I am not long back from a summer holiday visiting family and friends in different parts of the US and UK. Six weeks on the road. I have be away for much longer, much longer, but looking out from the perspective of pre-departure this felt like an exhausting trip before I had even taken off. Despite looking forward to seeing family and being back in England, this jaunt felt as though it would be busy - read, not much down time. This is not a good way to approach a trip abroad, expecting the worst…and in there lay the lesson, letting go.
For all the raised awareness around introversion that has emerged over the last few years following the publication of Susan Cain’s book “Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” and the online dialogue that now takes place everyday, introverts (and extroverts) must be careful that they do not fall into the trap of always expecting things to be the way that they want them. I am not suggesting here that we do not speak up and advocate for change and increased understanding where appropriate. I am also not suggesting that we go looking for trouble. But sometimes we do not get dealt the cards that we want and have to deal with the situation appropriately, i.e. not complaining, but as skillfully, patiently and as compassionately (towards and between all parties) as possible!
This can present a difficult dilemma of balance. In whatever aspect of our lives it is, we all have those moments when we reach our limit. The pot is full and we are struggling to maintain our composure and to function clearly. For me that can come when I have had just too much people input. I can’t detect the pattern here - time around some groups of people are fine, around others and the plug is eventually pulled out and my energy starts to drain away. I think that a lot of it has to do with what is going on and who I am with. So that dilemma of balance comes from on the one hand acknowledging a need to take a break, and on the other completely withdrawing from the world such that we become a stranger to those around us.
Having supportive friends and letting those around you know what your needs are is a big help. Do not be afraid of speaking to your needs. I recognize that at times that can feel easier said than done. Perhaps societal pressures make you afraid of what the consequences will be of speaking up - how will you be judged? Will you be put down (from which the way out can then seem further)? Or maybe other’s tolerance or understanding only goes so far?
So times can arise when you need to draw on other reserves until the downtime that you are craving becomes possible.
The Tibetan meditation masters warn us of procrastinating over our meditation and never getting round to sitting because we are constantly on the look out for “perfect” conditions in which to sit - completely quiet, the right time of day, temperature, smell, etc… Even the yogis who disappear off for years or decades of meditation in remote caves have to undergo all sorts of hardship - cold, lack of food, physical discomfort - but they stick with it because the end goal brings greater rewards.
While I was going to be afforded sometime to myself while I was away, there was definitely going to be a lot of time catching up with people, running around…fitting a lot into a short time. I would look to take quiet time to recharge where I could, but where not it was better to accept the situation and instead of expending energy resisting what I didn’t want, use other methods to recharge.
A verse from a 9th Century Buddhist text by the Indian scholar Shantideva speaks to this way of approaching the world,
Where would I possibly find enough leather
With which to cover the surface of the earth?
But (wearing) leather just on the soles of my shoes
Is equivalent to covering the earth with it.”
In ancient India and today the roads are hot, dusty and dirty and the holy men who have renounced the householders life wander those streets. The roads are uncomfortable to walk on. One could try and cover all the streets with leather…that would protect your feet but is wholly impractical. The other option is to put shoes on your feet.
This verse is speaking to how mentally we approach life. We could go out there and have all aspects of life set up just the way that we want them so that we do not have to deal with the difficulties. Imagine, every corner that you turn you find yourself being approached in exactly the way that you want, everything laid out just as you want it…all of the time. Wouldn’t that be comfortable…and I also sense a little boring? And of course this approach to life is just not possible.
So what is the other option? Change your mind. If you cannot change the physical world, change how you approach what the world presents to you. While our ideal for recharging might be a quiet room with a book, if that is not available to us, we still have ourselves. Instead of filling our head with dialogue such as, “I am tired and don’t want to be here,” we can rest our attention on the breath when we are not speaking. In the presence of others we can take time for ourselves.
If others are talking a lot while you just want to gaze out over some beautiful scenery, allow the talk to go on…but not your internal dialogue wishing things to be quiet. Keep a bare attention on the conversation should you need to respond, otherwise focus on what brings you joy - the view. Again, seek solitude in the presence of others.
The world can be noisy, but sometimes we make it more noisy for ourselves with all our internal chatter that is complaining about what we don’t like. Let go of that chatter, let go of your resistance to what is going on, accept the situation for what it is (that does not mean that you have to like it) and give that space to recharging on the fly. Letting go is not a giving up. It is an honest assessment of the situation, an acceptance of what you can and cannot do, not fighting against that and basing your way forward on that reality. Do not be discouraged by the struggle to let go. It is a practice. It is about getting use to something new, a new way of working with a situation. The more that you get use to the ability and seek out methods that work for you to seek solitude in the presence of others, the more the viability of letting go becomes.
Through all of this remember to look after yourself, but also remember your friends and colleagues. If you disappear, they could be left wondering what is going on. Find that balance for yourself - on the one hand letting go and spending more time with others, on the other letting them know what your needs are and taking some time for yourself.
What techniques do you use to replenish your reserves when life is busy around you? How do you take in the view while others talk away in the background?