Walking alone for seven straight day on unfamiliar terrain offers many opportunities for disappointments. Not everything works out as planned. Examples are: not too hot but no rain; neither mud nor asphalt please; clear signs to show the way; the ‘right’ overnight accommodation to come along at the ‘right’ price; etc. Every event that unfolds in unexpected ways offers the opportunity to awaken to what’s actually happening, not what I imagine or fear.
You may recognize this formula: expectation → disappointment ≠ suffering
If things don’t work out the way I (my ego) expect them to, disappointment can cause suffering. The little voice laments: Why does this always happen to me? How stupid can I get? I hate this place. And yet, the shift does not have to occur automatically. In the split second before suffering sets in, I have the choice to realize that very little is actually my or anyone’s fault! In fact, most events are not about me at all. It’s merely the small and insecure voice within that’s trying to fit the world in its narrow field of vision.
Being on my own this trip, away from the familiar, I’ve been treating my often fragile ego with loving kindness. When things went awry, I’ve laughed. When my mind wanted to go to an injured place, I’ve talked to my/self in German, made funny voices, and even sang a silly song. It worked … 95% of the time!
p.s. As if on request, this morning brings new disappointment. A week ago, family members agreed to come by train to spend the day with me near the end of the hike. Lat night, by phone, they inform me that a key member “has to play golf today” and that the get-together is off. Plans for the next week (my last days here) are also in disarray. My reaction is disbelief, then anger. I’ve lived up to my end of the arrangements and changes were made without consultation. …. exhale …. This is old family stuff, dysfunctional at best. Alcohol is part of the equation, so is a history of things-best-left-unsaid. … Exhale some more … and remember the ancient practice of metta, loving kindness. Exhale, inhale, sit still, listen to the heart, feel the sensation of exclusion, of sadness over the disconnect with the one family I have.
Metta practice begins with paying attention to our own heart. Paying attention to the breath, say “May I be free from fear” or “May I be free from sadness” or whatever suits the occasion. …. After a little while of this, “May I be at ease” … three times, accompanied by gentle inhale and exhale. Then “May I be happy,” noting the breath going in and flowing out. Now repeat, while keeping the other (my brother, say, or his wife) in my mind’s eye. …. “May X be free from fear” … breathe … “”May she be at ease” …. breathe … “May he be happy” … noting breath and the gentle softening in the heart space.
Practicing Loving Kindness begins by taking care of myself before extending loving thoughts to others. It helps open my heart of compassion by diffusing self-centred anger and generating compassion towards my brother and sister-in-law. Deep bow to them for bringing me back to basics.