One time when my colleague Joseph Goldstein and I were visiting a friend in Houston, we all went out to a restaurant to order takeout. As we were waiting for the food to be prepared, Joseph struck up a conversation with the young man working behind the counter. After a few minutes, he told Joseph that he’d never left Houston and went on to describe, somewhat passionately, how his dream was to one day go to Wyoming. When Joseph asked him what he thought he would find there, he responded, “Open, expansive space, a feeling of being unconfined, with peacefulness and freedom and room to move.”
Joseph responded, “There’s an inner Wyoming, too, you know.”
At that point, the young man fixed a stare at Joseph and said, “That’s freaky,” as he sidled away.
But there is an inner Wyoming, a potential for openness, spaciousness, clarity, and freedom that exists within each of us. We just need confidence in it, to make the journey to that place, to discover it, nurture it, and hold the memory that it’s there, waiting for us to visit anytime.
In moving from contraction to spaciousness, it’s as if we’re sitting in a narrow, low-ceilinged, dark room—so accustomed to it that we don’t even realize we’re confined—and then the door swings open, revealing light, room to move, and possibilities that suddenly await. We don’t know just what is out there, but it’s certainly more vast and spacious than that tiny room.
My favorite way of imagining that expansive state—as someone with asthma—is “being able to breathe again.” More than just pleasure, different from indulgence, it is mostly a sensation of huge relief. It is peace.
Theologian Howard Thurman recommended that we “look at the world with quiet eyes.” It’s an intriguing phrase. It seems like with the way we so often look at the world, we resemble cartoon characters whose eyes are popping out on springs: “I see something I want! Give it to me!” Our heads rapidly turn to the object of our desire in a fixed gaze, so as not to lose sight of it. Our bodies lean forward in anticipation. Our arms extend, reaching out to acquire it. Our fingers flex, ready to grab on to what we want, to try to keep it from changing, from eluding our grasp. Our shoulders strain to hold on even tighter.
That’s grasping, contraction.
It happens in a moment, or an hour, or a day, a month, a lifetime—and it brings a lot of pain.
So, look at the world with quiet eyes whenever you can, and let go of grasping. The world will come to fill you without your straining for it. In that relaxation, you will find peace. Peace isn’t a fabricated state, repressing all woes and challenges. It is tuning into our fundamental nature.
Excerpted from REAL LIFE by Sharon Salzberg. Copyright © 2023 by Sharon Salzberg. Used by permission of Flatiron Books, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Sharon Salzberg is a central figure in the field of meditation, a world-renowned teacher. She is the author of several books including the New York Times bestseller, Real Happiness, her seminal work, Lovingkindness, and Real Happiness At Work. She is renowned for her down-to-earth teaching style and secular, modern approach to Buddhist teachings, making them instantly accessible.
Sharon is leading the Real Life: A Day of Practice an online non-residential retreat on Saturday, June 24, 2023 from 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM PT. Sharon and Wisdom for Life have also teamed up to bring you the Living Authentic Life Summit, an extraordinary *FREE* event designed to help you on a journey towards inner peace, freedom and joy.
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