Confusion on the Path: building emotional capacity

As I travel the path of life, occasionally I look around and think, “Sweet, this seems to be working!”

But most of the time on this path, I look around and think, “Shit, is this working? This doesn’t seem to be the direction I wanted to head…”, and other thoughts of confusion and doubt.

Over time, on this path, I have noticed that just because I have a sense of where I want to go, it doesn’t mean that the path will be straight or that the path will lead me to my desired end point.

Why is this? Wouldn’t it just be simpler to tick off the list of destinations as we go along to feel some completion?

Well, actually no. We would miss out on life if we did that. It is important to remember that we could live a life that flows in a single direction, that is uninterrupted, that is linear, but then we would miss out on the experience of being human. Of feeling all of the emotions – confusion, despair, sadness, joy – of life. This is the gift of our human birth. Not simply to move from one thing to the next however satisfying that might be, but to revel in our capacity to feel.

When we are experiencing something, there are tendencies that we have – linger, move quickly through, wallow – whatever your tendency, what would it be like to try something different?

I am not suggesting bury the pain, decide just to make a decision more quickly, or create pain in order to wallow. What I am asking is for you to notice. Become acutely aware of the confusion, the anger, the indecision, the sadness. Find the nooks and crannies of that experience. Because that experience is what make us human and what allows us to be compassionate with ourselves and others.

The goal is not to be perfect, however appealing that may be, and trust me, I feel the pull of being perfect. Yet the perfect I yearn for is to be able to not let my shit get in the way of experiencing life with people. I don’t want to be Teflon perfect, and I am far from visually or intellectually perfect (that is overrated anyway), but to be perfectly able to go to the depths in myself and with others, well, I think that might just be heaven on earth. To feel the endless capacity we have to care deeply. To open my heart with full confidence that it won’t be crushed. I long to feel that.

Yet that invitation into the depth of my capacity means that there will be confusion. I will wonder is this mine? Is this theirs? Sometimes I won’t know right away. And it might feel extra painful. But if I wait, and notice, be mindful, whatever word you want to use, it will eventually change and then the path will be revealed.

Do you long to feel – love, sadness, let go of remorse or regret, move through shame and guilt – then invite perspective. Here is a practice that I use to help me. You can also search ‘mindfulness’ on the internet and pull up a plethora of techniques if this one doesn’t work for you.

  • Find a place to sit or lay down (if you fall asleep, that is the path your body needed to take, let it go there).
  • Take a breath.
  • Notice where you effort to pull in breath.
  • Try to breathe without any effort (this in and of itself is a lifetime practice!).
  • As you relax and take in breath, begin to make the breath deeper.
  • Every time you feel yourself efforting, notice and tune into the area of effort, the emotion of effort, the thought behind the effort. Then let all that go, you are simply noticing.
  • Then return to the effortless breath at the capacity you can before you hit the effort threshold.
  • Do this for as long as you want.

Over time you will gain capacity in effortless breathing. Which will be like a life raft when the path takes a turn and you feel confusion.

At least it is for me.

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