From an article called “Don’t Turn Away” by Ajahn Viradhammo in the Spring 2015 issue of Buddhadharma quarterly:
…Finally, I decided that if I was going to get anywhere on this path, I had to stop and look. I couldn’t keep rearranging things according to my desires. I had already given that a good go and knew it didn’t work. The reason I took up this model [monastic life], this vehicle, was not just to have fun or get something out of it. It was because I wanted to be able to observe the nature of frustrated desire as well as fulfilled desire.
This fundamental commitment to a structure gives us the freedom to watch our mind. Can you translate that into your own life? Your family, your job, your relationships – these can all be vehicles for spiritual understanding if you accept that within them there will be frustrations. It’s important not to always try to rearrange thing to fulfil personal desires and needs. Obviously, if the situation is harmful in some way, then you have to make a change. But the usual humdrum, annoying stuff of life is actually the stuff of enlightenment, if we are willing to observe how it is.
Ajahn Viradhammo gives advice so humble, we might miss how profound it is. Rearranging things to suit our wishes is the default mode for most of us. If we can’t rearrange what is actually in front of us, we sometimes make up a story for ourselves that creates a reality more closely resembling our fantasy. But the advice is “don’t turn away”. If we take this advice to heart we accept things as they are, the frustrations and the fulfillments, as they come up and pass away. We choose a stable position and don’t chase after anything that is elsewhere, but commit ourselves firmly to the situation we find ourselves in.
One example that comes to mind is having a task we avoid doing because it is unpleasant or awkward or we’re not sure how to start. Endless anxiety is produced in the procrastination process. If we don’t turn away, but turn towards the unpleasant state of avoidance, what do we discover? We don’t like this nagging feeling, but how do we respond to our dislike? If we look with honesty, we can directly experience the physical sensations and mental discomfort of resistance. If we study this experience closely enough, with patience, in sufficient detail, we may see past our wants to the fruitlessness of continuing our resistance. A letting go can happen, and a way forward may become clear.