It was the Day of the Magi, the Wisemen, also called Epiphany, a popular holiday that closes the Christmas celebrations in Mexico. For me, it is the most beloved day (in a season I do not particularly like), because it reminds me of good moments in my childhood and because the Wisemen, to this day, never forget to leave a gift in my slippers, along with one for my now-adult son.
So, here I was looking forward to the day (oh, those expectations). When I got up, the gifts were in their proper places, and my son was watching soccer. He was not in a particularly good mood and neither was I after some tense interactions with him (oh, those disturbing emotions).
We were preparing to leave the house to spend some days with a dear friend, so he went to take a shower. In the midst of a quite disturbed state of mind, I attempted to mop the kitchen. Before I knew it, I slipped on the wet floor, landed first on my knee and then, with the momentum of the fall, ended up with my face hitting the ground (my hands were nowhere to be seen).
The moment I heard the sound of my nose against the tiles, I knew it was broken. Then and there my mind stopped. No more disturbing emotions. No more resentments. No more expectations. It had happened, and I could do nothing but breathe and prepare myself to tend to the situation.
At the same time, I literally had an epiphany, that intuitive grasp of reality through a usually simple and striking event: This is what the Buddha’s teachings describe as “the suffering of suffering.” It is what we commonly experience as pain, which tends to manifest on top of an already challenging situation.
In other words, we are already suffering and that experience is intensified because we are not aware of our mind being carried away by habitual negative patterns. We tend to focus on our familiar storylines, which fuel our disturbing emotions, or we are distracted by our incessant internal chatter. Both patterns take us away from the present moment, and this mindlessness inevitably leads to the escalation of pain and suffering.
This incident also reminded me that everything we experience has the potential to teach us something about the workings of our own mind — the agency that, in fact, relates to the world around us. In this sense, everything can be our teacher, our guru, if we allow ourselves enough openness to deal with the pleasant, the unpleasant and the neutral conditions that arise every moment of our experience. What already has happened cannot be changed, but there is always the chance to deal with future situations in a different way.
So, maybe next time something ordinary — or not — happens, you can try the following steps:
1) Breathe mindfully before rushing into your habitual reactive pattern, be it blaming yourself or others, lamenting endlessly, or any other creative way your mind (your ego) strives for control.
2) Allow space to permeate your experience, without rushing for a quick solution, which tends to be more of an avoidance strategy.
3) Simply feel what you are feeling and try to drop the storyline with which ego mind tries to own the experience.
4) Be open to whatever epiphany you experience. Even if there is no epiphany, mental calm and relaxation is more beneficial than habitual reactions.