Watching the Parade


One of the most efficient spiritual practices available to us during times of busyness and agitation is learning how to greet our experience without resistance. This means allowing the mind to put on its dazzling parade of emotions and thoughts, watching the procession as it marches through awareness. We do this without arguing, commenting, blocking or avoiding the experience through our habitual external diversions, even though the inner spectacle might be comprised of scary characters (dark fears of what might happen in the future) or exciting attractions (sensual cravings and memories).

This doesn't mean we applaud what's passing through. It takes great patience, for example, to learn how to witness anger or feel fear without acting out on the impulses. A safe seat to view the parade is from the ebb and flow of breath sensations in the body below. The skill of observing entails knowing where to focus our attention. It's tempting to attend to the loudest visitors in the pageant, without noticing the quieter content; thoughts and memories grab our attention, but subtler presences such as confusing moods and gut feelings often pass through unnoticed. 

As the skill becomes refined, we learn how to observe individual members that carry the floats, rather than only viewing the spectacles. For example, rather than perceiving a conglomeration of sensations as "loneliness," we notice what's below: the incomplete exhalations, perhaps a tightness in the chest, a lack of energy and on.

Allowing doesn't mean we wade into the moods; it's important to maintain some detachment; we feel but don't get carried away. Nor is this an artful way to push out wearying emotional states. Harboring hopes that this practice will get rid of anger or fear only undermines the skill. With time we will often feel some relief, and feelings may become less intense, but the goal is giving space rather than getting rid of anything.

There are times when it may be necessary to look away from some elements of the procession. If we've learned from experience that a specific memory or visual is inevitably overwhelming and harmful, inevitably triggering traumatic reactions or spiraling compulsions, we may want to look away and focus on a soothing diversions. But the more we attend to what's passing through, the greater our tolerance will become, and eventually we'll be able to greet much more than we believed possible.

In summary, it's a practice to greet, as much as possible, the entire human experience, granting permission despite a lifetime's habit of blockading and barricading.