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Adventures in Mindfulness

Katie Estes is a freelance designer, art director, photographer and stylist. She sometimes writes too. 

Hell Loop

Katie Estes

"We become so accustomed to speeding ahead that we rob ourselves of joy."

When Things Fall Apart, Pema Chödrön, p. 30

This quote from Pema Chödrön came up the other day, nicely summarizing a visual I've had in my head for years. The visual was that of a relay race, like in high school with silver batons. I ran in the fast group, I am built for running away from things, and stood there on the track, watching, waiting with the anxiety of the coming baton. What if I dropped it? Was I going to grab it underhand or overhand? What was the very detail of the rapidly approaching future? Fuck, it's here. Then I ran awkwardly for a few seconds, wondering again if I'd drop the baton, then handed it off, panting, waiting for it all to cycle over again. 

This went on for years, the pushing, failing, flailing, and I missed everything. Nothing was good enough or something was better, if I could just keep pushing on to find it. The relay race continued and I burned out. Daily. I experienced pockets of meticulously carved out joy over the past few years but was still shrouded in some sort of fear, some sort of pain, some sort of anger. I was only available for some of it, whether running relay races before bed, or creating some sort of pain simply because that's what was familiar to me. In periods of calm, I made the future a threat. I come from a family that talks about what they should have for dinner while still chewing lunch. I studied and trained in a profession where things were due yesterday. It's always tomorrow in New York City. For a while, it was enough to just stare at a mountain, but then that tickle of what's next would appear. This is beautiful but I want to find the next beautiful thing to show everyone how beautiful the beauty is. Again, missing any presence of beauty. Anything can be a relay race. 

Lately, I've been confronting this. All of this. I didn't actually know this was an option. Maybe I had an idea but I would have rather suffered. Rather just keep running. 

"The way to dissolve our resistance to life is to meet it face to face."

-Pema again, p.30 again


These are Pema's words, but echoed in Eckhart's teachings, David R. Hawkins's and others. And also, no? No no no no no. I never wanted to do that. Learning to let go, allow pain, be mindful, is one of the hardest (easiest?) things I've ever done. The easy part is that you don't actually have to do anything. It's the fighting and resistance that is exhausting. It's the suffering that's exhausting. Right up until the very moment of being seen, whether fear, pain, hurt, jealousy, anger, there is suffering. Intense suffering. I don't want to see. I've been through enough. I just want it gone. And that's exactly what happens. The very instant you look, the thoughts lose their power. The very second you are aware, you're no longer lost in thought.

You sit down in the middle of the relay race so that someone knees you in the face and trips over you. "Why'd you stop?" They might ask. Or in this scenario, "Why'd you fucking sit down?" And you let them run and you take two steps to the side. From the sidelines, you watch the runners and see this hell loop of thought. Except you don't judge it. You see it, it's there and you're there with it, no longer a part of it. You're beachside, with a rainbow and a cupcake no longer suffering. 

This takes practice. It takes belief, commitment, and relentless awareness. It takes the utter depletion of suffering to not want to suffer anymore. Facing your shit, your relay races, in my experience, has brought a kind of peace I never thought possible. Somedays I relapse, as I call it, and buy into the thoughts. This may happen. Go fiercely back the sidelines and just watch. Allow. Be there with them, and let go. 

I have the lyric from Geto Boys, Damn it Feels Good to Be a Gansta, in my head, so:
"And now, a word from the president:

"Even when the sky is heavily overcast, the sun hasn't disappeared. It's still there on the other side of the clouds." 

–Eckhart Tolle