Escaping the briar patch

This tiny, 2 mm thorn has been in my thumb for days, a minor nuisance, yet impossible to remove until this morning, when gentle probing with a needle and squeezing released it from the dry, thick skin around it.

I had to learn patience with this thorn, to let it be, let it fester, until the time was right for its departure. I had to accept it just the way it was.

In the same way, I have to accept myself just the way I am with all my faults, self-doubts and criticisms, bad habits, weaknesses of mind, body and spirit — all my thorns. Notice them, accept them, and wait, not knowing when or how I will ever see their departure.

The discomfort of that kind of uncertainty is a type of suffering that comes with developing trust in whatever surprise may appear in my life next, trust that letting go of control is my best strategy for removing the thorns in my life.

Pema Chodron speaks about “befriending who we are already,” in a practice of loving-kindness toward ourselves that is not about getting rid of anything, not any of our thorns. This is what I am learning to do today, and I have good days and bad days.

Today I see my weaknesses as wounded survivors of wars not of my own making, childhood traumas, cultural misinformation, and the mistakes of all my ancestors. They are literally a briar patch of thorns! We know that struggling and thrashing to escape a briar patch will lead to a great deal of bleeding.

This requires me to ask for help, to humble myself in trust of the good graces of others, to let go of my illusions of self-sufficiency.

The war in Ukraine is a thorn in the side of humanity, along with the melting of the ice caps, the mutation and transmission of viruses, the overconsumption and maldistribution of resources, racial and cultural hatreds, to name just a few.

If we are not ready to humble ourselves today, to be vulnerable, to genuinely ask for help, to practice loving-kindness towards our collectively inherited wounds, to respond to the briar patch with patience and trust, to see that our thrashing is the problem…. you can probably guess the result.

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