Week 633: Grappling with Preferences

Knowing that the one thing we can depend on in life is change is a very helpful orientation to have. Then, when change does come, we’re not as surprised when things aren’t the way we would prefer them to be. Recently, the air conditioning unit in the apartment next to mine shifted into old age and has begun to rattle so loudly that it shakes the walls in my apartment and vibrates into other rooms. When this first began to happen, I experienced the noise and vibration as most definitely unwanted intrusions on my quiet sanctuary of home. I often do recordings at home, and began to worry about the background noise and also wondered if I would be able to sleep.

Pretty quickly, I realized that I was having angst over something that I couldn’t change, at least not anytime soon, given that the apartment next door belongs to someone else and there are renters living there. Once I realized that no amount of conversation was going to get rid of the noise in my preferred timeline, I began to look at other options. The main one that emerged was from my mindfulness practice: softening into what is without struggle. This shift made quite a difference in my experience of the aged air conditioner and I find that it no longer causes me the distress it did at the beginning.

This doesn’t mean that I am an advocate for no change in situations that are unacceptable or injurious. For sure, when we come up against something that needs to be changed, and that is harmful to us or others, then it’s important to figure out how to stop it. This is true on individual and collective levels of being. With the neighbor’s air conditioner, however, I found myself grappling with a preference I have for silence, not with something that is dangerous to my well-being.

This got me to thinking about the relationship we have with preference and how often preferences need to be adapted to the circumstances in which we find ourselves. For this week’s experiment, I invite you to explore your relationship with preference: how powerfully your preferences guide your responses to your world, how they affect the quality of your internal life, and how resourceful you are when you bump up against situations where what you prefer isn’t what’s actually happening.

I have found that the times when my preferences have been blocked, as when scaffolding recently went up around my office yet again, cutting off light to the plants who live there, I am in the presence of yet another teacher. The learning is around how resilient can I be in the presence of adversity. Again, I’m not talking about dangerous, abusive, traumatizing situations, which need to be confronted and changed. Here, I’m talking about life circumstances that are inevitable when living in an urban setting with lots and lots of other people.

As you play with this week’s experiment, remember to notice your body as you contemplate not having your preferences met. Often, we tense up, constrict, when what we want isn’t immediately available. The benefit of being able to track your relationship to preferences is the way in which it can reveal how your responses affect your internal quality of life. Engaging what is available for change is often necessary. As often, we are also met with situations or circumstances that cannot be changed easily or at all. To be able to move into resilience, either through acceptance and softening, or through generating previously unrecognized options, can be a great gift to a sense of well-being.

Also, remember to bring along curiosity as your constant companion and allow judgments to arise, move through, and move on without engaging them. All these experiments are explorations into how we generate and support our own internal sense of ease, well-being, and resilience, or not. Awareness offers us opportunities to make new choices, try out new responses, and increase our range of options for moving through life more resiliently.

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