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the Presence Point

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Irritation and Contentment

Irritation and Contentment

photo by Sarah Lipton

Riding the sensation of irritation, not the object of irritation, leads to the possibility of irritation melting and blossoming into contentment.


There’s a squirrel perched on the top of the birdfeeder, munching down the chickadee’s seed. The snow lies deep and white across the fields. For the moment, the sun is shining and tree’s shadows are stark and blue against the sparkling white.

I am feeling deep waves of irritation. I notice that underneath, there are glimmers of contentment, if only I could breathe just a little deeper. Nothing is ever going to be exactly as I wish it to be. This seems to give contentment a chance to burble up and transform the irritation into warmth. Instead of ice and acid in my heart, there is a slow melting. I can look up and out at the sky, the view, the mountains in the distance. By touching that vastness, I too become large, larger than a moment before. The breath is the key. A yawn helps loosen my grip, my shoulders hunch less, and I again sit up straight, taking my rightful place on this good, wintry earth.

Irritation is, therefore the vanguard. If only I could remember that more frequently! Just by feeling the irritation, and not the object of the irritation, instead of staying stuck in it or fearful of it, or pushing it away, it has the opportunity to illuminate that which is actually stuck, that which is actually irritating. And more than that, by going into and through it, I come to the other side, where the irritation is just a little skin prick, waking me up to the beauty before me.

Irritation, then, is the vanguard of wakefulness. It’s like the irritation of a seed working to unfurl out of it’s hard brown outer shell so it can shoot up a tender spring leaf. It is not, therefore, personal. It is just tension, intensity, the vibrating pulse of living, itself. It is not a death, though frequently I experience the feeling of irritation as a sense of depression, that sense of folding in on myself.

Irritation itself is just an expression of that creative tension before something is about to shift and pop. The more we can take it not personally and relax into the sensation of irritation, the more we can begin to actually taste and reside in a space of contentment.

Contentment is not only about being happy, or even totally fulfilled and satisfied. Contentment is about being okay with things as they are. It is about watching that squirrel on the feeder and accepting that he too, is relieved to be nourished by the seeds, even if they had been intended for the song birds. The secret of contentment is feeling whatever we think is “in our way,” and letting it just melt into the warm sunshine of the moment.



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