This reaction of ours, trying to keep the pleasant and trying to get rid of the unpleasant, is the reason for our continual roaming around the realm of birth and death because there’s no direction to it. It’s a circular movement. We can’t get out that way. It is a merry-go-round. It doesn’t have a doorway. We go around and around and around trying to keep the pleasant, trying to get rid of the unpleasant, a never-ending circle. The only opening leading out of the merry-go-round is to look at the feeling and not to react.
-Ayya Khema, Being Nobody, Going Nowhere, pg. 31
Taking a step back, a lot of our suffering comes from the pursuit of the things we want and the avoidance of the stuff we hate. We grip tight; we grit our teeth; we struggle to get to a place in life we really want to be. This place however, once we get there, usually isn’t the one we imagined it to be. In fact, it’s very similar to our last situation: a situation full of both pleasure and pain.
Though it seems counterintuitive , easing off our pursuits a little and giving into our environments, actually brings us more of what we’re looking for. Letting go feels dangerous; like we’re going to spiral out of control; like the world will stomp on us. As we start to let go though, the quality of our days improve because we become less and less dependent on our external environment. What we find, is the things we really value, come to us easier. The positives seem bigger, surprise us more, bringing more joy, and the negatives become less threatening, bringing less pain.
This can easily be twisted and interpreted as promoting complacency. Please don’t take it that far. I’m not saying we should drop out of school, stop pursuing the career of our dreams, or not save up for the vacation we’ve been dreaming about for; nor am I saying we shouldn’t escape bad situations: a terrible work environment or maybe an unhealthy relationship. I’m saying that if we loosen our grip to the stuff we think we really want, and not run so fast from the stuff that triggers negative feelings inside, we may find a little relief in life. I’m saying to try to find some kind of middle ground.
Ayya Khema has some good reads: