My shoelace is all knotted up and I can’t get my sneakers off.
I’m in the kitchen finishing cleaning up before we take off for school, when I hear grunting noises from behind the counter. “Sophia, what are you doing?”. “Momma, I am trying to get my sneakers off, but they won’t come off.” I ask her, “Have you tried unknotting the laces?”. She quickly says, exasperated, “No it’s too hard”. She struggles for a few minutes, pushing, tugging and pulling on her sneaker to no avail. One of two things might have been going on, her foot somehow has gotten miraculously bigger in the course of the last five minutes prior to her getting the sneaker on or the knot has gotten so tight and stuck that pushing and tugging around it has only made it tighter.
As I walk over with a smile, I ask Sophia, “Do you usually not tie and untie your laces?”. “No, I don’t. The knot started getting hard to untie so I just keeping slipping my foot in and out of the sneakers”. I sat down with her explaining that the only way to get the sneaker off was to go through the knot itself, but doing so very gently. If I tried to pull on the laces vigorously, likely I was only going to make the knot worse. In fact, avoiding the knot altogether seems to have made the knot stronger. So we sat for a few minutes, gently tugging and loosening the laces. Then, wondrously, two minutes later, the knot came undone and her foot free of the sneaker.
The entire situation was humorously parallel to life moments. There have been many times where I have avoided what felt difficult, a knot of sorts, or I sat distracted by pleasure simply to avoid what I considered displeasure. To this day, this scheme has never really worked. Somehow, through the avoidance, the knot would remain, showing up in different forms even, until I had no choice but to be with it. The ‘being with it’ is not at all easy, but somehow struggling with or avoiding the difficulty was way harder. It was like creating a really complex maze for myself, where I could only go down certain paths that felt safe and avoiding the others as much as possible.
Fast forward many years later, with meditation as a life skill, I still feel resistance at times, but I have a pattern of leaning into the things that feel difficult more often. This is the interesting thing about meditation. Some may have the perception that if I meditate, I will feel calm and at ease. Actually, if I meditate, I may begin to feel the things that I am feeling. Whether it is anger, resentment, shame or love, gratitude, joy, I will feel it. Somehow, even through the experiences that are painful or uncomfortable, we can simultaneously feel an underlying ease when we are willing to be with it. Tara Brach often suggests this as an affirmation in meditation, “This too”. I can be with this too. Turns out that this thing that we were avoiding is also the point where wisdom can begin to surface.
I doubt that this was a sweet life lesson for Sophia, as much as it was for me and I didn’t bother to make it one. Likely, tomorrow she will come home asking me to buy her some velcro sneakers. 🙂