That thing that plagues you, that keeps showing up, that gets in your face: Move toward it. Make a project of it. Here it is, no denying it: you may as well welcome it, work with it, be with it. Let it be. Come in close and get to know it; get to know yourself dancing with it. That's how you get out by going in.
Maybe the thing that won't release you is anxiety. You may have a visceral memory of the first time it shot all through your limbs. Is the most recent glaring example still be tingling in your sweaty palms. Or do you have the low-grade kind that won't go away? Or maybe it's your angry reactions, the way things just make your blood boil, and for all the shaking, you can't shake it off or shut down the attendant mental narrative. Or is your thing jealousy? Control? It could be pervasive shame or a sense of “there's something wrong with me,” which for some or sometimes becomes an incurable need to let others know what's wrong with them. It could be something super concrete, like those extra pounds you swear you'd give your eyeteeth to shed, but you don't actually do the sensible things that would gradually whittle them away. Or a clutter problem that robs you of internal spaciousness, or chronic underachievement, or an inability to stop or slow down or … You could be the one whose thing is someone else's thing—like his addiction or her needs—but that makes it yours, doesn't it? I'm sure you know what your thing is.
Let's say you take on that photography project and start carrying around a camera so that it's always with you. You walk around looking at the world not just through the camera's lens but through the inner lens of some pertinent question—something like, What kind of photo would this make? Or How could I best capture that? Even if you're not actively holding the question or the camera, you'll find yourself reaching for them spontaneously anytime something suddenly jars you and calls it back. Since this is your project—since you're willing—you'll reach. You'll make a new photo, in the moment, even if that wasn't your plan, because it's an ongoing, unfolding project that you're devoted to. It won't even cross your mind to get angry or annoyed when some unscheduled photo op derails a plan. Or if it does, you remind yourself: this is what you're here for! Miss the bus, change your plans, reroute or reschedule—anything for this project. When something nudges you to get out your camera and explore, why would you do anything else? This is how people behave when they mean business.
So what would this look like, if we drop the photography metaphor? The first answer, especially where emotions are concerned (and this could include the irritation response to the clutter or the weirdly rising guilt while you're procrastinating), is this: Bring it close when it shows up. Drop what you're doing and welcome it. (Bring it along if you can't drop your original errand or task.) Say, “Ah, here you are, old friend.” Find the feeling associated with this thing—locate it in your body—and feel it fully. It's like stepping into a pool: immerse yourself. Even for a moment (and for several, if you can) bring your full awareness to that feeling in that specific place. Breathe into it—I call breath the balm from within. When you give conscious awareness and breath to the place that hurts, that's how you sweetly rub its head or back. (For a longer discussion of how to meet the pain body with awareness and breath, see my article “It's Just the Pain Body: Just Be with It.” Or if you want it from someone wiser, read Eckhart Tolle's The Power of Now, or if you have already, at least reread chapter two.)
And then what you do is whatever is takes. You'll know what to do as you go (remember, the how always reveals itself along the way), as long as you have a clear intention: this is your ongoing, absorbing, I'm-willing-anytime project.
One day, I put my photography project metaphor on a professional social media site (that no longer exists). Some hours later, I found myself awake in the wee hours, exhausted on the edges and to the core, sleep nowhere in sight. I've had an on-again, off-again insomnia pattern my whole adult life. If my sleep gets thrown off, I can get stuck in bad sleep cycles for days, or (rarely, now) weeks, until things somehow recalibrate and get back to normal. Here I was again. I was getting into the things I know not to do—feeling angry that I was awake, feeling abandoned by the Universe, worrying about what the next day would look like if I didn't sleep, and getting sucked down mental mud slides. Ay. Then the words from my post came back to me. I had written, “Apply this to anxiety, loneliness, your inability to manage money.” Apply it to insomnia.
Okay, I thought, I'll do that now. That's always the time to do anything anyway. Now and only now can I or you or anyone take on a project or move it forward. So I brought the insomnia close. I said, “Here you are, Insomnia.” (I declined calling it friend.) I surrendered. I gave tomorrow to tomorrow, remembering and even believing that each moment always holds what it holds, including whatever I need to get through it. I reminded myself of what I say about sleeplessness: if you're conscious, it must be time to meet consciousness. So I experienced myself as consciousness. I breathed slowly, the way a sleeping person breathes. I entered my breathing fully, feeling the physical and energetic sensation of dropping out of my head and into my belly. I experienced myself as being held lovingly by consciousness—and my mattress, my floor, my house, the earth. I thought, I can do this every night for the rest of my life if I have to (then remembered I could only do it now whether I declared forever willingness or not).
I actually fell asleep quickly after that, though I know from plenty of prior experience that this was no guaranteed outcome. I could as likely have lain there breathing and being willing for hours—but I also know it would have been a dance with consciousness instead of a struggle, and I would have been fine. I might even have had and fallen in love with some new idea or insight.
Miraculously, it took only two more days and one more bad-sleep night before the cycle broke. During that 36-ish-hour period, I made insomnia a project. This included: staying in the moment throughout the day, knowing that I'm as rested as I need to be right now to meet this one client, one task, one kid; spending a night with lots of awake time practicing what I wrote about above; catching myself complaining or wanting to complain, even to myself, about how I was feeling, and instead coming into the moment with all my senses and finding my connection to life and love; forgiving myself quickly for yelling at my daughter at the end of a long day, and still being kind to myself and connecting to the kindness of consciousness as I lay awake; looking for all I was grateful for; showing up now, and now, and now.
I gave you a short-term example. I could have given you a six-month example or a year-long example or a years-and-years example. Most things probably won't take the rest of your life—unless you need them to. However long it takes, are you willing?
Will you mean business about your healing? Whatever won't let you go hasn't been fully or properly explored, no matter what long list you rattle off about all you've tried and how long you've tried it. (I could say, “Yeah, but you've tried it thinking it's a problem.” “Yeah, but you've tried it thinking there were some life categories or blocks of time you wouldn't, couldn't, or shouldn't let it into.” “Yeah, but you've never really just made it your absorbing project that trumps all other projects.”) Give yourself to it until there's nothing left, until it has nothing left to ask of you. Are you worried it will take you over? The point is, it's got you already, so give it all you've got. Then when you've seen what it's here to show you and you've learned a new way to meet it, it will let you go. (And if it comes back, you'll know how to meet it. You'll know how to come back to willingness.)
Are you ready to surrender? I don't mean surrender in a give-up-and-feel-defeated way. I mean, surrender with presence and creativity and the trust this thing wants to become something else once you give it your awareness. Are you willing to give it your time, even allow it to subsume time you would normally give or prefer to give to something more fun, more relaxing, more … Actually, I can hardly think of another fitting adjective, because other pursuits just won't be more rewarding, fulfilling, satisfying, or ultimately helpful to your growth and total well-being—including your ability to have fun and relax. Really—it'll be worth it. Just give yourself to this project because, like it or not, it's given itself to you. In a friendly Universe (aw, just pretend, if you're not there yet), this must be a gift worth opening.
Love & blessings, Jaya