The workshop was over. Except for one last participant everyone had gone. I was stacking the chairs and getting ready to leave when she walked up to me. It was clear she wanted to talk.
It had been a long day and I was ready to head home, kick off my shoes, and share a glass of wine with my wife.
I dropped the last chair on the stack and turned to face her hoping she was simply saying goodbye. But her body language was not encouraging.
“Okay” she said sarcastically. “You talked a lot about awakening. But I have three kids, a part time job, a dog, and I take care of my aging parents. I don’t have time to sit around meditating on what life would be like if I could fly off to a beach somewhere in the Caribbean.”
She impatiently brushed an out of control curl off her drawn face as if she was swatting an annoying fly, paused, and then without warning burst into tears.
That’s when I knew the wine and shoes were probably going to have to wait a while.
She shared with me that evening how exhausted and stressed she was trying to balance all of her responsibilities and commitments. How her life had slowly gone down hill after her husband filed for divorce and left the marriage—–a story I’d heard many times from other therapy clients.
Before she left the workshop that evening she agreed to work on her issues in therapy.
She was a bright and engaged client but it took several years of counseling for her to regain control of her life. When we sat down for our last therapy session together I asked her what she was “taking away from therapy”.
She said her primary learning was simply the insight that “it’s impossible to stay awake, pay attention, and experience life as a process when we turn everything into a stressful should or shouldn’t; or a goal with a rigid deadline attached to it.”
I smiled and silently nodded waiting for her to collect her thoughts.
“But the learning that has most improved my life has been learning to let go of my need to be perfect in everything I try to do in my life…..always trying to do everything just a little better”.
She paused for several moments lost in reflection and then continued “When we met, I labeled everything in my life as either good or bad, right or wrong. I was trying to do everything perfectly. I tried to be in control of everything instead of letting life be what it was.”
She paused again and then said with a chuckle “ I’m not exactly sure when it changed, but today I see life more as a process rather than a bunch of goals that have to be done perfectly. When I got angry with you that night of the workshop I didn’t understand that awakening to my life simply meant I needed to stop pushing the river. I was trying to make the whole universe conform to what I thought it “should” be. Today I work hard to let the world be what it is. It seems to annoy those around me, but I’m actually getting pretty good at not pushing the river” she said laughing.
And then she shared with me one final important insight that I was hoping she would talk about.
“ I think the two most important insights I’ve learned from our time together are related…..the insight that my life became happier and more peaceful the day I stopped judging myself and expecting myself to be perfect. And that’s the same insight as learning to embrace non-dual thinking isn’t it—–just letting go of either/or thinking and accepting what is” she said thoughtfully as her voice trailed off into silence.
I listened to the clock ticking on the wall and doors closing down the hall.
She sat quietly for a long time lost in thought. I sat quietly and waited as she took her inner journey and processed our last time together. Then she stood up. Quietly said thank you and walked out of my office and into the new life waiting for her just beyond my office door.
I never saw her again, but I have no doubt that she is living a happy and awakened life…..embracing a more non-dual kind of thinking. I’m also confident that perfection and pushing the river are not a part of that new life.