It was a rainy morning. Very rainy. I even wondered whether the regular Saturday-morning Parkrun would be cancelled. The rain pounded on the car windscreen. I stayed in the car as long as possible before the start.
At the start, everyone’s socks and trainers were dry. Runners jogged around the puddles, keeping themselves protected. But after a few minutes, it became more difficult to stay pristine. Some runners began to run through the middle of the puddles, thinking ‘oh, what the hell!’.
A few clean and tidy participants continued to stay dry for as long as possible. They slowed down and tiptoed around the worst puddles, desperately trying not to succumb. But eventually, they too gave in. And once their feet were wet, they started to laugh and talk about the adventure.
So it is with anxiety. Anxiety is worry about being hurt. Like those runners, we all start out in life wanting to be perfect, to stay free of pain. But soon, life makes it clear that pain will come. Even the Dalai Lama acknowledges that he experiences pain and anxiety when he suffers a loss. It is a natural human reaction.
We see potential pain coming, and do all we can to ‘stay dry’, to run around the side of puddles, to avoid discomfort. But there comes a time when continual avoidance does not work, when we might as well jump in. And then the magic happens.
Towards the end of that rainy run, people were laughing and joking about the water. The unavoidable ‘suffering’ had, in the end, become a mark of solidarity and enjoyment. We clapped each other, encouraged each other, and said well done once we’d finished. We knew it had been slow and difficult, but it didn’t seem to matter. We felt alive.
When we are anxiously anticipating pain, we need to remember this. Yes, we are afraid of being hurt. But we can reflect that the fear of continual avoidance can end up being far worse than the brief fear of jumping in. Once we are wet with life’s difficulties, we can even begin to laugh and joke with our fellow beings, helping and encouraging each other.
The lesson, on that rainy morning, was that, if we try to stay too perfect and painless, we can end up cutting ourselves off from the rest of humanity. In contrast, if we choose to jump in and ‘run through the puddles’, life can be surprisingly fun, and full of companionship. Through mutual suffering, we can discover mutual compassion. And, through mutual compassion, we can even forget the pain. This is the magic.