longer. You learn to reside there. You bring the magic of meditative stillness into the real world, where enthusiasm is rediscovered.