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Don't Scratch

Updated: Jul 24, 2020

Hello and welcome to this glorious Friday, June 12, 2020! Today is a rare and precious day that will never come again.

Not that I didn’t experience allergies when I lived in Colorado, I did, but I didn’t have them to the sniffling and sneezing extent that I do living here in the Willamette Valley - the grass-seed capital. Although this year’s symptoms were somewhat milder, for approximately two months each spring, I find myself with ample opportunities to practice Mindfulness!

I vaguely remember having the Chicken Pox and my mom lathering me in Calamine lotion saying, “Don’t Scratch, Danny, you’ll make it worse.” Caked in a pink coat of something that felt like dried mud I would think to myself, “Whatever, just make it stop!” Gritting my baby teeth, writhing, clenching myself into a shivering mess, I couldn’t take it any longer and with a Charlie Brown like, “ARRRRGGGG” I’d scratch and scratch and scratch. I’d soon stop and be instantly reminded as to why I shouldn’t have started scratching in the first place. I made it worse! I have a very similar story with mosquito bites.

So, when the pollen is visibly wafting off the hectares of grass fields and my eyes are puffy and red; when I feel like there’s a yard of sand in each eye, I do my best to heed my mom’s warning, “Don’t Scratch, Danny, you’ll make it worse.” I’m so much better off in the long run when I’m able to avoid the convincing urge to scratch my eyes from their sockets!

I’m learning that I don’t have to scratch every itch.

Since starting my mindfulness practice, I’ve heard over and over that one of the greatest sources of suffering is desire. In the cases of chicken pox and seasonal allergies, there was a strong desire to eliminate the unpleasant sensations. Of course, there is nothing wrong with desiring to eliminate the difficult symptoms associated with dis-ease. Problems arise, however, when we become accustomed to trying to soothe, reduce or to eliminate all uncomfortable feelings. In many ways, we tend to try to create a life free of pain, dis-ease, and irritations. Unfortunately, this world doesn’t exist.

This morning, I woke feeling like Eeyore. Or, maybe even Sisyphus - condemned to pushing a huge boulder up a hill only to watch it roll back down. I could relate to that old saying of, “Life sucks and then you die!” Waking to these discontented thoughts and feelings fortunately doesn’t happen all that much anymore. In the past, my tendency was to look for ways to “fix” my problem! From a very early age, and I don’t know if it was intentional or what, but I became conditioned to anesthetize anything that resembled discomfort. Usually, this involved figuring out who or what outside of me was responsible for my inner shit-show. However, in this morning’s reflection, which I was not inspired to do, I very quickly remembered that yesterday was an incredible day. I had so many wonderful opportunities to be of service – I had the privilege of working, I facilitated a Mindfulness course, led two meditations and participated in a recovery meeting. When I went to bed, I was Tony the Tiger “Grrrreat!” Upon investigation, I realized there was nothing I needed to “fix.” My Sisyphusness was nothing more than my experience in that moment – I, and the world, was not broken. I then gave myself permission to sit in my poopy diaper. Not irritating the itch by scratching it allowed the feeling to pass, remarkably fast, too. As I write this, there is only a (laughable) memory.

I’m finding that my predisposition to desire to change the circumstances of my suffering has less to do with the circumstances and more to do with me and my conditioned aversion to being uncomfortable. This morning’s grumpy experience was an example of inner turmoil that had almost nothing to do with outer circumstances. Yet in the past, I would look for, and find (i.e., create), reasons for my dis-ease. Nevertheless, even when there are outside conditions that are irritating, if I take the time to deeply investigate that which seems to be the cause of my suffering – allergies, mosquito bites, Chicken Pox, “Those People”, I find that my desire to change them primarily comes from my own inability to be uncomfortable. “I would be so much better off if things were different!” Just like Chicken Pox and mosquito bites, when I scratch the itch of things like political divisiveness, argue with people on social media for instance, I irritate the conditions and actually make it worse. My mom was right!

An “itch-free” life does not exist. If we want to be more effective and helpful in this rare and precious gift of a world that we all share, then it’s most beneficial for us to act from a place of peace and contentment. And if it’s impossible to create this peace and contentment by arranging the world in a manner that suits us, then we had better learn how to be uncomfortable.

I’m learning how to be uncomfortable by not scratching what itches. It’s taken some time and I still scratch my itches meow and then. I was initially instructed on how to not scratch by pausing and, if even only for a few moments, allow myself to feel the discomfort. In most situations, it really isn’t all that bad. They’re just sensations after all. Meditation is a great place to practice. When your nose starts to itch, just watch it, and Don’t Scratch.

I love you and there isn’t anything that you can do about it!



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