Life is full of potential tangles. Those on benefits are worried that, if they earn too much, their safety net will be taken away. Those in relationships are worried that, if they ask for what they want, the relationship will be taken away. For every improvement we want to make, there seems to be a corresponding negative that waits in its shadow, all tangled up with it.
I am very familiar with the stories we tell ourselves about these tangles. In counselling, it is common for us to want to change, but then suddenly to witness how everything in our life is interdependent. What seemed like a simple resolution seems to be connected to everything else in our lives. Before long, the resolution is diluted to a maybe.
On the one hand, this is realistic. After all, it is true that one thing leads to another – that gain in one way is often accompanied by loss in another. In this sense, yes, we live in an impossibly tangled world. The fish that escapes one predator, may well fall into the hands of another.
On the other hand, there is one tangle that we might be able to do without: the tangle of thought in our mind. We talk ourselves round in circles about many things. We rehearse relationship issues, until we have discovered tangles that don’t even yet exist in real life. But it is possible to free oneself from this. The tangles of life won’t go away. But the tangles in our mind might.
Another way of describing the tangles of life, is ‘interdependence’. What we discover, as we get older, is that everything, to an extent, depends on everything else. In that sense, your body is part of the universe, and cannot be separated from it.
How can we give our mind a rest from this entanglement, this interdependence? The answer is that we don’t need to. It is enough to witness the fact of interdependence, and to simply watch it.
For the person worried about their benefits, or the person worried about relationships, it is not exactly this interdependence that is the problem of their distress. Rather, it is the attachment to a particular outcome. We are upset when we feel an outcome might hurt our comfort or security. It is not the tangle that makes us suffer; it is our response to the tangle, in which we react against it restlessly.
In meditation, we stand aside from the tangles of life. We learn to stop endlessly rehearsing stories of victimhood and power relations. We learn just to be, and just to remain aware. We can then watch the world, and our own minds, without concern for how things turn out.
Tangles are only a problem if we pull on them mindlessly. Of course there may be times when we choose to sort things out, tidy up loose ends, simplify our surroundings. But if we make our happiness dependent on an absence of tangles, then we are asking for unhappiness.
There will always be interdependence. Meditation is the art of sitting with that fact, but retaining an ability to ‘just watch’, to cultivate simple awareness. We cease to be frustrated by how things are. Even though our bodies are caught up in the world, our minds can have freedom.