Our Daily Dissatisfaction

As experiences happen in us, around us, and between us and our environment the mind quickly judges. This is pleasant; hold on to it. This is unpleasant push it away. This is good. Stay here. That is bad. Go away. This doesn’t touch me. Ignore it. This process of judging and reacting can be so subtle, it goes undetected. And, yet, its affects are present. Feelings of sadness, inadequacy, emptiness, self-criticism, loneliness and fear may arise.  

Culturally in the West, we are are conditioned to accumulate as many pleasant feelings as we can. We value sensory experiences that are equivalent to a child in a candy store roaming the aisles and piling up sweets and delicacies that smell, taste, look, feel, and sound wonderful. The smell of chocolate, the taste of sweetness, the look of perfectly iced cakes, the velvety feel of ice cream, the sound of popping corn. 

Conversely, we shun unpleasant feelings. We turn away from bitter tastes just as we indulge the sweet. We rush past a homeless person sleeping in a doorway so not to see. We hold our nose to the smell of ripening perspiration on a hot day.  We cringe at the sound of alarms, sirens and screams. So afraid of feeling pain, we pop opioid pain killers to get ahead of the pain before it starts.

We go about our days in this constant state of reacting and sorting. This is pleasant; keep this. That is unpleasant; throw it away. Interestingly, the pleasant feelings we accumulate quickly dissipate while the unpleasant ones linger.  

And, something more happens. The more pleasant experiences we accumulate, the more we want. We become gluttonous, attaching ourselves physically or virtually to anything and everything that adds to our sense of pleasure. We are delirious with our possessions, our selfies, our games, and our gadgets. And, yet, the more we accumulate, the more unsatisfactory life feels.

Ah, we are suffering with pervasive dissatisfaction.

There is another way.  Rather than allow this pushing, pulling or ignoring of experience, we can pause and experience what we are experiencing by bringing our attention to it in a neutral and friendly way. When we attend to our feelings in this way we can bring interest and curiosity to their exploration.

You might be asking but how can I, or anyone, do this? 

First, we pay attention to the body by focusing our awareness. We are continuously breathing, so by bringing our intention to pay attention and then our attention to our breathing—the in breath, out breath and pause—and where we sense it—as it enters the body through the nose, as it descends the throat, as it fills the chest and settles in belly— we get used to being with the continuous flow of the reality of our breath and the edges between our inner and outer environments. As we stay with the breath, we become intimate with it a neutral, yet friendly, kind of way. We experience how it changes sometimes softer; then stronger. Sometimes superficial; then deeper. Faster; then slower. We drop our opinions and judgements about how it should be. It is as it is. We watch it with interest and curiosity. 

We can be wth our senses in much the same way. As we broaden our focus to our five sense doors, the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and body we can bring our attention to the continuous flow of sensory perception flowing within and between our inner and outer environments without judging. What we do is to develop our awareness of the flow of experience as we perceive it through the senses. This is why sitting is so important. When we sit we create the conditions in which we can train the mind to pay attention to the flow of sensory experience without grasping or pushing anything. We use our mind in a different way. Instead of judging each perception; we allow it to be present and then pass away. 

As we practice this we build our mindfulness. Mindfulness is not something we do; it is rather a condition we develop through practice leading us to it. Gil Fronsdal, a Buddhist teacher, describes it as a state of receptive attentiveness not requiring self-conscious effort*. The more we practice by focusing attention on the breath and our sensory perceptions the less effort we need to apply until we reach the point that it is just the way we are. 

* https://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/2017/01/buddhas-teachings-on-mindfulness/

 

Start Where You Are

Beginners to meditation often lament that just the thought of sitting still is too much for them. “I can’t sit still!” I have often heard new meditators say. “Meditation is not for me.”

When someone says, “I can’t sit still,” it may be that in that moment they can’t and that’s OK. One of the beautiful things about meditation is that you start where you are. 

If when you sit down to meditate, you feel jittery, antsy, nervous, scratchy, or fidgety, then that’s the place to start. Often, bringing your awareness to your breath brings a sense of calm with it and the jitters dissipate. But, sometimes the fidgeting lingers or even gets stronger. 

Trying to push a nervous jittery feeling away won’t work. What meditation teaches us is that the way to relieve suffering is by going into it and through it.  You might say, “Oh, but it is just the jitters. I am not suffering.” Then also notice if you also feel spacious, calm, and open. If you don’t then the jitters is holding tension. Be willing to hold the disquiet. Something is not right. There is suffering under the surface. It may not be ready to show itself fully. But, it is inviting you to notice. 

Notice it and acknowledge it. “Fidgeting is here,” you might say to yourself. Don’t judge it or make excuses for it. Be friendly and neutral. Feel what you are feeling (to quote Mark Epstein). Allow it to be there without pushing it away. Just let it be. 

Notice where in your body you feel it. Perhaps in the shoulders, arms, or hands. Maybe in the torso or legs. Perhaps in the mind. When you invite yourself to notice where you feel it, gently acknowledge that too, bringing your full attention to it and its bodily place. “Fidgeting is here in the shoulders.” 

Sometimes, just by bringing our full attention to it and holding it in this neutral and friendly way, it softens and dissipates. If it does, then return your full attention to the breath. If it doesn’t, then be curious. 

Yes, open your curiosity. Be interested in it. Invite it to let you know something about it. You might say to yourself, “What is this fidgeting?” Or “I’m inviting this fidgeting to let me know how it is for it.” And, then just wait. Don’t try to find an answer. Just drop your invitation into your inner space and wait. Something may come or unfold. Whatever comes is OK. If something comes, stay with it in the same neutral and friendly way. If nothing comes, then return your attention to the breath.

When I first began meditating, a sharp pain in my back between my ribs would arise. I remember trying to hold my back straighter and stretching the space between my ribs. I also remember trying to do this in the background like some kind of clandestine operation while settling my attention on the breath. The more I would try to outmaneuver the pain between my ribs, the stronger it would become. I noticed how it made me feel anxious and angry. I was at a loss. I didn’t know what to do. 

The teacher had kindly invited us to sit with our backs straight, to sit like a mountain, upright and relaxed. She had instructed us how to bring our awareness to our breath and how to return our attention to the breath when thoughts would arise. I tried over and over again to bring my attention to my breath, but after a breath or two the pain intruded. 

I was too shy to ask her for advice, so I struggled with it for a quite a while, for several months actually. Then it came to me. I am at battle with this pain. It is going no where until I acknowledge it without judging it and hold it fully in a neutral way. 

This was a big aha and opened up a whole path of enquiry for me. I was so afraid of doing the meditation wrong, of not getting it right, of being inadequate. Memories of childhood incidents sprung to the surface as did their accompanying feelings. I learned to sit with what came in this new neutral way. To allow them their life. And though it seems strange, even as I write this, by allowing them to be with me fully without my interceding in any way, their energy released opening me more and more. 

This is important. Allow what is here for you right now to be here. Be with it fully. Start where you are.

Mending The Breach

A couple of weeks ago, on an incredibly warm, blue-sky day, as the snow pack melted into torrents of water, my neighbor stopped by to tell me that my irrigation canal had breached its banks. I pulled on my Wellingtons and followed her down to have a look. The swiftly moving water was eddying around fallen branches and banging into the sides of the canal at each turn as it made its way from the head gate at the creek, through the woods, to the hillside pasture. 

There in three places, the rushing water had eaten away the bank and was gushing into the woods and down the hill. As we opened our senses to what was right there, our plan of action emerged. We set to work. Collecting the flattest rocks from a nearby pile, scooping up mats of last autumn’s leaves from underfoot, and collecting rich mud from the earthen banks that had given way, we began building retainer walls.

We felt the texture of cold, rough stone, dried, brittle plant, and mucky earth. We watched the water curl, swirl and race and felt its brilliant coldness as we placed a rock, applied our handmade mortar of leaves and mud, and then placed another rock. Presence, a tender calmness, our open senses, and a wondrous sense of spaciousness guided our movements.

The trickster water changed course, seeping not here now, but over there. We placed a rock there. We patched with mud here. Rhythmically, moving as in a dance along the narrow path at the canal’s edge, we didn’t need words or feel the hurly-burly of emotions. Our work carried us. Time passed. Birds flitted above. Sunlight filtered down in glistening waves. The walls held. 

This experience is with me as I ponder. How often do we push others away when discord happens? How vigorously do we find fault or blame when something goes awry or someone hurts us? How disheartened do we feel when something breaks? How often do we approach the every day stuff of life with our full presence and open heart? This is our choice.  

How we perceive a situation is everything. In an instant a reaction might burst in us and in another instant, as we notice this eruption, we can pause and bring our full awareness and compassionate heart on line.

This coming into kind presence as we mended the breach in the canal bank, is the same kind presence we can call upon in ourselves when we perceive someone or something has wronged us.

Imagine that when seeing the water flooding over the banks of the canal, we had become angry, blamed the weather, or the neighbor further up the mountain who hadn’t opened his canal to relieve the volume of water coming down, or we had reacted with fear and anguish that the erosion would destroy the pasture. Certainly we would have suffered and quite possibly not have had the wits to look around to see that the materials for mending the breach were right there at our feet.

Noticing our reaction, we can choose to come into tender presence and by giving our full attention, listen deeply to what is needed and receive the wisdom that allows us to mend the breach.

The Hyper Self-Critic

Oh, those nagging, hyper-critical voices in our heads! They make us feel so bad.

Sometimes there is just one voice; sometimes many. They go round and round, repeating themselves over and over. They have a rhythm, ebbing and flowing and then rising in a crescendo. When they are in the background, we hardly notice them or ignore them, and then something turns up the volume and they consume our attention and energy.

Their themes are consistent, too. “You are not good enough,” “You are bad,” “You should be ashamed,”  “You are wrong,” to “You are not worthy,” “You are broken,” “You are selfish,” and so on.

These voices  and their messages are not happy or helpful. They derail us from our work and enjoyment of life. They shut us off from our friends and family. They make us feel small, judged, and useless.

We try to shut them off, bury them forever, and hope to never hear them again. We push and push. The more we push, the more insistent they become.  Finally, exhausted from pushing, we succumb. We believe them.

For a moment, consider this. They are very alive. They come from a part of us that got stuck in a moment when we were unable to discern how to respond in wholeness. Often we were children, little children. It is that little child in us who got stuck in that moment of criticism or trauma. And, sometimes, they stem from events in our adulthood.

This happened to me. After an ectopic pregnancy that hemorrhaged and many subsequent and unsuccessful attempts to become pregnant again, I was depressed, defeated, broken, and vulnerable. On a visit to see my mother, she said,” The only reason you are not getting pregnant is that you are too selfish.”  This judgement struck me like a bullet in my gut. My whole body froze in that moment. The wound was deep and lasting. And there it was, that voice in my head repeating, “You’re too selfish.”  It took me a long time, deep investigation, and much suffering to learn how to release this hyper-critical, damning voice and move forward in my life.  This is how to go forward.

Start here. Try this with patient and gentle goodwill for yourself.

Find a quiet place. Your office with the door closed. A bench in a quiet corner of the park. Your bedroom. Or, some place else.

Sitting quietly, bring your attention inside. You might have your eyes closed. This usually helps you to be at home inside your body. If the voice(s) is not active in the moment, graciously invite it to come forward. You might say something like, “I’m inviting that whole thing about feeling judged selfish… or whatever it is to come forward.”

Gently, say “Hello, I see you are there,” in a cordial and neutral kind of way. Perhaps in a similar way to how you might say, “hello” to a stranger passing you on the street.

Pause for a moment too, putting your full and gentle attention right there. You might feel a little space open. Be patient. Let your breathing relax.

Be curious and interested, but not overly eager. This voice has something to say and show you and needs space to unfold and share with you.

Notice your bodily sensations and their texture and quality. You might sense tightness,orals, rose colors, or hear something being said, or an image might emerge.

Sit with it for awhile and listen. No rush. There’s plenty of time. No judgement. There’s not good or bad, right or wrong.

Other thoughts and sensations may come up. Go with whatever is wanting your attention right now. The process is like peeling the layers of an onion. All unwinds given space and time.

Keep listening openly. And when you hear something, see something, or feel something, acknowledge it. You can say to yourself, “I’m sensing something in me that …” and as it shows itself more you can acknowledge by saying “It’s letting me know …”

If it feels right, find a guide who can support you and your process.

The unwinding happens at its pace, and you will notice little steps, small openings, and energy release like a breath of fresh air. This is your healing unfolding.

 

 

 

I Am Here And This Is Here Too

When you are in a situation and feeling intensely or in the middle of an internal war of thought and worry it can feel all-consuming. It might feel as though the whole of you is trapped or stuck. You might be aware of how it goes around and around, repeating endlessly.

I have felt like this. In my case, anxiety would consume me. An anxiety attack. And, it was just that, an attack by many parts of me at war with one another. Each one was doing its best to protect and defend. Sticky, tight, closed-in, going round and round in an endless spiral of pent up emotion, feeling, and thought, I felt desperate and imprisoned.

Imprisoned_Small

Perhaps you have felt something like this. You are wanting to get relief and feel better. What to do? Pause and bring your attention to your body. It doesn’t matter where you are. Start with really sensing your feet, pressing into the toes, the ball of foot, and heel and what they are touching. Ah, there they are. Sense how the floor or earth supports you up through your feet to your belly, stomach, chest, and throat. You might follow the energy with your attention as it enters the bottom of your feet and moves up through the legs to the hips, pelvis and buttocks and into that whole middle space of belly, stomach, chest, and throat. There you are.

Now, pause. A breath may come with the pause. That’s good. Just notice the breath. Notice the inhale and how it comes in and down through the nose, down the throat to chest and even beyond to the stomach and belly. And notice the pause at the end. That short moment of stillness. That’s the pause we are after, that short moment of stillness.

This is a good time to remind yourself by saying inwardly, gently and respectfully, “I am the space big enough for whatever needs my attention. Who is saying this? “This is your whole self, that self that is present, that can hold and open space, lots of space, for all those partial selves, parts of yourself, that are needing your attention.

Your whole self is here, aware and open. Now, you might invite whatever needs your attention to come forward or it may come flooding in with many voices, pictures, feeling states, and emotions vying with one another. Ah, how wonderful!  They are all here right now with you. This is is a gift.

Acknowledge each one with interest and curiosity. To the first one say, “Ah, I see you are here.” Acknowledge the second one, “Ah, hello. I see you are here, too. And both can be here.” And then acknowledge each additional one that comes by saying inwardly, “Ah, I see you are here, too. And, all can be here.”

This is what we mean when we say, “I am here and this is here, too.” Practice this. Pausing and bringing your awareness, your whole self, to what is needing your attention inside. And no matter how many parts come forward letting each one know that you are here and willing to listen to it. Ah, that feels better. Now space is opening inside just as the day opens to us.

Sunrise-1

A Very Difficult Person

Perhaps there is someone in your life whose actions and or words you find difficult, perhaps very difficult. If this feels right, you might do the following. Taking a few minutes gather together a piece of paper and a pen. Now, find a quiet place where you can sit and write.

Open green book with pen on white background.

Sitting, let your body take its most comfortable position.  Feel your feet and what they are touching. Sense the seat beneath you and how it supports you. Notice your hands and what they are touching, how they, perhaps, hold the pen and the paper, too.

Now write the person’s name at the top of the paper. Perhaps the person’s name is Jane. Write ‘Jane’ at the top of the paper.

Now bring your awareness to your breath. Just the way it is. Breathing in, pausing, breathing out just breathing as it is right now. No need to change it. If it feels right take a deeper breath.

Now bring your awareness inside your body to your inner knowing of what feels right for you. Take your time. Sense your more spacious and whole self arriving inside. As you do, you might become aware of something in the throat, chest, stomach or belly, or somewhere else. Just notice what’s alive for you right now and acknowledge that it is here.

Now bring your awareness to what’s difficult about this person and invite it to be present. You might say to yourself, “I’m inviting that whole thing about [name of person] and [describe briefly in a couple of words the difficulty]. Here’s an example. “I’m inviting that whole thing about Jane and how she treated me in the meeting to be here now.”

Acknowledge what comes. It might be a picture, video, feeling or emotion. Whatever comes acknowledge it gently with respect and empathy. You might say something to yourself like, “Ah, hello, I see you are/it is here.”

Now, taking your time, invite three good qualities of this difficult person to come forward. You might say. “I’m inviting three good qualities of Jane to make themselves known.” Perhaps only one or two good qualities will come forward. That’s OK, too. Write each one down. Even if there is only one good quality, write that down on the piece of paper under the name of the person.

When you have finished writing, put the pen down.  If it feels right take a breath, feel your feet and hands and what they are touching. Feel the support of what you are sitting on beneath you.

Read the first good quality to yourself. Now, sense how that good quality feels in your body. Let that feeling be there as fully as it wants to be. Now read the second good quality and sense it in your body letting it be there as fully as it wants. Now do the same for the third quality. Notice how your body feels now. Perhaps something has changed. Perhaps there is more space or a flowing or lightness. Just notice.

Seeing the good in someone, even in a difficult person, doesn’t hurt and can help you feel good, too.

Something in Me Doesn’t Like Her (Him)

Something in me doesn’t like her (him, them). This part of me is feeling hurt and angry. Every time I think of her and what she did, my chest tightens. I sense a closing in. There is no room, no space. My breath stops. My ears ring and anger hisses hot like a steaming tea kettle. And, something else in me doesn’t like that I feel this way. They are both here with me now.

Perhaps you’ve experienced this feeling or something similar when dealing with a difficult person or group of people. It doesn’t feel good and there is a way forward. By being with and listening to each something or part, one at a time, the energy bound-up in your feeling and thinking body will release. As energy releases there is a breath, a sense of space, an ‘aha.’ Right steps emerge with this new life-forward energy.

A beautiful way to meet and be with these feelings in your body is with Lovingkindness meditation. You don’t need to be a meditation pro to do lovingkindness mediation. All you need is a quiet time and space. This meditation needn’t be long. Five minutes can suffice. Set a timer so you can forget about counting time.

Sit quietly, letting your body take a comfortable and upright position sitting on a chair or cushion or standing. Gently place your hands, one on each leg above the knee, or hanging softly from your arms at your sides if standing.

Focus your awareness taking a breath and inviting your intention to meet yourself as you are right now. Sense your body in the space around you. Close or softly focus the eyes. Sense your feet and hands and what they are touching. Sense the chair, cushion of floor supporting you and rest into that support if that feels right.  Now bring your awarenesss inside as you gently say to yourself, “I am the space big enough for whatever needs my attention.”

And repeat the following phrases enlarging the circle of compassionate kindness outward as far as your time permits:

May I be happy.

May I be free from suffering.

May I be full of peace and love.

May (Name of difficult person or group) be happy.

May (Name of difficult person or group) be free from suffering.

May (Name of difficult person or group)  be full of peace and love.

Continue repeating the phrases with a choice of others such as…

family members, naming each one

friends, naming each one

colleagues and co-workers naming each one

neutral people you meet in your day such as the grocery clerk, the bus driver, the toll taker, the restaurant server, the bank teller

other difficult people or groups by name

your community

groups suffering from devastation such as fire, earthquake, war

the homeless

those who are ill

all people in your town

all people in your state

all people in your country

all people on your continent

all people on the earth

all people above the earth

all people everywhere

As you recite the phrases bringing loving and kind wishes to each individual and group, your heart opens, your breath softens, energy releases and invigorates. There is a bodily reset and you find yourself moving forward in your life in a new and open way. Ah, it feels so much better.