What happens when your suitcase turns into cat litter? You are given a great opportunity for contemplation.
About a month ago, I moved from Madrid to Barcelona. I had two suitcases, which had come with me from my home in Mexico: a small one and a medium-sized one, whose combined weight was around 80 pounds. It would have been impossible for me to take care of both suitcases on the train ride between the two cities, so some friends recommended that I send the bigger one by courier. It will get there before you arrive, they said. You will travel lighter, they said. Your trip will be less stressful with less luggage, they said. They were right in terms of the three-hour train ride, but little did they know that the bigger suitcase would take more than three weeks to reach its destination.
To make a long story short, the label on my suitcase and the label on a package of cat litter were inadvertently interchanged, and both bundles got lost. In response, I had two options: 1) worry myself sick, whine about my bad luck, lash out at the courier company, or 2) follow up on the recovery procedure, let go of my mental elaborations about the situation, breathe deeply.
Both options were available every moment. Every moment I could choose between samsara (option 1) or nirvana (option 2). Samsara can be understood as self-inflicted suffering through feeding our mental afflictions (anger, worry, hate), whereas nirvana can be described as the opposite, as not taking situations personally and flowing with what needs to be done without buying into our mental distress.
Of course, I was not able to choose option 2 all the time. (That would mean I was enlightened and did not need to choose anymore.) However, just realizing I had the choice at every moment was very liberating. It allowed me to survive the 21 days of red tape and uncertainty, endless phone calls to the courier without any response, and the continual seesawing between letting go and grasping onto my belongings.
The suitcase finally turned up, and I was grateful to get my things back but even more grateful for the reminder that the whole situation had offered. I realized that most overwhelming situations can be addressed following these steps:
- Stop and breathe mindfully, paying attention as the air goes in and paying attention as the air goes out.
- Before plunging into mental despair, try to first relax your body. Slowly scan your body from the top of your head down to your toes. Wherever you feel tension or tightness, see if you can let go even a little bit. Keep breathing mindfully.
- Realize that another choice is possible: By relaxing your body and connecting to a place of mental calmness, a space of clarity will open, and you will be able to see what is necessary to cope with the situation.
- Repeat as needed.