Holding the Rough with the Smooth

It goes without saying that Covid living has been anything but easy.  The above rose poking through the fence was a delightful sighting on one of my walks and a great place to begin our talk today.

I recently ordered the meditation retreat Welcoming the Unwelcome  with American Buddhist meditation teacher, Pema Chodron through Omega Institute. In reading the description I felt it would be useful and boy has it been.

Throughout the retreat, Chodron speaks about meeting ourselves with warmth and love.  But it was one section where spo9ke about befriending ourselves that caught my attention.  She stated

“A deep friendship with yourself is when you can hold the difficult experiences and joyful experiences in your heart and can allow all experiences into your heart equally.”

She goes on to share that we should expect the weather to change.  It is here that she sums this teaching up in such a beautiful way…

“We need to be able to hold the rough with the smooth.”

And there it is.

The biggest challenge of Covid living in a nutshell, right?

I continuously return to this teaching with my clients.  With all the challenges that life presents, we are often caught on the hedonic treadmill grasping onto pleasurable experiences and trying desperately to rid ourselves of all the challenging experiences that are presented to us.  As I shared with a client last week, seeking the quick fix pleasure is like drowning in the sea and coming up for that gasp of fresh air only to then sink back down treading water for dear life.

And yet, why do we resist at the base level, this concept of holding the rough and the smooth?  The teaching that is not only a part of life but actually is essential to happiness, is seen as a big fat party pooper.  People like the sales pitch that a person can rid them of what ails them immediately.  Even if they know intellectually that quick fixes don’t last, it is the allure that maybe this time will be different, that gets the people every time.

I suppose you could say I am a realist.  I am also very intuitive and get a good read on people very easily.  While there are times when I might have wanted all my troubles to go away, if someone showed up with that promise, I would surely see through it.

That being said, I get it.  It’s the ole rewards pathway in the brain.  The Who? The What? You say. Oh sorry, yes I should back up a bit. For a very long time, in what now feels like another lifetime, I worked in the field of addictions; 18 years post grad to be exact.  A while ago, the field became more focused in neurobiology.  Back then I wasn’t very well versed in science and all that mumbo jumbo made my brain actually hurt. LOL  It was only when I started studying nutrition that I became more intrigued and aware of what had been spoken about at my job for years.

The reward pathway in the brain is intricately connected to our experience of pleasurable activities and the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine.  For those of you that are science geeks here is a quick video to explain this region of the brain and what happens when dopamine is released.

I like to think of the continuous triggering of the rewards pathway through the use of drugs, alcohol, food, sex, shopping or even achievement oriented experiences such as work/career growth as taking a magic carpet ride.  When the pleasure center is continuously tapped in these external ways, the harder it is for us to naturally produce dopamine through seemingly insignificant (although actually quite significant) ways such as noticing the smile on a baby’s face, the feeling of sun on your skin, or the way the sun is hitting a lovely tree full of Fall foliage.

Through the continuous triggering of the pleasure center’s release of dopamine, we back on that that hedonic treadmill constantly; chasing one pleasurable experience after another while avoiding any form of discomfort.

Why is that so bad you ask?

Well my response would be…that this is what has contributed to 2020 feeling so much like a shit show.  What we resist, persists.  This year we are being forced, individually and collectively, to face the things that we have worked so hard to avoid.  All that stuff that we have kept in the deep dark cellar is coming up to the surface.  2020 has been a purging of sorts. With the lack of places to go and people to see, we have been forced to feel all sorts of discomfort. Some of us have met the gremlin face to face and are continuing to work through its demons and others have continued to hide under a rock or take the ride on the technicolor carpet ride of alcohol, drugs, food and Netflix. Or a little of both.

For me, this year has been an increasingly hard one of facing all the things I didn’t even know I needed to face.  But at the same time, it has also been a time when I have discovered parts of myself that were hidden under the rubble.  As I move through confronting some of the hidden difficult aspects of my life, I have also found a renewed sense of joy.

I wouldn’t say that I have been skipping and jumping through 2020 but I would say that, at times, I am finding myself dancing my way through.  And Amazon just brought me this fun toy to help make my home dance parties even more enjoyable!

Facing our darkness, shadow or roughness, does not have come with such labor.  I have had many clients ask me what the difference between “sitting with difficult emotions” and “wallowing” in them.  I believe that the difference is that one helps bring about a cathartic release and the other is about clinging to our darkness; creating an unhealthy attachment and thereby a natural resistance to feeling “bad.”

Holding the rough with the smooth is where gray becomes the new black; the space where reality lives.  Life is not simple nor are our emotions.  Now a days everyone wants to put people, beliefs and feelings into a box, label it and put it on a shelf.  For me, that just does not work.  We are complex human beings and each one of us is worthy of compassion and kindness; even those that are having difficulty showing it to others.

Holding the rough with the smooth means things are not always going to be pleasurable but it also means that things are not always going to suck or seem like a shit show either. Llfe is a mixed bag and it is only through moving through the darkness are we able to authentically find the light.

As we wrap up our chat together for today, a funny little song has come to mind and I can’t help but share it.

“You take the good.  You take the bad.  You take them both and there you have the facts of life. The facts of life.”

“When the world never seems to be living up to your dreams, but suddenly your finding out that the facts of life are all about you.”

Cheers to finding all about you.  Holding the rough with the smooth is our ticket to freedom.

Much love along the journey!

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