by Kathy Simpson
When my niece Elizabeth was two or three years old, she had an emphatic way of letting all who were present know when she was displeased, usually with a snack-time food choice. “I want something else!” she’d cry, her face contorting, tears bursting from her eyes. She was unable to articulate what she did want, only that she did not want what was being offered at that particular moment.
My predictable response was to seek hurriedly about for options that would make Elizabeth happy. I’d present each before her. “I want something else! I want something else!” she’d continue to cry in increasing decibels and with growing frustration until her eyes lit upon that “something else.” Then the sobs would cease, her tears evaporate, and peace would be restored, at least for a time.
I love this recollection because it so brilliantly typifies the dynamic of the tantrum-prone inner toddler that is still alive within me, even in my advanced middle age. I would like to think that at 50-plus, I’m not as overtly expressive as my three-year-old niece sometimes was, but my inner toddler is certainly capable of putting up a fuss, whether in the form of resistance when something is not to my liking or a painful wanting for something more or different when circumstances fail to satisfy.
We all struggle with discontent and resistance to one degree or another. It’s just how we’re wired as human beings, and most of us don’t have a doting aunt willing to scurry about in search of a pacifier to quell our every upset. Yet this is a good thing, because the real world can be coldly indifferent to our demands that it deliver in accordance with our personal desires. Held gently, our discomfort can be a powerful teacher, leading us to discover that it is our very cravings for more, less, better, different and otherwise that can lead to unhappiness.
I’ve had to learn the hard way and many times over that the world owes me nothing – not agreement and certainly not comfort. Paradoxically, it’s only been in accepting this truth that I have begun to taste the peace and comfort I’ve always sought.
Meditation is my salve, a daily opportunity to sit with the leanings of the mind. Sometimes this means sitting in a simmering stew of discordant emotions until time, temperature and the light of attention soften them into a blend the palate can tolerate and even enjoy. My inner toddler may also make an occasional appearance, her emotional extremes always bearing some truth and simply in need of equal parts attention, compassion and acceptance in order to settle into quietude. Whatever arises, I’ve come to look forward to each meditation as an adventure yielding grist for awareness, insight and always compassion – and the opportunity to loosen my desire for “something else.”
Our paths as humans can sometimes be trying, but we have the power to transform our relationship to the difficulties we face. This is my prayer for us all, drawn from loving kindness meditation in the Buddhist Thai Forest tradition: May we hold ourselves and others in compassion. May we be safe. May we be peaceful. May we live with ease.
[And in case you were wondering, my niece Elizabeth is now 22 and will soon graduate from college with a major in dance and wellness. She is a lovely, reverent and wise young woman whom I treasure, and the toddler she was of almost 20 years past is both a tiny teacher and a wonderful memory.]