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Posts tagged ‘joy’

We are made of star dust

I remember hearing this quote some time ago, perhaps even as a child, as the show it was from, Cosmos, was broadcast in the ’70s. It always made me think of the vastness of the Universe and yet the intimacy of it all – that in this body there are elements forged in the furnace of suns that once burnt bright billions of years ago.

I was not aware of how much truth there was in it and decided last week to research it and I have been amazed at the beauty of this teaching.

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The videos I’ve watched have explored the enormity of the evolution of life in the Universe. The early belief that all of the elements that are described on the periodic table came from the big bang started to be questioned in the 1950s when instead there was a new theory – that they had been created in the first suns that formed when the sea of hydrogen that at that point made up the universe first clumped together to form the first suns. Then as these early suns burnt they in turn created all of the other elements. As these stars then grew old and eventually imploded and then exploded more elements were created and scattered out into the universe in the way  mushroom spoors are scattered out. Seen like this life didn’t simply start on the Earth, but Earth (and any other inhabited planets we are not aware of) is the final expression of a process of life evolving that started with these early suns. For a more detailed description of this process click on the video below.

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What does this signify and why have it as a reflection in a mindfulness email?  For me it points to one of the central teachings of the Buddha: interconnectedness. The Buddha taught that it is only in our ignorance that we think of ourselves as separate egos, because we identify with our bodies as distinct and apart from each other. For him, seeing with wisdom meant seeing that everything was interdependent and interconnected: no one thing exists in isolation from anything else and nothing is born only from itself, but arise out of a complex matrix of conditions.

It is as if a wave on the ocean thought it was a distinct, permanent and seperate thing. But on waking up to its true nature it realises that it is both a unique expression of being a wave existing in the present moment and at the same time made of the ocean of which it is a part and which in fact it is: the wave merely appearing to be something separate and distinct whilst actually being intricately connected to the ocean.  The wave is simply the ocean knowing itself as a wave. And as such there is no difference between any of the waves, for they are all the ocean, and yet all unique.

The Buddha also emphasised compassion. A deep feeling of empathy and connection to the suffering of all other beings. If the wave in our analogy wakes up to being part of the ocean, then it immediately realises that all of the other waves are in fact, itself. That they are all unique and beautiful expressions in the moment of the one source: the ocean, which is what all of the waves share. They are at the same time unique and totally the same.

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If the atoms in me were forged in a star many billions of years ago how many other life forms have they passed through? How many worlds have they been a part of? How many animals and other human beings? This body is not mine. It is ours.  And as I  look at others if I start to see stars and the flow of life rather than just individual beings then each person is both eternity and a single moment: the ocean and the wave.

Right now this is poetry for me rather than a deeply felt insight. But I believe poetry opens the heart and can give rise to wisdom. When the rational mind stops trying to understand and find an answer poetry and the heart rest into the not knowing and find an answer in the question: who am I?

As science shows us, one answer is ‘I am the universe’. Feeling this in the heart takes it to a deeper level of insight. One which would lead to a love for all beings as part of oneself, just as the wave would love all waves when it woke up to knowing that it was an expression of the ocean in one point of time, manifesting in form as a wave. Just as we are the universe knowing itself in this moment of time manifesting as intelligent life in this moment of time, formed of atoms create by the universe in the seed houses of the stars.

Taking this reflection into the Loving Kindness practice can offer a way of opening our hearts to all beings: friend, neutral and difficult.

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The Carefree Heart

A metaphor that is often used by meditation teachers is of thoughts being like clouds in the sky.  It can be easy to hear this and forget to feel what it is suggesting. When I was a teen I heard the lyrics “into each life some rain must fall but too much has fallen in mine” I started singing it to myself as it resonated with my melancholy mood as a teen. And at times in my life it does feel as if I’ve been standing under a huge rain cloud and that life just seemed wet and miserable!

I was lucky to meet teachers who had had their own experience of this and who had recognised how to liberate their hearts. Knowing such people and feeling the sense of carefree joy that they exuded was always an inspiration. They could feel difficult emotions.  I know that from talking to them.  But they did not become a person lost in those emotions.

There’s a teaching that one can feel sad without being sad. If sadness (or any other difficult emotion) is here then it’s what is knocking at the door of awareness, asking to be let in to the heart. It can be welcomed. Held. Seen. Allowed. Whilst not merging with it as an identity. Not getting lost in that script. Taking one’s role in the familiar drama of oneself. Instead a feeling comes. It makes itself at home for a while. And it passes. It brings its own learning and healing if it is honoured and not made wrong.

Whilst there may be a state of being where one might be dispassionate through not clinging to the idea of self, for the rest of us to try to artificially create that state by denying what one is feeling most likely will only lead to it finding some other way to make itself know: for as Yung says, “What we resit persists, what we fight we get more of”.

A more workable model of dispassion may be finding that middle place where we neither get lost in the emotion nor are we pushing it away. Allowing this moment to be perfect. Whether it be an experience of joy. Sadness. Fear. Or whatever.

This brings us back to the clouds in the sky.  My teacher Ajahn Sumedho would always remind us that that which is Aware of something is not the thing of which it is aware. The sky holds the clouds as Awareness holds whatever thoughts and feelings are arising and taking birth in this moment. But the sky is never the cloud. The sky can only be the space in which the clouds take birth and dissolve.   Even when the clouds are thick and no hint of blue is there, they can only exist because of the space of the sky. And that space of open, free and non-attached clarity is still there even when filled with the clouds of worry, regret, fear, etc.. The clouds are temporary appearances in the vastness of the sky. But we can so easily get absorbed in the clouds and forget there ever was a sky.

In Buddhism it is taught that our true nature is like the sky. It is unborn and uncreated and never touched by all of the travails of the ego mind. Like the screen of a cinema it allows whatever drama there is to be projected onto it, seeming to be the drama but in fact never touched by it. And when the drama stops, there is simply the clear screen still as immaculate as it was before the drama spread across it.

As I reflect more on this it gives me a sense of softening.  The struggle to be free is part of the drama of the mind caught in the belief in linear time: “one day I will be free, but I’m not free right now”. This is like a cloud thinking one day I will find the sky!

The thought “I have all these problems that have to be solved” is just one of the many clouds scurrying across the sky. But when I truly stop. Breathe. Rest into the moment and into my heart. Then there is a peace. A peace that was so close that it was overlooked in all the looking for peace somewhere else than right here. In this moment. The funny thing is we spend so long trying to find peace. To get the answer to being happy. But the search in the end only leads back to this moment. To seeing that we were never not the sky, but just identified with being the clouds. And when this is felt, there is a moment of the heart being carefree and at peace.  Then the drama of the cloud like mind takes over again. Or takes hold of the experience and tries to own it as an ego experience “the time I had an insight”

I was on a retreat this week end where there was an opening to this sense of peace.  And since the weekend there has continued to be a feeling of a peace that is vibrant yet still. So lovely. Things have started to occur to cloud over this open sky and I can see how my thinking mind wants to get back in the driving seat again – worrying about a concern, desiring that body in the gym changing room, feeling angry with my neighbour…..but it’s a choice: I can let it go, dissolving back into that infinite blue sky of loving awareness that held me….that was me….during the retreat……or I can go into it and experience the mind’s creation – which feels narrower, more ego focused and driven by desire to get or push away rather than rest in the moment.

A daily mindfulness practice is an invitation to drop into this peace that just is, which does not need to be created or found. This moment of allowing and “being the knowing” as a Thai forest monk described it. The ‘knowing’ is calm: the knowing of sadness is not sad, the knowing of anger is not angry – it feels it, senses it, is intricately connected to it, but is also dispassionate, knowing that this movement of the mind is not what it is. It’s like waves rushing across the surface of the ocean, however much they get wiped up into a storm, they never touch the still depth of the ocean. Meditation is like this: knowing the waves for what they are, being fully present to them when choppy or calm, but also resting into the deeper depths of being, the stillness at the heart of the ocean.

Picking more daisies

If I had my life to live over again,
I’d dare to make more mistakes next time.
I’d relax.
I’d limber up.
I’d be sillier than I’ve been this trip.
I would take fewer things seriously.
I would take more chances,
I would eat more ice cream and less beans.
I would, perhaps, have more actual troubles but fewer imaginary ones.
you see, I’m one of those people who was sensible and sane,
hour after hour,
day after day.

Oh, I’ve had my moments.
If I had to do it over again,
I’d have more of them.
In fact, I’d try to have nothing else- just moments,
one after another, instead of living so many years ahead of each day.
I’ve been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot-water bottle, a raincoat, and a parachute.
If I could do it again, I would travel lighter than I have.

If I had to live my life over,
I would start barefoot earlier in the spring
and stay that way later in the fall.
I would go to more dances,
I would ride more merry-go-rounds,
I would pick more daisies.

 

When asked “How would you have lived your life differently if you had a chance?” Nadine Stair, an 85-year-old woman, from Louisville, Kentucky, provided these poetic words as her response. It can be so easy to be caught up in the busyness of our lives that we loose that quality we all had as children of being able to stop and be fascinated by the world around us.

Over the last few weeks I’ve been exploring opening more to this playful attitude since I’ve met someone who is very open to playing and its encouraging me to enjoy this as part of the friendship.  We met first to have coffee and dinner on the SouthBank and we had been chatting about bringing in the playfulness from childhood into our adult lives. But after dinner it was time to experience it rather than talk about it. We started by playing hide and seek and then tag – running after each other on the terrace under the Royal Festival Hall.  It was such a release to be able to play again. At one point we were passing an interactive sculpture that was one of a number along the South Bank – it was shaped like a slide but without steps. I saw it as a slide so climbed up and slid down.  Then my friend did as well.  Then a young woman saw us and ran over to join in and her friends helped her get up. A man who was with her looked over and laughed but said “she’s not related” – she shook her head and said “yes we are, he’s my brother”. And in that little interaction there was so much.  The critical inner voice that tells us to stop expressing our spontaneity. The denial of the playful self, in order to conform and fit in. And also how when one person plays or is more free it encourages that freedom of heart in others.

It also made me realise how important it is to connect out to others who encourage whatever it is in us that feels alive and vibrant. To have that flame fanned by the fire in another heart.

A few days latter I was on the South Bank again but in the day, and as I watched the sculpture again all of the children who went past it got their parent to lift them up so they could slide down, but none of the adults did!

One of the things I’m starting to learn is that I’m an extrovert whose coming out of hiding after I spent a lot of my life thinking I was introverted! So I enjoy doing these things and don’t worry about being seen. For true introverts running around on the South Bank will not be your idea of play and fun! But however we express it – whether at home or in public, it’s a fascinating experience to let go and allow a more carefree expression of that energy.

.Rather than waiting until the end of our lives to look aback an wish we had not cared so much about what others think, how could you start now “picking more daisies”?

Remembering to play!

We all did it at one time, and for many of us it is something we have grown out of. This week I’ve been chatting with a friend about play and he’s been talking about how he still likes to play hide and seek if he can find anyone who will play with him! It made me think of how much I miss that easy playfulness of childhood. As a gay man with no young relatives I hadn’t been able to explore play as an adult but over the last year I’ve volunteered with Beanstalk as a reading assistant in a school, meeting with three children twice a week for half an hour each. At the end of each session we would play a game, this was part of the Beanstalk approach, to make reading associated with fun. It has been great to experience that playful energy again. In one session we played tag and the fun of running around the playground and trying to avoid getting tagged was so refreshing! What was so lovely was to see how ready the children were to drop  into play mode.  As soon as I said reading was over and it was time for a game they would jump up and be asking what we would play.

I found it so easy to withdraw into seriousness and into myself as a teenager. Games suddenly meant playing football which terrified me or having to engage with the other boys which felt a threat. Even aged 10 and under I preferred to join the girls at break and play skipping rope games. I even took a doll in once but soon discovered that was a mistake!

One boyfriend of mine used to like to play at hiding when I came in and jumping out to surprise me.  It was such a lovely spontaneous and joyful way of being together, and as adults we perhaps need to have the trust of a close relationship to once again feel permission to play.

When did you stop playing? Or do you still feel able to connect with this child like playfulness? Where can you go to let yourself play? When I googled ‘adults playful’ mostly what came up was references to tantric sex! It’s telling that for many the notion of playfulness as adults is only linked to sex. And as fun as that can be what about that playfulness we felt as children that was about exploring, letting go into the moment and feeling joy?

 

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As part of the theme of falling in love with yourself, how about considering how you used to like to play and how you might reconnect with this energy now as an adult? My play used to be solitary – as an only child I had to entertain myself.  It was using playing cards to make huge card towers and temple complexes on the sitting room floor, or running around the house with a lego hand held communicator imagining that I was the commander of a space ship that was under attack. When my cousins visited we would play out scenes from Dr Who until Paul refused anymore as he was always the monster and his sister Nicola was always the beautiful assistant to my Dr Who! So there was a mix of quiet, focused and still play in the building of card temples, and energy and vitality in chasing monsters! I can see these different energies as I look at these photos of myself as a child. As well as an early tendency to enjoy getting dressed up in hats!

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I remember when play started to change, aged 10.  A friend came over and I had my lego town laid out ready to play a game. He looked at it and said it was for children and so I ended up playing alone as he sulked. I still wanted to be able to enjoy my lego town, but this made me think for the first time that perhaps it was time to stop playing with it and started a process of loosing touch with this type of childhood play, where my own imagination created the game.

As an adult how do I still connect with this? The stillness and focus is there in my meditation. But I’ve tended to neglect the more boisterous play and I don’t do anything the is about creating an imaginative senario. Five Rhythms dance on a Friday night is giving me a way back to feeling the vitality and energy of play, and as it is interactive there is a chance to connect out to others in the dance in ways that are playful and boisterous.

I also like to bring some of this into my friendships but there is space for more!

How do you connect with your playfulness? Where does it show up in your life and where could you make more space for it?

New Year resolutions: rejecting what is wrong with us or celebrating our achievements?

 

As we approach the end of the year there is the all too often repeated ritual of making New year resolutions: made to be broken a few weeks into the New Year! Why is this? One reason might be that we try to create the ideal me in our resolutions. But this ideal me is not who I am right now so there is a conflict between how I am right now and how I think I should be, with the result that our resolutions do not celebrate us and what we have achieved but are like a teacher caustically saying “could do better” on our end of year report when we have done the best that we can!

Over the last few years I’ve suggested that we try a different approach. One that celebrates where we are whilst also acknowledging any change we would like to cultivate. Think of your life as being like a field you are tending.  There will be some weeds that left unchecked may choke the growth of the crop we wish to cultivate. The Buddha encouraged us to reflect on what  thoughts and actions lead us to greater calm, contentment and wisdom and which lead to suffering and sorrow. This is with the intention of identifying ways of thinking and acting that lead to our suffering, which then gives us an opportunity to choose how to act in ways that most lead to our well-being. But there is the risk of then trying to fix ourselves by making resolutions to be the opposite of the unwholesome self we have identified. In this way we are trying to get away from something rather than move towards what we are attracted by. The Buddha phrased it as seeing what thoughts and actions lead to greater peace and simply recognising those that lead away. Just as one would not touch a burning coal knowing it would cause suffering, the more fully one feels that certain actions lead to suffering one will pull away from them.

The dilemma is learning to open fully to the fact that certain actions do cause suffering rather than thinking they are a source of pleasure! Perhaps we eat more than is healthy for us. Or there is an addiction of some kind, or we sit at home on the computer rather than going out to the gym session or a walk in the park we know we ‘should’ do but do not feel drawn towards. If we then make resolutions based on what we should do, because it’s good for us, there is little emotional excitement in doing that rather than the thing we think we shouldn’t do because we know it is bad for us – but which we enjoy on one level!

How to make this switch from forcing ourselves through resolutions to do what is good for us but we do not feel an emotional pull towards and to cease to do the things we know are not good for us but we feel an emotional pull towards because they offer some sort of pleasure in the moment – even if afterwards we feel regret or shame? It’s something I’m still working on so I don’t have a definitive answer! The area I’ve been looking at in this regard is sleep. I feel great when I’m in bed and asleep by 11. I wake rested and early enough to meditate and do some exercise before breakfast. But so often I get caught up in distractions, looking at news reports on You Tube or checking Facebook, only to get lost in various posts and links to articles.

I might make a resolution to go to bed earlier, but this is trying to get away from the problem.  How might I turn it around to approach the solution, to approach a way of being that the heart becomes excited by?

The Ulysses Contract in Action

The first step was acknowledging it as something that was taking me away from happiness. I was talking with a friend after last week’s Monday class and we talked of the things we were doing that were habitual and difficult to change. Once the neural connections have been laid down for certain actions it will be the default mode of the brain to make that choice, whatever ours might be: to reach for food when unhappy, to associate bedtime with watching news and distraction, to be lived by an addictive behaviour unthinkingly. How much do we live our lives, and how much are we lived by our habit patterns? Did we consciously choose these habit patterns or are they the result of life circumstances that have shaped our behaviour, but not our true being? To start to be conscious of them is to start to choose how we wish to live our life, rather than just going with what we have unconsciously picked up along the way.

By having this discussion with my friend I was able to recognise my own unaware habitual behaviour through seeing his. It’s so much easier to recognise someone else’s self-justifying behaviour than see one’s own! But then he said something that really hit home for me. We were talking about the Ulysses contract or accountability buddy concept that I wrote about a few weeks ago. The idea that one makes an agreement with another which then ties one to the intended action though checking in with each other to say if we have done it, or agreeing to meet to do an activity together so it is not so easy to make an excuse not  to go. He said that during the week when he was feeling like acting on his habit he would think what would he say to me about my bedtime habits, and then turn that around to asking himself what is he going to do about his habit. Seeing how clearly he could see the unhelpfullness of my habits to me would then act as a reminder to him to see his habits more clearly rather than justify them. Likewise, I could think to myself, “what would I say to my friend about his habit” as I felt inclined towards clicking on You Tube late at night. It worked incredibly well. Often unhelpful habits arise out of a sense of loneliness and disconnection. By choosing instead to have it be a reminder to feel my connection with a friend who is also working on turning towards a way of being that is more nourishing for him it helped me to make a choice in that moment to turn the computer off and go to bed.

This has been the first week in a long time that I have gone to bed at 11pm regularly and it happened out of feeling a sense of commitment to my friend, wanting to be able to see him and say “yes, I kept thinking of you and it helped me to make a choice that was more in line with my wellbeing”. It has been said that as social animals we can use shame to our advantage – the things we justify to ourselves when done in private finding it harder to do if it means loosing face in front of another by admitting to them. So making this public to a friend and agreeing to check in with each other may help to remind us of what our deeper wish is for ourselves, rather than falling into the automatic pattern of following the habit. Once we have done this for a while it becomes easier to see that we are not the habit. That it is living us and we have a choice to see it, name it and say yes to an alternative way of being.

This sense of saying yes to a life I choose rather than passively living out a habit pattern that has become established and routine makes me feel much more attracted to the behaviour that leads to being in bed at 11pm, as opposed to making a resolution that just says ‘go to bed early!’, which feels like a parent telling me what to do. I then feel the consequences of waking up refreshed, having time to meditate and exercise and how this sets up the day. This then gives me more of a feeling of attraction to the behaviour that leads to being in bed at 11pm.

“Friendship with the wise is the Whole of the Spiritual Life”

An oft quoted statement of the Buddha’s is that “friendship with the wise is the whole of the spiritual life”. Friendship with others who are becoming more self aware and compassionate is thus vital to our own well-being. Talking openly about the unhelpful habit with such a friend helps in letting go of shame around the activity. How often do we beat ourselves up about a behaviour that we know is not good for us? But would we treat a friend in the same way? We would be kind, compassionate and caring for our friend. We might hold a boundary for them and question their actions but we would not condemn them as being stupid or a failure. If the habit is living us and is simply the result of experiences in life that have given rise to a certain activity then it is not who we are. As such there is no need to condemn ourselves for our over eating, porn addiction, binge drinking or whatever it might be. Instead by sharing it with a friend we see it as it is, a behaviour that does not serve us but keeps us trapped in a repetitive cycle.

When we look with compassion at ourselves and see that this way of acting leads away from the peace, contentment and well being we wish for ourselves we have the opportunity to acknowledge to another that we see this and in doing so we have their support in seeing who we truly are, which is not the habit, but a being who is spontaneously manifesting every moment in the moment. Just as the sky is not the clouds, even if it is totally obscured by them, in the same way we are not our habit patterns, even if they seem to dominate. Habit patterns were learnt, and exist due to the neural pathways they have burnt in our brain, but they can be unlearnt. The difficulty will be letting the neural pathway dissolve as the brain will tend to go with the easiest route. So we need to make new choices that lead to no longer using that old neural pathway. After a while those synapses in the brain will disengage and what seemed like an impossible habit to break will no longer be an active pathway. The short video below gives a beautiful depiction of how this process works and hints at why, once established, it is so hard to break a neural pathway.

Celebrating our Achievements

Rather than wishing we were our ideal self we can end the year celebrating our achievements. Spend a little while reflecting on what actions over the last year have, in however small a way, taken you towards a greater sense of well-being, peace and fulfilment. Perhaps you didn’t go to the gym 3 times a week and lose the weight you intend this time last year, but what have you done that has in some way been in line with your intention of caring for yourself? Perhaps you did a course, or became a little more healthy in some way it would be easy to discount if it does not match with the total transformation you wished for last New Year’s Eve.

You may not have established a 40 minute daily mindfulness practice, but you have remembered to stop and take a breath at times of stress, which you now see helps you to return to equilibrium. Building on this breath you can move towards the daily mindfulness practice from an appreciation of what you have already established rather than feeling a failure.

New Year’s Eve Ritual

In summary, as you prepare to see in the New Year you may like to reflect on the past year in terms of your achievements and let this inform your list of resolutions rather than it being a to do list of how to be a better version of you! As part of this you may like to reflect on the following two points:

1. What have I seen in my behaviour over the last year that does not take me towards peace, contentment and a feeling of well-being? What actions have diminished my sense of self-worth?
2. What ways of being have there been in this last year that in some way, however small, have taken me towards a sense of peace, contentment and a feeling of well-being? What actions have contributed to my sense of self-worth? Celebrate these and resolve to live more fully from these habits and ways of being in the year to come.

You may then like to create a ritual around this based on what we did in the monastery at New Year’s eve. Write both down on separate pieces of paper. Keep the ways of being that you wish to live more fully from in 2017. Put them somewhere special so that you can refer back to them regularly. With the things you wish to let go of find a way of burning this list. We used to have a large steel pan with a night light inside. Light the paper and put it in, and watch the unhelpful habits of the last year burn away.

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Opening to Joy – The Path to Awakening

Buddhism is often accused of being pessimistic due to the focus on suffering as the entry to the path of self knowing. It´s cettainly true that what attacted me at the beguining was this acknowlegement that there was suffering. And for a long time that was my focus – how to be free from suffering through the freedom of Enlightnement. But in doing this I forgot what the Buddha also taught, which was that joy is here right now when we relax into the present moment. This weekend I am visiting a Cuban friend who lives in Hamburg and on the flight over was reading Thich Nhat Hahh´s book Breathe You Are Alive which is a reflection of the Buddha’s teaching on mindfulness. In this the Buddh talks about how as we bring our attetion to the body, feelings and thoughts and attend to the experience of the breath in our body we open to a deep joy. It is this joy that then supports the arising of insight and wisdom.

As I sit here using my friend´s computer there is Cuban music playing as he dances whilst he cooks. Listening to the music there is a feeling of joy that is uplifitng. And I´m struck that it was this quality that the Buddha spoke of as being part of the path to awakening. Not serious, introspective and severe reflection – but a lightening and opening through joy, bliss and rapture.

When I was ordained into the monastic tradition my name was Bodhinando, which translates as The Bliss of Awakening. There wasn´t much bliss in the person I was at that time! I was intense, serious and felt little joy. And I took the name as being a pointer and a challenge from my Abbot. That what needed to open in me was a heart full of  joy and bliss as exemplified by the founder of the lineage I was training in, Ajahn Chah.

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Welcoming is welcoming – not a clever way of fixing

How to rest into this state? One approach is exemplified in the teaching of opening to difficult emotions with a sense of curiosity. So often I can get lost in fighting these or looking for a way of escaping them. The mindfulness approach I learnt in the monastery was a patient allowing, a turning towards what is difficult, feeling it and knowing it. As Ajahan Sumedho, my Abbot, used to say “that which knows sadness is not sad”. Awareness of an emotion is simply awareness – it is not the emotion. It is like the sky knowing the clouds – it holds them, sees them for what they are but is never itself a cloud. This approach was highlighted by the being with difficulty meditation I learnt to teach as part of the 8 week MBCT course and a method of turning towards the difficult emotions I read in The Happiness Trap, an introduction to ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: to accept what is out of your personal control, while committing to action that will improve your quality of life) by Dr Russ Harris. In this he has a detailed meditation on how to turn towards difficulty by feeling it as the sensations in your body rather than as a thought, and then breathing into those sensations.

To listen to a version of this click here

The difficult emotions may then dissolve away, or they may not. The intention of welcoming them in is not that in so doing they will immediately fade away, otherwise welcoming would just be a more subtle part of the fixing agenda. They are welcomed because they are welcomed. They are what is here in this moment and this moment is as it is. To think it should be any other way is to say how it is right now is not the true me, not how life should be and is a mistake, and that at some future point in time when I no longer feel this I will then be who I should be and life will be as it is supposed to be.  In that way one could spend half of one’s life feeling that it is not one’s real life but a mistake, waiting for the real life to begin.

Letting go of preferences, letting go of wanting life to be like the happy advert we carry in our head of the perfect life, we can start to be with the life we have. And as I bring this compassionate embrace to my struggle, my pain and sorrow, then I start to feel a peace that is not dependent on feeling good. It’s a peace that is simply there, holding the struggle, blossoming in times of joy but not dependant on good fortune to exist. It is something we all know.  We have tasted it in those moments of allowing. We were much more familiar with it as children and it is something we now need to remember but once remembered feels familiar. And it is easy to forget, but the more often we wake up to it again the more it starts to be the default mode.

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Shifting from the Doing Mode to the Being Mode, from solutions to acceptance

This aspect of mindfulness may be described as acceptance and equanimity. It is the process of shifting from the Doing Mode that looks for solutions and answers – ‘’why am I anxious’’, ‘’what’s wrong with me’’, ‘’how do I stop this’’ – to the Being Mode that observes without judgement or fear. It is not acquiescence, detachment or dissociation but a wholehearted embracing of the present moment exactly as it is, noticing the thought that it should be different and then embracing this thought as well. This doesn’t mean that if we are ill, for example, we give up on the thought of being healthy. Instead of reacting to being ill with worry or anger and raging against it as we long for health at some point in the future we have an opportunity to become fully present to the experiences arising as a result of being ill: the physical and  emotional pain – the sadness, the wanting it to be different, the grief at lost time or opportunities. We then have an opportunity to embrace all of this in the present moment, whilst taking loving action for our own well-being.  As we accept things as they are this may open the mind to choices for healing that would have been lost sight of if one were only intent on getting away from the discomfort. In this way one dives into the heart of the difficult experience and may find a peace that was never touched by the illness that can then nourish one in the suffering of physical pain.

The more I trust this the more there is a feeling that whatever is here right now can be held. And in that way there is a deeper sense of contentment and peace. I hope that this encourages you to explore this in your own life and that the talk below from Jeff Foster gives you a feeling for this approach.

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Finding Peace Through Embracing Difficulty

.A few years ago I went to a talk by Jeff Foster and I refer back to it frequently as it really clarified for me what this process of embracing the present moment might feel like. I’ve included a clip form one of his talks below where he talks about it.  What struck me was his way of putting it. For so long I had wanted to find a way to stop feeling sad. I wanted my meditation practice to take me to an Enlightened high ground where I could look down on all of the conflicting emotions from a safe distance and never have to feel them again. But as Ajahan Cha’s quote at the top of this article suggests, freedom comes not from being removed from the painful emotions, but through knowing them as they arise and in that way avoiding getting caught up in resisting them or getting lost in them.

What Jeff said which has stayed with me ever since, was that our painful emotions are like children walking lost in a storm. When we feel sadness, or fear, or grief, or whatever it might be that we label as a bad emotion, it is as if that child has come knocking at the door. And they are not asking us to fix them or heal them.  They are simply asking to be held. They are presenting themselves at the door of awareness and awareness can welcome them, embrace them and hold them. The mind that creates the perception of time past and time future builds an impression of something that is overwhelming and has to be fixed: “why am I feeling this”, “aren’t I better yet”, “when will I stop feeling so bad”, “I can’t bear this….it’s too much…when will it end”. In contrast to this, by holding the difficult emotions in the arms of awareness we come into the present moment. No longer lost in the deserts of linear time we can rest in the oasis of the here and now and shift from thinking to feeling. When a difficult emotion is held in this way it is noticed as a sensation in the body.

This was the next point that Jeff made which has stayed with me ever since.  As a sensation it is simply that – a feeling of heaviness in the belly, a sense of fire, or tightness or coldness in some part of my body.  I am not going to be overwhelmed by that! It is possible to hold the tightness, the fire, the heaviness as a sensation in this moment, without having to ask when it will end. In this way one steps into a place of emptiness – being the calm witness to what is arising in this moment.  There may be tears, it may be one opens up to an emotion that has been denied from being held in the present moment, a state of frozen grief, fear, pain or anger that is not felt but at the same time blocks energy from moving freely. And as this thaws there is a flood of emotion. But it is held.  And having been felt, it may be allowed to pass.

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Welcoming is welcoming – not a clever way of fixing

The difficult emotions may then dissolve away, or they may not. The intention of welcoming them in is not that in so doing they will immediately fade away, otherwise welcoming would just be a more subtle part of the fixing agenda. They are welcomed because they are welcomed. They are what is here in this moment and this moment is as it is. To think it should be any other way is to say how it is right now is not the true me, not how life should be and is a mistake, and that at some future point in time when I no longer feel this I will then be who I should be and life will be as it is supposed to be.  In that way one could spend half of one’s life feeling that it is not one’s real life but a mistake, waiting for the real life to begin.

Letting go of preferences, letting go of wanting life to be like the happy advert we carry in our head of the perfect life, we can start to be with the life we have. And as I bring this compassionate embrace to my struggle, my pain and sorrow, then I start to feel a peace that is not dependent on feeling good. It’s a peace that is simply there, holding the struggle, blossoming in times of joy but not dependant on good fortune to exist. It is something we all know.  We have tasted it in those moments of allowing. We were much more familiar with it as children and it is something we now need to remember but once remembered feels familiar. And it is easy to forget, but the more often we wake up to it again the more it starts to be the default mode.

.
Shifting from the Doing Mode to the Being Mode, from solutions to acceptance

This aspect of mindfulness may be described as acceptance and equanimity. It is the process of shifting from the Doing Mode that looks for solutions and answers – ‘’why am I anxious’’, ‘’what’s wrong with me’’, ‘’how do I stop this’’ – to the Being Mode that observes without judgement or fear. It is not acquiescence, detachment or dissociation but a wholehearted embracing of the present moment exactly as it is, noticing the thought that it should be different and then embracing this thought as well. This doesn’t mean that if we are ill, for example, we give up on the thought of being healthy. Instead of reacting to being ill with worry or anger and raging against it as we long for health at some point in the future we have an opportunity to become fully present to the experiences arising as a result of being ill: the physical and  emotional pain – the sadness, the wanting it to be different, the grief at lost time or opportunities. We then have an opportunity to embrace all of this in the present moment, whilst taking loving action for our own well-being.  As we accept things as they are this may open the mind to choices that would have been lost sight of if one were only intent on getting away from the discomfort. In this way one dives into the heart of the difficult experience.

The more I trust this the more there is a feeling that whatever is here right now is fine. And in that way there is a deeper sense of contentment and peace. I hope that this encourages you to explore this in your own life and that the talk below from Jeff gives you a feeling for this approach.

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