Today is February 4th, 2019: the day after my 26th birthday. Earlier today, I told my manager I will be resigning from my job as a Network Analyst. I’ll be delaying the publication of this post in the interest of keeping my departure on the DL, but I wanted to document the occasion while it’s still fresh in my mind.
I felt lighter, happier, more excited and decisive today than most days I can remember. Today marks the start of a new journey, of venturing out into the unknown and tackling new and exciting challenges, of conquering fear and complacency.
As part of the New York Zen Center’s Commit-to-Sit event, a daily dharma excerpt is sent out via email to participants. These excerpts are paired with reflection questions, and have formed the basis of my sitting practice over the past few weeks. Every morning, I sit for 20 minutes and focus on my breath at first, then the reflection. I’d like to share today’s, as it was serendipitous in a way. It inspired me to move forward with no regrets, and face uncertainty head-on.
Today's Excerpt from Opening the Hand of Thought:
“For us to remain unclear about life and death can only result in our dying in great despair and bitterness. This point leads to the second undeniable reality, that all things are suffering, or sangai kaiku. Suffering is not something that comes to attack me periodically; my whole life, as it is, is suffering.
Nevertheless, I go around fighting with people, loving them, ignoring them, without ever being able to truly see that suffering. Actually, suffering in the deepest sense is all of that. In other words, as long as this matter of death remains unclear, everything in the world suffers.
That is the meaning of the idea that all sentient beings are suffering. It is something that isn’t talked about much simply because most people wouldn’t have any idea of what it’s about.”
Reflection for Today's Practice:
Can you live today without regret? Can you open your hand to suffering?
Pretty bleak, right? At least, that was my initial impression. Buddhists seem to make a big deal about suffering. Everything is suffering.
Physical and emotional pain is suffering. Duh.
Happiness is suffering, because it doesn’t last.
Pizza is suffering, because you know you should be eating kale.
Expensive things are suffering, because you ate so much pizza you can’t fit in those Gucci jeans anymore, and your Lamborghini can’t magically bypass bumper-to-bumper traffic on your morning commute.
OK, maybe a little bit of a tangent. The First Noble Truth of Buddhism is often misunderstood. Far from being so pessimistic, the Buddha taught that, while suffering to a certain degree is inevitable in life, there is a path that leads to the cessation of suffering. I’ll save an in-depth primer to Buddhism for another time.
Back to the reflection.
As I sat this morning, I brought my attention to the first part of the prompt:
Can you live today without regret?
Side note: What would you do if you knew today was your last day to live? Would you approach the day differently? Activities that you’d been putting off, loved ones you hadn’t reached out to in a while, resolutions and goals set aside for the “right time” – what would you focus on? These are the kinds of questions a word like “regret” brings up in my mind.
For me, the prompt instantly reaffirmed what I had committed to do today: be accepting towards my fear of failure, to the doubt that I’m good enough and the uncertainty of change. To take all that, feel it, and move forwards in spite of it. It made me consider that the feeling of regret, of not taking action, of thinking “…what if?” would be way worse than a little bit of a shake-up. This gave me the confidence I needed to give my notice today, and I’m happy to say I followed through. No regrets.
No mud, no lotus.
The second part of the prompt was trickier to work with.
Can you open your hand to suffering?
I didn’t really know what to do with this during my sit, and simply reflected on impermanence. Some Facebook posts from fellow meditators put the prompt into better context for me. To open one’s hand to suffering, to me now meant: accept and observe the nature of things as they are. That when suffering is perceived in one way or another, allow it to manifest fully and then pass. This means noticing when you’ve fallen into regret or despair, and letting go. Keeping your hand open for whatever falls into it next – whether it’s pleasant or painful. For without suffering, there is no happiness.
Later in the day, I felt a more salient connection and openness to suffering: when I was in the middle of telling my boss I was leaving. To see and hear the disappointment he expressed as he was sorry to see me go, was telling of the burden I had created – having to redistribute my responsibilities among the team, find a new hire with the same or better skills, deal with HR, etc…
While I felt guilty for letting down my team, I also felt a sense of excitement to be moving on. The two were both intertwined, opposite sides of the same coin. By resting in both of these emotions, it was clear to see where the middle ground lay:
not in fretting over or wishing to relive the past (regret and longing)
not in fantasizing or worrying about the future (fear and expectation)
being present with both sides and doing the work I need to do.
Only by making difficult decisions and being honest with yourself, engaging with your core values, is it possible to make such a leap and pursue greater things. Yes, it’s painful to leave the comfort and stability behind, but to do anything else would be going backwards.
It helped that I had some sort of a plan, of course. I’ll be attending the Acton School of Business starting February 25th, as part of the first Peterson Fellowship cohort. After that, the future gets a little hazy, but my ultimate goal is to start an independent business or consultancy, in pursuit of my intentions:
- finding my voice
- conquering fear
- increased freedom in work and life
- financial independence
- living a meaningful and purposeful life
- giving back to society.
Writing these words seems surreal to me. I applied to Acton on a recommendation from a friend, put some honesty and effort into the application, and actually got in. It’s going to be a wild ride.