My primary aspiration for this year was to grow my faith. I define faith as the “confidence born from observing the fruits of practice.”
Faith does not mean everything works out the way we want it to. It simply means that we know two things with confidence: First, nothing has gone wrong. Second, by taking care of this moment completely we are taking care of every moment that unfolds from this one (i.e. the rest of our lives).
This confidence supports us in those moments when we are working with an edge or feeling overwhelmed by the sheer scale of a challenge. Trusting wholeheartedly in ourselves and in the potential for transformation can help facilitate seemingly miraculous shifts in well-being. Of course most of us need constant reminders in the form of friends, teachers and teachings that things are okay, but by gradually watering the seed of faith in ourselves, we can grow in our capacity to hold space for what arises.
How does one water the seed of faith?
By meeting what arises, being present with it, and seeing what happens.
At times, this can be difficult.
Earlier this year I was sharing an experience I had to a close friend about anxiety while shopping for winter boots. Purchasing clothing has been a historical source of suffering for me. I often go to great lengths to try and find the “best” item, and absent a clear best choice I can begin to ruminate and find myself in a decision paralysis, only furthering the intensity of my anxiety.
I was relaying the most recent episode of this decision paralysis to him, describing in detail how I felt myself slipping into the same old grooves of going back-and-forth while becoming physically unsettled and even more frustrated that I was back in this miserable spot I’ve been in so many times before. This anxiety surfaced an even more menacing emotion: doubt. I wondered aloud whether I was making any progress at all in my mindfulness practice, as it felt like I was back where I began with all the same suffering.
After listening with great patience he looked at me and asked “What if you could be in that store, facing all the same anxiety and worry and frustration that you’ve experienced so many times before…but be totally okay with it? What if you could shift from trying to stop the feelings from happening to recognizing they are there and trying not to get upset by that?”
I was floored.
His words served as a gentle yet vital reminder that the practice of mindfulness isn’t about “getting somewhere else” nor is it about trying to eliminate suffering. The practice is actually about a radical shift in my relationship to my suffering. By opening to my experience instead of wishing for it to be different I am paradoxically afforded new degrees of freedom. When I stop fighting how I’m feeling my mind is more capable of making wise choices, grounded in the reality of my present condition, about what to do next. That may be deciding to buy a particular pair of boots. Or, it may mean leaving the store and coming back another day. Either way, choosing out of awareness is always wiser than choosing out of fear.
By experiencing a more self-compassionate relationship to suffering I give myself the gift to be as I am. The well-being arising from such a response slowly waters the seed of confidence that the practice of mindfulness is worth cultivating. Over time, with diligent watering, the seed becomes a plant, which in turn grows into a garden.
I consider it my responsibility to cultivate this garden as a refuge for myself and for others to taste the wonders of life available in the present moment.
Brandon – True Garden of Faith
Click here for a reflection on my second aspiration, weekly gathas.