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Smile of Insight

Have you ever experienced a surge of relief, when an idea about how things (or people, including oneself) are 'supposed' to be suddenly drops away?

The particular circumstances, especially early in our lives, of our family, education and society, give rise to layers of habitual views and judgement. Often, we are not fully conscious of what these attitudes are until we start to see their unhelpful effects: "Hey, I don't actually have to keep proving myself / pleasing everyone / [insert 'favourite' view]!" The late Buddhist teacher and writer Rob Burbea refers to such moments as 'seeing that frees', which is perhaps the best definition of insight I have come across. Something is seen from a different perspective and there is a tangible sense of being freed from this restrictive attitude. Such moments are often accompanied by a smile, or even laughter, as we recognise the unhelpful - perhaps crazy - nature of some of our received ideas about ourselves and the world.

Moments of insight can be swept away in the busyness of life, so further reflection is invaluable. Can you recall a memorable 'aha moment' in your own life? Perhaps a harsh judgement dropped away and you forgave yourself, or someone else. Maybe you realised that it was time to move on from a stressful job or unhelpful relationship, or understood that someone close to you was on their own path in life - one that was not within your control. Does recollecting this insight help to strengthen it?

Although they may appear as a momentary 'flip' in the way we see something, insights are often the product of a longer period of reflection, maybe supported by circumstances that are less busy. On meditation retreats (including online ones) we are generally encouraged to reduce our normal activities, including through reading and media, to allow ourselves more time for inner reflection. Creating a more spacious time for ourselves is not necessarily a comfortable experience: being super-busy can be a great way of avoiding deeper conflicts!

However, the opposite can also be true: that times of increased intensity can force us to confront difficulties that we may have been successfully avoiding. I have noticed that for many people, being in lock-down has intensified the challenges in their life. One example is one's living situation: whether we live alone, with a partner, in a busy family, student hall or whatever, we may be more-than-usually confronted with the challenges of that situation. While this will not necessarily lead to insights, anecdotally I have heard many people tell that the situation has led to a helpful shift in perspective in some way.

Personally, I have become more aware that I could simply be more relaxed as I go about my days. Constantly pursuing a drive to 'get things done' doesn't necessarily achieve more - and makes life less enjoyable, for myself and others around me. In an imagined death-bed scene, will I be regretting the fact that I didn't get through the to-do list?! I can feel a smile on my face as I recognise the absurdity of such an idea!

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