For many years as you leave your house in the morning you walk by a lovely stream that snakes its way through your neighborhood. This stream is peaceful and helps you prepare for the day and de-stress when you come home in the evening.
Everyday you witness children throwing little twigs and sticks into the water. You know the children well, and the scene is quite familiar to you. You see the small splashes in the water, and you watch curiously as the twigs and sticks flow down stream, each at their own unique pace. You feel at ease during these moments.
But after a while, something starts to change. Familiar families are moving out. Unfamiliar families are moving in. You don’t know the kids anymore who sit by the stream throwing twigs and sticks into the flowing water. You grow increasingly on edge – that old, familiar, comfortable feeling becoming less and less familiar and comfortable.
You still like to pass by the old stream everyday on your walk to and from work. This is familiar. This is what you know. And you still derive some measure of peace from it.
These days, however, when the children throw twigs and sticks into the stream, you somehow feel violated. You want them to stop, and you feel like blocking the “attacks” on the stream and even have urges to jump into the water to remove the debris, as if the stream couldn’t handle the twigs and sticks and was being damaged in some way.
So you stand more on guard now at the bank of the stream, and each day move closer and closer to the water, believing you need to protect it. The children are growing wary of you, and you are growing more wary of the children. The children are also beginning to throw more twigs in the stream as you are blocking their way now. You can’t seem to help it and just want to stop the barrage of intrusions on your precious stream. The old familiar and peaceful feelings are very foreign now. You feel a growing sense of unease. You want it all to stop and return to normal.
For the next few weeks, you begin to daydream of ways to collect the twigs and sticks from the stream to make it more pristine again. You dream of designing a neighborhood campaign to “clean up the stream”. You fantasize about putting up “no throwing twigs or sticks in the stream” signs along the path. You think about those kids, those intrusive kids. They just need to leave you and your stream alone.
One day you actually pick a verbal fight with one of the bigger kids in your neighborhood. He seems unaffected by your loud and forceful threats to get him to leave. You try harder and think of ways to tell his parents about his “awful” behavior. You now have an enemy in the neighborhood for the first time in 12 years. This feels very uncomfortable to you and yet you feel justified.
You are now at a choice point, a profound fork in the road. How will you handle this sense of intrusion, this sense of unease?
Push harder and more forcefully in defense of your stream, in defense of your peacefulness.
What would this do? Where would this take you? When would the pushing stop? How would you feel along the way? What will this do to your sense of actual peace in your world (vs. the peace you feel you “should” have)? How would this affect your relationship with others in your life, present and future?
Or you could:
Start to ease up a bit and step back, be more allowing, less confrontational, and more oriented toward compassion for yourself and others.
Would you be giving up or giving in? Or would you be honestly acknowledging what is really happening as you expend so much effort and energy to control your environment? What if you honestly acknowledged what is happening to your positive energy as you try so hard to root out the “negative” energy. Ask yourself what you really want your life to look like, day in and day out. Ask yourself what you want your weeks, months, and years to come to look like?
The choice is not easy. But the choice is yours.
Consider for a moment that this stream is actually your mind that you are trying to defend. Consider that these neighborhood kids and the twigs and sticks are the actual experiences of life that come along, sometimes unexpectedly, uninvited, and intruding on the familiarity of your mind. Consider now how you want to live with yourself, day in and day out. Consider how you want to care for your mind. Do you want to live in tension with your mind, trying so hard to root out intruders and things that “don’t belong”?
Or do you want to live with greater ease, participating in a life that feels less hard? Allowing things to come and go in your mind is actually the best self-care and self-management of your mind you can do. Holding on too tightly to anything can spell greater tension, greater struggle, and precious time lost.
The choice is not easy. But the choice is yours.
When you get a chance, check out this wonderful poem by Rumi, The Guest House, that speaks to this very dilemma we all face in life.
As always, be well, and all the best choosing a life less hard,