The reason why worry doesn’t work is it depends on me already having the answer to my problem. By worrying, I’m putting my mind under pressure so it will be forced to cough up the solution. The problem is there often isn’t an answer there waiting, so this pressure means getting caught up in thinking loops that produce increasing anxiety. The mind goes into a contracted state where solutions become harder to find. It is only by admitting that ‘I don’t know’ the answer that the mind can relax and become receptive to possible answers from somewhere deeper.
I have doubts about the reality of past lives, but I’ve also had experiences in meditation that make it seem at least possible. One of the most powerful of these was a vision of myself as a Benedictine Monk living in France during the nineteenth century.
In the vision, I was a large fellow who looked quite stern and unfriendly. I was walking around the monastery grounds in a state of bitterness, self-pity, and anger. The cause of this mental turmoil was the deterioration of my relationship with my fellow monks. I had managed to fall out with the whole community, and there didn’t seem to be any way to repair the damage. I knew that I was suffering due to the ‘sin of pride’, but I felt unable and unwilling to do anything about it. I died soon after this.
These images of being a different person in a different time felt very real, but I also know the brain can produce amazing illusions. This vision has been important to me not because it proves the existence of past-lives, but it has allowed me to see my current life in a new way.
I examined this ‘past life’ experience as if it were a puzzle. I tried to figure out how I could have improved the situation. It dawned on me that the real problem wasn’t that the behavior of the other monks but that I had mentally gone to war with them. I could have chosen to not be at war with them, and this would have ended my suffering.
A major source of discomfort in my life has been my relationships with other people. I’ve repeatedly ended up in situations like this monk. I used to believe my happiness depended on getting other people to like and respect me, but this vision taught me a different lesson. My peace of mind depends on me feeling connected to other people regardless of their ability to dance to my tune.
Trying to escape or avoid emotional pain, physical pain, or the discomforts that arise from interacting other people is a mistake. It is only by allowing myself to be completely vulnerable to pain that I can become free of this pain. It is only by remaining open to criticism and the consequences of my mistakes that life becomes easy to navigate. Vulnerability is the key to lasting peace and joy. It allows in pain so it can chip away at those parts of my ego that keeps me disconnected and constantly seeking a solution to this disconnection.
Calling myself an ‘alcoholic’ put a name on my discomfort, but ultimately, adopting this label just meant identifying with a symptom of my discomfort. I had to let go of the label and put my attention on the source of the discomfort to find lasting freedom and peace.