I don’t always make New Year’s resolutions—I find the darkest coldest months a pretty difficult time to start new things. This year, however, I did make one that not only helped me get through the dark and coldness of winter, but also continues to serve me into the fall of this year. My resolution was to ask, regularly: “How can I make this easier on myself?”
I was thinking about the Buddhist concept of the second arrow. Here, it’s understood that pain is inevitable. There are plenty of things in life we can’t control, and we all come upon hard times. Suffering, however, is optional: when a difficult thing happens, we tend to add all sorts of drama around it, blaming ourselves, engaging in self-destructive behavior, or refusing to access resources that might help us. Pain is the first, inevitable arrow of life, but suffering is the second, optional arrow that we jam right into the first wound. One aspect of the Buddhist practice is learning to accept pain and stop suffering.
That’s easy enough to say—it’s a little bit like telling someone with anxiety to “just relax.” If it were that simple, we wouldn’t need to practice Buddhism! So why do we keep jamming in that second arrow?
Sometimes we get into a habit of piling stress on top of stress. Stress feels familiar, especially if we grew up in a home that involved a lot of second arrows flinging around. For many of us, running around like a chicken with its head cut off is an excellent distraction from deeper pain, like loneliness or grief. It can feel paradoxically easier when we make things harder on ourselves.
When we do slow down enough to mindfully feel what we feel, our emotions often slip away. Purposefully trying to feel a certain thing is a bit like trying to catch a fish underwater with your bare hands. The feelings are never as powerful as we fear, and they keep changing. We may know that giving ourselves the space to feel can begin the process of moving on. If grief is all we have left of what we lost, we may complicate our situations because we are subconsciously resisting the process of letting go in the quiet. Sometimes busyness and stress are addictions.
So this year, I resolved to get into the habit of asking: how can I make this easier on myself? Rather than struggle into a certain yoga pose, I would look for the place of greatest ease, where I felt most supported but also most spacious. I didn’t collapse into any of the postures either—it turns out ease is shaped by support, and working on the strength of my foundation allowed me to find the space to not only be in certain poses, but actually enjoy them.
In my day–to-day life, I’d find myself in a tizzy, getting stressed out, and immediately ask myself the question. So I asked a friend to take my dog out for me rather than rush home and back to work on busy days. I said no to some things. I checked baggage. I took cabs. I slowed down. I stopped myself from stabbing in a few second arrows. I practiced making my life easier.
For me, this New Year’s resolution was a part of a practice for changing a lifelong habit of fearing my own feelings. Simplifying, removing added stress, and refusing to hide behind my own busyness not only gave me the space to feel things when I needed to but also—surprise!—it made my life easier.