Start Where You Are: Breath or Feet

This post is part of my Start Where You Are series. In our mindfulness practice we typically bring our awareness to our breath. For many of us this is something that feels natural and we can do easily or with a little practice. But for some of us this is really tough and may stop us in our tracks and keep us from building a regular, every day  practice. 

If you find that it is difficult to bring your awareness to your breath start where you are. Instead bring your awareness to you feet. But first, sit in a chair so that your feet can be flat on the ground or floor. This helps you to really feel your feet. If your feet are in the air, it is much harder to feel them. Trust me, I know. Now, remove your shoes and socks if that feels right. If it doesn’t, keep them on and after some practice try removing them. 

Close your eyes or lower your gaze. Let your face be soft. Sense the space around you. Sense the seat you are sitting on and how it supports you.  Now bring your awareness down into your feet. Let your attention sink down—yes, let it sink—all the way down to the bottoms of your feet and sense what they are touching. If you are wearing socks or shoes sense the quality of your feet touching them. If your bare feet are on the floor or on the ground sense their contact with whatever they are touching. 

Keep your awareness there. You may be surprised to sense some energy flowing up through your feet. This is grounding energy. It flows up the body and is calming. If it feels right follow its flow. Stay with it sensing the energy rising up through your feet and legs. Or, just sense it in your feet. 

Don’t worry if you don’t sense this grounding energy. Just keep your awareness in your feet. Notice the bottoms of your feet. Notice the tops and sides of your feet. Wiggle your toes. Experience what that feels like.  Feel both feet resting on what they are touching. Notice the quality of that. Is it hot or cold?  Rough or smooth? Hard or soft? Stiff or flexible. Bring your awareness inside your feet to bone, ligament, tendon, and muscle. Just notice how it is. It may change. Just keep your attention there and go with the changes. 

Do this for a few minutes and notice how you are. You may sense a change—a kind of calm or flowing energy may settle in. If not, that’s just fine, too.   Notice how it is for you now.  Just notice and bring your awareness back to your feet. This is your practice. Stay with your feet. Five minutes is fine. Two minutes is fine. One minute is fine, too.

At some point, you may feel ready to try bringing your awareness to your breath. If you do, then begin as before by sitting in a chair with your feet flat on the floor or ground. By grounding in this way, it helps you to bring your awareness to the breath. So first, take some time and just sense your grounded feet. Now bring your awareness to your breath just as it is. Don’t do anything! Don’t try to change it. Just notice it like an interested bystander. If it feels ok, stay with the breath—the breath in, the breath out, the slight pause. As you stay with the breath notice how it changes. Nothing is the same, everything changes, even the breath.

If it becomes difficult to follow the breath or you feel you need to change or control it then bring your awareness down into your feet. Really feel your feet just as before. At any point you can ground yourself by bringing your awareness down into the feet. 

If you sense anxiety or panic when you invite your awareness to pay attention to your breath, then please seek the help and support of a health professional. Working with them, you will be able to find ease with awareness of the breath.

Remember you are not alone. We have support. Hello! Here we are. The key is to start where we are.

The Wanting and the Long List

Who among us hasn’t had this experience? There is something we really want to do—perhaps in our careers, family, or creative lives. We see it clearly and then the long list of all the ways things might go wrong, all the obstacles that might arise, and all the negative opinions or judgments that others might make arises. We are left feeling that this is not meant to be. 

The glass is definitely half empty, if not fully empty, and yet, the wanting to do this particular thing keeps returning to us. 

We, humans, are especially good at getting in our own way. Our brains have been wired from the beginning to get us out of the way of danger and threats—real or perceived. Danger arises and we run for cover, fight like crazy, or freeze into frozen statues.

But, this doesn’t mean that we are victims of evolution; it simply means that to do what we want, what is important, and feels true sometimes requires us to do some skillful work inside. By paying full attention and being alert to our own nature—and being present with what arises we come to know what is true for us.

First, we recognize what’s happening in the moment. Perhaps it is self-talk making a list of all the bad and ugly things that might happen if we attempt to do what we are wanting, or it might be a never-ending movie showing us the same. Whatever arises, the first step is to become aware of it. We might say to ourselves something like, “I’m sensing there is a long list of reasons I shouldn’t do this and I’m saying hello to it.”

This kind of acknowledging is very important. It is not a judgement.  It is simply a recognition that we are aware it is here and are acknowledging its presence.

Now, invite in an attitude of interest and curiosity. Curiosity is so helpful! When we are curious we are not pushing anything away; and we are not grasping either. Curiosity is a soft, open, and interested attitude. Sometimes it helps to say, “Oh, I’m sensing I’m curious about this.” 

And, if something arises letting us know that it doesn’t feel curious and doesn’t like what is arising, we can acknowledge that too, and be curious about that.

And, sometimes when we do this we feel a settling and flow; or we may feel another quality. It could be something like tensing, contracting, or an emotion like fear. Or, perhaps what is here, let’s say the scary list, may grow bigger! Or, something else entirely. Whatever comes next is OK. We acknowledge that, too. 

If what has arisen is strong or grows stronger, we might put some space between us and it. Just visualizing space can be helpful. Or sometimes, instead of having direct laser focus on it, allowing our attention to be soft, and fuzzy and a little to the side–as though we are sitting beside it rather than in front of it. This soft attention also creates space.

We might also invite it to let us know how it would like us to be with it. This allows us to be with it in a way that is comfortable to it. This is the beginning of enquiry. Asking questions is a skillful means to bringing ourselves into relationship with what is arising and from there into wholeness.

Yes! We are building a relationship with what is needing our attention. When we think about it, it makes sense to do this. We build relationships all the time, with friends, family, colleagues. This is how strangers become friends.

Now is a good time to sense which other questions might feel appropriate. Perhaps some of these. 

Inviting what is here to let you know what is the worst part of it…

Or, inviting it to let you know what it is not wanting to have happened to you…

Or, in a similarly, inviting it to let you know what it is not wanting you to feel…

After asking… just waiting for what comes… and acknowledging by repeating or reflecting back. 

And, repeating the sequence for as many times as feels right.

This might go something like this…

Enquiry: I’m inviting it to let me know what it is not wanting to have happen to me…

Deep attention ((what comes will be different for each person): What comes is a sense of failure and an image, quality, or words of being ridiculed 

Reflection (Reflecting back): It’s letting me know it doesn’t want me to be ridiculed if I fail…

This sequence of enquiry might repeat several times. Perhaps, then, an openness, flowing, lightness, expansiveness, or calm and ease will arise…

This is the moment to allow this change, this open space, this ease and calm to be here as fully as it wants and an opportunity to give thanks to all that has arisen…

And, then what feels right… the right attitude, the right actions will occur naturally… 

Now is the Time

Our understanding of time, of past, present, and future, is largely something we conjure up. We dwell on our notion of time. Another year. Another day. We talk about time marching on and about having time, or more often, about not having time. We await and celebrate the New Year while inside wishing that time would stand still—that we could remain just as we are without any changes; or that we could go back in time—that we could start fresh and not feel the remorse, shame or guilt because we should have, could have, or would have done it differently.

Funneling our energy in this way is not helpful to opening possibilities or making us happy. It’s our ability to go with the natural cyclical flows of moon, sun, and season, and of our very own bodies that’s important. Too often we are caught up in what someone else says, does, or thinks. We forget to listen to ourselves. To listen deeply to our own energies as they flow or don’t flow—telling us what we need.

Our to-do lists are long and tedious. Housework. Home repairs, kids’ activities, and family duties. We don’t have any time, we lament. We have obligations and responsibilities, we tell ourselves. Yes, we do. We have a deep responsibility to ourselves. What we need is to take time for introspection. Time to ask ourselves what are we really wanting? The time is there. All we need to do is ask for it.

I remember the story of a young working mother supporting her kids on her own. She thought hard about what was her heart’s desire. To travel. To travel the world. So, every day she took time to put a dollar in a jar. Day after day. Year after year. Her kids grew up and went out into the world on their own. Now was her time for her journey. She took those carefully, meticulously saved dollars and traveled around the world. The cycle had been long—decades—but there she was fulfilling her heart’s desire from that very first moment she put the first dollar in a jar.

It isn’t about immediate gratification. It is about finding that one thing that is deeply wanted inside of us and then acting on that in a steady and consistent way. In the very process, we find happiness because we know that one day we will take that trip around the world.

The Problem with Directness

What we think the problem is, often isn’t.  “Oh gosh,” you say to yourself, your friends, your co-workers, your mentors, your therapist, “I’ve got this problem and it is XYZ.” We assume that by talking about it, analyzing it, stewing about it, or focusing all our energy on it, we can solve it and everything will miraculously start moving forward toward resolution.

Not so fast. The real problem and, therefore, its solution is in many cases, actually in most cases, not something we’d expect it to be. Rather, what’s smacking us in the face are symptoms. These are reactions we’ve created internally to defend,  protect, or shore-up the original situation. They may present themselves as big emotions, pointing fingers, or an emptiness so profound it scares the hell out of us.

OK, we say, “I am courageous. I’m going in. I can deal with this.”  I remember saying this to myself and others. “I’m going in. I’m resolving this issue now.”

I was emphatic. And, this head-on approach didn’t work.

A curious and often frightening thing can happen (as it did to me)  when we sit down in a comfortable and grounded way, go inside, and focus directly on what is bothering us.

We are greeted with feelings of obstinance or anger, or a sense that what we are focusing on has gone into hiding and doesn’t want us around, or we find nothing there at all except blankness.

The more we focus on it, the worse it gets. It is gone. Putting my direct attention on it drove it away and left only terror in its place. Not a good start. Here’s what to do.

This is the moment to back off and ground your energy.  Feel the earth energy in your feet and up through your body. Feel how your body is supported and held. Put lots of space there. Perhaps, even say inwardly, “I’m putting a lot of space here.” Space is always good thing.

Next, diffuse your attention. Instead of focusing it directly on the problem, divert it to the periphery. Instead of laser-sharp focus, diffuse your focus. Think of this as a kind of seeing sideways. Instead of looking straight ahead, focus your attention softly on the perimeter.  This is a kind of night vision. Have you ever noticed how at night, in the dark, when you look straight at something it disappears from view, but when you allow your vision to settle softly on the edges you can see more clearly.

Something magical happens when you do this. Things start coming forward as bodily sensations, textures qualities, images, words, or even sounds and colors. Now is the time to listen attentively and softly, to acknowledge whatever comes in an empathic and non-judging way. “Just inwardly letting what is presenting itself know, “I am hearing you. I am seeing you,” is all that is needed.

As you go with this process, the unraveling begins and ahas happen.  The thing at the center, eventually presents itself.  Then there is the realization that what the real problem is, the original situation, isn’t what we thought it was after all.

This is the time to continue listening, to holding all with empathy, and acknowledging. Little-by little, you will feel the release of energy until suddenly you are aware that what was there is not there any more. In its place is a feeling of forward energy, a bright, flowing, openness.

Try it. And remember, this process is not whizz-bang. It takes time and space and your whole soft attention. And, remember, sometimes, direct focus of our attention is what is needed. What’s needed is attuning to what’s going on inside and proceeding appropriately with care and non-judging attention.

The Edge Between

Have you ever had this experience? You are feeling stuck and frustrated.

You sit quietly, feeling your connection to the space around you and inside of you, sensing the earth energy flowing up through you, and how you are supported by your breathing, the space around you, and what you are sitting on. Now, bringing your awareness inside the body, you invite this whole thing of feeling stuck and frustrated to come forward.

Something comes forward. You feel something is tight somewhere in the body. You go to it. It wants to hide away, or go inward, or it is rolled in a tight knot, or something else. You say hello. You sense its inertia as it goes round and round in a circle. You sense it feels alone, lost or something else. You stay with it, opening to it. It lets you know that it has to dig down deep to protect something. You let it know you hear it.

Then something else comes forward, something or a place in you that wants to go out into the world. It wants action and acceptance out there. You say hello. You sense its bursting energy and anger. It lets you know it is not wanting to miss out on life. You let it know you hear it.

Now you sense that both are here. That place that feels lost and inward and that place that feels angry and wants a life in the world.  You hold both and sense the edge between them. You sense a stalemate there. It might feel as though one foot is on the gas and the other is on the brake. This is a rich place to be.  Have you ever spun a coin and noticed that as it spins, you can see both sides?

This is where you are now.  You are with both sides. This is the time to feel how your body is supported and how whatever comes is ok; that there is plenty of room for what is here. This is the moment to put lots of space around both and be curious!  The stalemate reflects their relationship with one other. Until each feels it is heard with deep listening, the stalemate will continue. Be patient. Sense if one or the other is wanting your attention more. If you don’t get an answer or you only sense the friction between them, turn to each one individually and let it know that you are here and you will give it your full attention. That there is plenty of time and space for both and you will give your full attention to each.

This is the time when your open and neutral attitude, your curiosity and interest, and deep listening is all important to your process. Acknowledge both. Take time with each one. Unraveling takes time.

Sometimes at this point in your process you may or may not be aware of a little hurt thing. If sensing a small one is here, acknowledge it letting it know you are with it. And, remain with the two sides of the coin listening deeply, allowing them to open and release their energy. Only then will the small thing be accessible to continue the process until it, too, unfolds with life forward energy.

Through this open and deep listening, what is right for you will emerge. You’ll feel its forward and bright energy. Go with it. This is your authentic self. Bon voyage.

I’m so Tired.

I’m so tired. We’ve all said it. We’ve all felt it. Why are we all so tired? Is it that we are really physically fatiguing our bodies? Or is it that how we are spending our days? Perhaps our actions and thoughts are not aligned with our values–with our authentic selves.  If we are not feeling joy in what we do every day, all day, then we are out of sync with our authentic selves. Being out of balance in this way is exhausting.

Think about this. Ask yourself. What gives me joy? Right now, write down five things that give you joy. If you are finding that difficult, write down four things, or three things, or one thing that gives you joy. You may find that the things that give you joy are also difficult. For example, suppose you are a writer. Writing is difficult. It takes disciple and organization. It takes effort. It takes time. And, it gives tremendous joy. So, most often what gives us joy takes effort, organization, and commitment.

Now, put down your pen and close your eyes. Image you are immersed in doing the first thing (or only thing) on your list and ask, “Why am I doing this?”  The “why question” connects you with your authentic self.  When the answer comes from your core values, it feels right to be doing it and your body and mind will respond with a resounding ‘yes.’  This ‘yes’ is telling you that your values and actions are aligned with your authentic self.

This alignment is beautiful. This is where, if you put your energy and time, in ever widening circles, you will reside in joy.

If you don’t get a resounding ‘yes, this feels right,’ this is a signal that this action, this behavior may not be totally in alignment with your authentic self. Perhaps you are doing it because someone or something else feels it is right. Because they feel it is right you believe that it should feel right for you, too.  Now, that you’re picking up the covers you sense that there is something more for you to explore.

This is a rich place to be. Be curious. In this place you can sit and gently and compassionately ask inwardly, “What about this whole thing?” You’ll be surprised how your body will respond, how it will show and tell you all about how this activity aligns or not with what feels right to you.  It will show you where your motivation is coming from, perhaps from the obligation or pressure coming from family, friends, work, society, or culture. This exploration takes time and a willingness to be gentle and compassionate with yourself. It typically does not express itself like a bolt of lightening. Be patient. It will unwind and open and show you where your true alignment lies.

What’s Hurting?

When you sit quietly and comfortably and bring your awareness inside, what greets you? Do you feel open and intimate? Do you feel that you can sit down with whatever is there like you would sit with a friend or stranger beside a campfire? Or, perhaps you feel something else.

Something doesn’t want your presence. Something is angry and rebellious. Something disappears into blankness. Something says, “Go away. I don’t want you here.” Or, says, “You’re ridiculous. ” Or lets you know that you can’t do it, that you are a failure.

What to do? Really be there for it. It can be the ugliest, most violent, most condescending thing you have ever encountered.

Really feel whatever it is in your body.  Invite your body to show you/tell you something about what’s here with you right now. Invite your body to open to what you are feeling.

What you are feeling is resistance. Experience your resistance. It may feel uncomfortable. It will feel uncomfortable. Start with inviting your grounded, open presence, your whole self to be here right now. And, know that you cannot fail at having whatever experience you are having. Have your experience! Be open to it. Invite it to be here right now.

Know that what is hurting is not your resistance, it’s your relationship to it that hurts. Say, my intention, my energy is here right now to experience what is wanting my attention right now. No holds barred. I welcome this resistance and my experience of it to be here with me now.