21 Jul When You Don’t Like What Is Happening
A spiritual practice which I have been trying on more deliberately this past year is called Welcoming Prayer. I find it a very counter-instinctive practice, so it has taken some time to bring it into the flow of my day. The idea is to bring attention and welcome to the disharmonious energies which arise in us in moments of stress. Most days there are occasions to use this practice.
The past few months have been unusually stressful for me, so I have been practicing Welcoming Prayer a lot. Most of the stress has been related to the sale of my wife’s house, which I am told ranks high on the scale of what causes the most stress for people. When my wife, Rosanne, and I married ten years ago, she moved into what we Presbyterians call a manse, a church owned house where I have lived for the past twenty-one years. We wanted to sell her house at that time, but could not because there was an underground oil leak on her property from an underground tank. Eventually, we were fortunate enough to receive a grant to remediate the problem. Since we did not live in her house, however, a five-year lien was taken on the property. Selling while the lien was still in effect would have presented a significant financial penalty for us. After a long journey, we were able to put her house on the market last fall. Her house is scheduled to close in a matter of days.
We knew all along that we would not make much money on her house. It has a sizable mortgage. Along the way, we also discovered that we would have a daunting capital tax gains bill after sale. Married couples are entitled to a $500,000 tax exemption on the sale of a home. No problem. But to get this exemption, you must have lived in the house for two of the past five years. Ouch! Realtors told us that selling a house while tenants are still in it is problematic. We have been making her mortgage payments for nearly a year now without tenants and incurring debt in the process. For all of the effort and strain around the house, we will reap very little financial reward.
In dealing with my frustrations and resentments around this reality, I have turned to the Welcoming Prayer practice. It goes like this. Welcome whatever is arising in you and name it. Say silently, “Welcome anger,” or whatever seems the proper name. Then, as quickly as you can, get out of any story around the emotion. Place your attention, rather, on your body. Pay attention to how the emotion is showing up in your body, and practice with releasing the energy or supporting it in areas of your body which are not constricted or flooded. The key is to move out of story and into awareness of physical sensation. When you are ready to move on, you are encouraged to recite the following. “I let go of my desire for power and control. I let go of my desire for esteem and affection. I let go of my desire for security and survival. I let go of my desire to change the circumstances.”
What I have been discovering is the strength with which I hold onto my desire for all of these things and my desire to change the circumstances. This difficult practice interferes with what Cynthia Bourgeault calls the egoic operating system’s program for happiness. We learn early on to develop ways of dealing with uncomfortable feelings such as powerlessness, lack of esteem and affection, and insecurity. We think that the solution is to be found in achieving more power and control, obtaining more esteem and affection, and gaining ever greater security. But, inevitably, life does not give us what we want, or when it does, we still find something lacking. We never seem to notice how our instincts for dealing with stress imprison us. Welcoming Prayer helps us to bring attention to our vulnerable inner states and to bring healing to them by simply being with them. Eventually, we may discover a freedom from attachment to our automatic reaction to circumstances. We can feel what we feel without becoming absolute slaves of these feelings.
The practice is very humbling. At least it is for me. Recent circumstances and my reactions to them have revealed to me that I am not nearly as far along the spiritual path as I sometimes imagine I am in my better moments. That realization motivates me to keep with the practice as a beginner each day, to learn how to forgive myself for not being perfect, and to gain a greater sense of humor about myself as a human being with ingrained habits of reactivity, immaturity and self-absorption. Maybe others are wrestling with the same struggles and desires.
It’s encouraging to come through periods of inner struggle and to find some moments of equanimity on the other side. Until the next round of fear or anger or resentment emerge and you find yourself seemingly at square one once more. Then, in humility, you simply start the practice over again as a beginner, in faith that God is working imperceptibly within us. It’s not easy going through these periods of stress and challenge. Perhaps the day will come when I will look back on this time with gratitude for the inner freedom which was being won. Occasionally, I catch a glimpse that this may be so. So, thanks for the tough stretch, God, and all the opportunities to practice. Maybe, though, we could have an easier stretch for the next week or two? It’s just a suggestion. After all, I am trying to let go of my desire to change the circumstances of my life, that I might experience your grace more fully.