As we’re moving into the darkness of the winter months here in Sweden (heading for that sunset at half past two…) I’m choosing to be here for it all.
Allowing the weather, the world, any feelings and sensations, to be as they are. At the same time reminding myself where I want to direct my attention. And let it guide my actions. Never easy, never perfect, always a process. And an ebb an flow from day to day.
To be present for what arises doesn’t mean we have to stay in it all. We witness, we feel and we release what needs to go. By staying open, but getting clear on our intention.
Presence is the alchemist, always there as our real strength, like roots of a tree holding us through all the shifting seasons. 🌘🌗🌖🌕
I know that in many parts of the world we are going into a second lockdown or having to follow stricter restrictions. We can’t change what the circumstances are right now. But we can connect to our presence and let it nurture and guide us.
We can remember that there’s strength in our inherent connectedness, even if we are physically apart for a while. We can still share all the things that were always meant to be shared, be it moments of joy, our love, our worry or our hope. 🖤
This poem by Rumi is often read in connection to mindfulness, and I think it’s a beautiful reminder of how to meet discomfort in our practice, and our lives.
Each morning we wake up to certain feelings or sensations, and each morning there is something new. Sometimes we feel rejuvenated and content, other times we are tired, in pain, feel a heaviness or something else we would categorize as negative. Even pausing for a moment to simply meet & feel whatever is there, will increase our awareness and sense of presence. We practice meeting it all with as much patience, kindness, and curiosity as possible.
In mindfulness meditation we practice focus and observation, which in time helps us gain a different perspective of what we are feeling and sensing, instead of becoming absorbed by it. If we feel pain somewhere in the body, we can try and imagine breathing into and out of that place, I have found this to be helpful with for example headache and shoulder pain.
We practice meeting our feelings and sensations. We try as much as we can to invite it all in, even the discomfort. After all, it may be clearing the way for new joy.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all! Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
Through meditation and mindfulness we expand our awareness of the constant flow of thoughts, sensations and emotions that occur in each moment of our life. Through our practice, we also begin to notice the connection between the thoughts, sensations and emotions, and how they are constantly influencing one another. Awareness is key in our practice. In one way, meditation and mindfulness are an art of paying attention. To meditate is to really pay attention, deeply and sincerely.
Once we become aware of, for example, the thoughts that are arising in a given moment, we automatically create a little bit of space between our being and those thoughts, or the mind. In yoga, teachers often talk about creating space in the body. Most of the yoga poses are designed to lengthen the muscles, and as we do them, along with breathing deeply, we are creating more space in the body – so hopefully muscles that were previously tight or had knots in them, become expanded and relaxed. Energy can flow more freely in the body. Similarly, mindfulness and meditation create space, not just in the body and the mind, but it creates a sense of space that expands into all areas of our life. The truth is, this space is always present, but just like the space in a room it can become cluttered with objects so that it ends up being almost unnoticeable. When we have more space it becomes easier for us to notice the more subtle things in ourselves and in our life. We might see patterns in our behaviour and simply notice things we would have otherwise missed. So not only does this space give us a bigger sense of ease and peace, but just like a muscle that becomes stronger and more flexible, we become more and more perceptive, and more skilled in that art of paying attention.
To pay attention is also to focus or concentrate on something. In meditation we work with different techniques of concentration. A common one is focusing on the breath. As I mentioned in the previous post, our breath is a great tool for our practice because it is always there with us. And it connects us to our body and the present moment. Once we start practicing this in meditation, as well as our daily lives, even just by taking a few moments during the day to notice and feel the breath in our body, we will notice that space is starting to expand.
If you want, you can take a moment right now to notice your breath, how it feels in the body, how it is flowing in, and out. Pay attention to the small pauses between each in and outbreath. Maybe close your eyes for a few breaths, and see if you can notice any difference in how your body feels when you open your eyes.
The quote in the title comes from the Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön, and I think it’s a great reminder for most of us – especially in the intense times that we are in at the moment. When negative emotions, thoughts or events are happening in our lives, it’s common for us to think there is something wrong. That somewhere along the way, something has gone wrong, or we have done something wrong – either to cause or to deserve what’s happening. From a mindfulness point of view, this is (in part) not true, but most importantly, it’s irrelevant in this very moment. Of course it’s good to reflect on what might be the cause of things, to know how to make clearer and more beneficial choices in the future. Looking at it from a Buddhist perspective everything does have a cause – it’s the law of karma, of cause and effect. At the same time, there is nothing we can really do about something that is already occurring – if a sensation is arising it’s already here. All we can do is decide how to meet it, here and now. What we do here and now is also what will shape our future moments. I heard someone once say: at this moment, we are completing the seeds of the past, and planting the seeds of the future. So it’s the way we meet this moment that matters the most.
Another point is that it can be very hard for us to know what truly is negative in our lives and what is positive. Sometimes a negative event brings us a beautiful gift. I think that most of us have experienced this in some way? And sometimes we think something really great has happened in our life, only for it to bring a lot of pain later on, or just turn out to be not that great at all. When it comes to our own sensations and states of mind: what we judge as negative, is perhaps (and most probably) rising to the surface to show us something – something we may need to become aware of. This is why curiosity is an important part of mindfulness – as well as non-judgment.
Sometimes non-judgment can look like saying to oneself: “I don’t think I can feel ok with what is happening right now, I’m worried, I feel afraid…” Or whatever feeling it may be. And to not judge whatever that emotion might be, but to observe it, and let it arise, let it be. And let it pass, as it will. Curiosity might sound like: “This is interesting. Let me maybe look at this more closely. I wonder what it would be like, to let myself feel this feeling fully? Where in the body do I feel or sense it the most?” And so on.
Of course, when a moment arises which we feel a strong aversion towards, it’s not always going to be easy to meet it with curiosity or in a non-judging way. This is why we practice. Just like we train in a sport or practice playing an instrument, we practice meeting life and our sensations, thoughts and emotions, in a kind, non-judging, and curious way. With practice and in time, it does become easier to rest in a state of presence and non-judgement. Our awareness of the moment when we are judging (ourselves, our feelings or thoughts or sensations) grows and expands, so it becomes easier to notice and easier to then guide ourselves back to our presence, instead of creating stories around an emotion or a thought.
In mindfulness practice we don’t try to remove unwanted or uncomfortable thoughts or feelings. But when we really pay attention, we begin to notice that our thoughts and emotions are constantly changing, just like life is constantly in flow and change. And we might learn to relate to them in a way that gives us more space, as well as courage to really feel and look at everything that is happening in our life, both the pain and pleasure. We notice that we can let things be as they are, through all of life’s clouds and different weather.
If you are interested in more wise words by Pema Chödrön, here are two of her talks/courses on Sounds True.