Training our nervous systems

Was listening to a new friend talk about her life. She’s had a turbulent five years, including a marriage breakup and moving interstate several times. She’d told me previously her family had also moved frequently when she was a child and teenager.

At present, she has a new challenge. She’s got a new and exciting job, a harmonious living situation, and for the first time in a long time she’s contemplating what life might be like if she were to stay put for a while. I could hear her fear and uncertainty about this new prospect. It’s unfamiliar, see?

Listening to her it suddenly occurred to me that she’d had many years of training in life being temporary, and is highly skilled in it. She said so herself; she can pack up a house and move in a matter of days. It also occurred to me that she’s had little training in life being non-temporary, and that this is in fact what she needs: training in life being non-temporary.

Pema Chödrön, the Buddhist teacher, also talks about training ourselves, specifically, training our nervous systems to be able to be with discomfort. She talks about needing to train the nervous system to accommodate, to be friendly with feelings such as fear, anxiety, doubt, boredom, hopelessness, disappointment, and so on, the kinds of feelings we usually try to get away from by blaming, criticising, “checking out”, falling asleep, looking at our phone obsessively, watching TV, alcohol, drugs, and so on.

It’s a really elegant idea this, that training is what’s missing: training our nervous systems, training our identities.

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