Tag Archives: Self-Growth

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Today is my birthday. And so far my best present was an insight.  It felt like when the clouds part on a grey day and you can see that the sun had been shining the whole time.

The backstory:  I fell in love with someone in the last few months.  Falling in love is funny.  One minute you like them, they’re great.  The next minute they are in your heart.  And it’s like: wait I don’t remember opening that door.  How did you get inside?  But there they are.  And suddenly you are vulnerable in a way you never agreed to be.

The second backstory: I ended it.  We were dating and he was travelling and I wanted more contact than he did.  Which was the right move for both of us.  It felt good that we could both own what we wanted and respect the other person.  I felt solid.

The current story:  We still see each other on a regular basis as we are in the same group of friends.  And the thing is: he’s still in here.  WTF.  I thought I asked him to leave.  Apparently, my heart did not get the message from my brain.  Most of the time it is fine, and the love feels like warm friendly tenderness and laughter.  Other times, it feels like sad isolation, a tightness and mopiness for his inability to give me what I want.   Or an anger at myself and my stupid heart for not being able to “let go.”

The insight:  This morning we were at breakfast together with a group of friends, joking about Will Ferrell movies and the paleo diet.  After I blew out the candle on my birthday cupcake, everyone at the table told me an intimate reflection/communication as a way to celebrate me.  And his to me was: “You have this ability to go into these high places, and that’s where I get knocked out.”  And with that short sentence, he let me know that he still feels me, even when he can’t always follow me where I want to go.

And then I saw it.  How we are like two circles in a Venn diagram, overlapping, yet pulling at the edge’s of each other’s comfort zones.

For me, he represents the ability to keep loving even when that love cannot be returned the way I want.  I am exercising my heart to be strong and robust.  One that gives without getting stuck like a sad kitten at his emotional front door, scratching to be let in.  One that stays open even when every bone in my body wants to deny that I feel anything, or make him responsible for “making” me feel this way.  And yes, this means that my tender heart gets to be cracked open in ways that don’t always feel pleasurable.  If you ask me on a bad day, I will most likely chalk this post up to a birthday sugar-overload, and play the role of a sad victim of unavailable men.

And for him, I represent being able to receive a full, open love.  He wants to shut down and close it off and kick me out of his heart.  But I know that I am still in there too.  And little by little, I can feel that he is relaxing into it, letting me love him.  And maybe he’ll never return it in the way I want.  Most likely, I won’t be the one that he throws open the doors for.  But I have my own special place inside that is still growing, and breaking up walls like shoots of grass rising through pavement.  There is a deepening.

Seeing this, I stopped seeing our current situation as a “problem.” Sure, there’s a comfort and energy that happens when two people’s circles overlap more completely.  You can draw a tight circle around yourselves and call it a relationship.  Within that space, you can create things together and maybe even plan for the future.  But there’s also a magic that happens when the circles don’t entirely overlap.  To stay connected while respecting the distance that exists between you challenges you to grow and expand. You get to experience bigger and bigger versions of love.

A Lesson in Unconditional Love

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Open Heart Meditation

 “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.” — Ho’oponopono prayer

For a long time in my morning sitting meditation, I would feel spacey, and tend to fall asleep. When I tried to go inside, it felt fuzzy, ill-defined. Like I was trying really hard to look at something through wavy glasses or trying to hear something through lots of static. I felt frustrated.  I stuck with it.

Lately I noticed that my sitting meditations have become more grounded and clearer. This morning, I found my way to a very sensitive, raw, pulsating, knotted spot about a foot away from my chest, connected to my heart. It hurt, in shimmery waves of tightness down my arms. And it was angry, in big waves of gritty intensity pushing out. Most importantly, I could FEEL it – it didn’t disappear in waves of unconscious sleepiness. I stayed connected to it in meditation long after the timer went off. And then I continued to feel connected to it through my drive to work, when I suddenly had an urge to cry. Then I was crying in big sobbing tears, and yelling big yells of pain for about 15 minutes.

What did I uncover? I can only describe it as knotted-up energy of the pain of being alive. In it, there is a deep love for all the people in my life and the raw agony of all the ways in which I hold myself back from expressing that love fully in whatever form it might take (anger, compassion, joy, frustration, hurt), and instead settling for a numb niceness that denies I am feeling anything. A numb niceness that cuts me off from you. As I allowed myself to feel this agony, it would soften and turn sweet, and turn to an aching tenderness. I felt a deep forgiving towards everyone, and towards myself, because we are all undergoing this separation together and it is not our fault.

The Ho’oponopono phrase kept coming up, and touching the exact spot that hurt: “I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.” I don’t care if being alive hurts, I want to feel it ALL so that I can really love and live in truth.

Thank you for reading. Knowing that there are people out there who read this and connect with this feeling encourages me to open my heart more.

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Turning Practice into Play

 

Over the last month I have been taking a Pilates reformer class.  It is a killer workout, and requires a lot of focus on the poses to reap the max benefit and not throw out your back.  So I make an effort to concentrate on my form.  I noticed this morning that I can have two kinds of concentration. 

The first kind wonders if I am doing it “right.”  When I feel that I am doing it right, it loses interest and wanders away, until it notices that I am no longer doing it right.  Then it jumps back in and says: “You are going backwards! Not acceptable!  You should be steadily improving!”  And with this shot of discipline and back-talk, I pay attention again.  Not too fun. 

The second kind of concentration is not so concerned with the final goal of perfection.  Instead, it just notes, moment by moment, how the practice feels in my body.  It feels when things feel aligned and powerful.  And when they fall out of alignment, it feels that too, and naturally moves back toward a position of greater strength.  This inner awareness isn’t hovering over my shoulder with a ruler, waiting to strike.  Instead, it is  . . . playing!  It is curious and having fun being alive and getting to move.  It’s still paying close attention to my inner experience (I am not just bopping my head along to the music), but it is doing so from a place of openness. 

You can bring these two types of concentration to any practice.  

The quality of your awareness determines your experience, not the other way around.   

Take meditation, as another example.  Many people bring the first kind to meditation.  They unconsciously approach it as something to be endured, that they must get right.  They then decide that meditation is boring, that they are not good at it, that it is too difficult.  

When you slip into the second type of awareness, you realize that these judgments were a reflection of your own headspace.  If you can keep an open and curious mind, the practice reflects itself back to you as alive, shifting, juicy, interesting, and fun.  The bits were you pull away, were you go spacey, where you feel heavy and dull are not wrong or bad.  They are just sensations guiding you to greater openness and depth.  You are not looking for a final moment where meditation becomes easy and a big light goes off saying “YOU WON.  YOU ARE ENLIGHTENED”  (funny enough, you don’t get any such sign in your workout practice either).

So when doing Pilates, or meditation, don’t focus on “getting it right.”  Focus on keeping an open, playful awareness that is genuinely interested in what you feel.   

I will say that an open and playful awareness has its own difficulties.  Mainly, it is hard to stay so CONNECTED for a long time because the sensation is so great and complex and shifting.  I often experience a sense of being overwhelmed, and a loss of control.  Sometimes, I escape the intensity by going back into my head.  But that is what practice is for. :)    

How does this translate into your life in general?  Where do you hold tight?  Where do you approach your life with play and curiosity?  Can you experiment with changing the quality of your concentration?       

  

 

 

 

 

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Diamond Approach: Desire is the Language of the Heart

What do you want right now?

What do you want most of all?

When you let go of worrying about whether or not you can have it, how does desire feel?

 

Last weekend, I participated in my second Diamond Approach workshop.  The approach was developed by a man named A.H. Almaas as a synthesis between spiritual and the psychological experience.  The group uses meditation and focused inquiry to help people gain a direct experiential understanding of a situation.  As a person gains direct experiential insight into a situation, their ego structure is both repaired and abandoned, so that their essential spiritual nature is more fully expressed (i.e., more LIGHT can shine through).

 

This weekend, our insight process focused around desire.  Buddhist teachings might leave one believing that ALL desire is bad.  Wanting brings suffering.  To stop suffering, stop wanting.

This weekend we explored a different, more subtle approach to desire.  Basically, some desire leads us AWAY from ourselves.  We desire things because we feel deficient in ourselves.  We crave things because we are seeking to not feel something.  We desire things to give us a sense of self.  This is the type of craving that Buddhism counsels against.

But there is another kind of desire.  The kind that is borne out of love.  The kind that rises in your chest, bubbly and yellow like champagne.  The kind that feels so good to allow, you want to sink your toes into it.  And this second kind of desire arises from a sense of fullness, not deficiency.

This second type of desire is a natural activity of the heart.  It is the heart’s GPS.  Follow these desires, and you will find the things in life that affirm you.  And even if you never get the things you desire, the sheer pleasure of loving them, wanting them, is what the heart wants and needs to feel alive.  This type of desire is a sacred movement, profound in and of itself, regardless of whether it is actually fulfilled.

One type of desire brings you closer to yourself, one takes you away. 

How do you distinguish one type of desire from another?  You can tell by how it makes you feel.  Let’s say you crave chocolate.  Do you feel happy and excited about the deliciousness of the treat, a pure and innocent joy in this treat?  Enjoy the pleasure of wanting, free from any attachment to actually eating the chocolate.  Or do you feel an anxious craving, and a gnawing sense that you are ignoring what is really bothering you?  If that is the case, then dig deeper to see what you really want.

So all weekend, this group of people, slowly at first, and then in a joyful rush, shared all of the things that we desired truly, with our hearts.  When we let go of whether or not we could actually have them, the energy shifted from one of frustration or tentativeness, to one of freedom and play.  We desired fun and travel and lovely work and intimate conversations and hot sex (as a seventy-year old woman gamely volunteered).

We were like children who had not yet learned the harsh rules of the world, and were free to love everything we wanted to love.

And we also discussed the things that kept us from our desires.

The most poignant scene of the weekend for me was the inquiry with a man in his late 50s.  He recalled that when he was a little boy, he loved women.  Worshipped them.  He could vividly recall sneaking behind a girl’s desk when he was just starting school (6 or 7 years old), so that he could breath in her scent and stare at the pattern on her dress.  But he quickly learned, because he was brought up Catholic, that such desires were a sin.  So for most of his life, he has had a tortured relationship to women.  He buried his desires because they were bad.

As this man recalled the bright red and white check pattern of the girl’s dress that he so loved over forty years ago, tears streamed down his face.  Together, we sat in silence, letting him cry, sharing the beauty of this innocent desire.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What Else is There?

I met him on the line at Lemonade.

He was an old man.  Maybe in his 80s.  I apologized for cutting in front of him, and he glared at me from under his cap.  After a second, I realized he wasn’t glaring AT me, he was glaring INTO me.  And I was looking into him.  So we started a conversation.

After about 20 seconds, he told me that I was remarkably present and this surprised him.  I laughed and told him that I do spiritual work and I am aware of my growing capacity for being present.  He had a high level of awareness himself, and I was curious where it came from.  After we both finished paying, he asked me (without any lead-up): where do we sit?  So we had lunch together.

We talked about what it meant to be present.  I told him that I thought being present was about fully opening up to the experience of being in your body at any given moment.  How there are all these ways that we build stories around things, or physically contract ourselves, that are ways to escape the intensity of the present moment.  That are all different ways to escape the truth of what is.

He told me that he thought that being present meant going into the past in order to relive the sensation of past pain.  I said, yes, and then when you fully feel it, you can let it go.  He said yes, but— I have enough pain and memories for 100 years so I can never let it all go.  I am serious, he said.  I asked him to explain.

It turns out that this man was a primal therapist.  Primal therapy is basically a reliving of the birth experience, over and over and over again.  As he told me, his face still glaring and serious, this work is very rarely done because it is extremely painful.  And it can cause, and often does cause, your life to fall apart.  Primal practitioners are less likely to have children, or even long-term serious relationships.  And the primal experience generally does not get easier over time.  In his own case, he said—holding out his hands wide to show his initial pain–he had maybe shifted a tiny bit of that pain–bringing his hands together just a few centimeters.  And it was obvious with his age that he was not going to close that gap before he died.  Yet he still faithfully did this practice every morning.

So I asked him.  WHY are you still doing something that is so painful and gives you such little reward?  And he answered: what else is there?

There is a part of me that wants to cushion the blow of his answer and spin a comforting story of a life well-spent.  And yes, maybe I don’t have the right or understanding to judge his life.  But I will.  Not out of disdain, but because my heart broke for this man who spent over three decades voluntarily reliving an extremely traumatic experience because he did not “know” what else to do.  Was he addicted to the pain?  To the story of his pain?  Who would he be without this pain?  At this point, I don’t think he could imagine.

I was having a conversation earlier with someone about how to move from intellectual understanding of a truth to concretely embodying that truth in your life.  In other words, how do you shift from “I know this shadow-aspect of myself and I want to let it go” to actually BECOMING a different person.  I thought that there was some intermediate stage where you intellectually understood the issue, but still couldn’t figure out how to get out of your own way.  The person I was talking with disagreed.  They thought that when you really SAW the truth, the change would naturally follow.

I am still curious about the relationship between awareness/understanding and concrete change.  But my lunchtime encounter showed me at least this much: if you can not imagine a different life, you cannot create one.  When that man asked me: “What else is there?”–that question was not for me.  It was for him.  And he did not know the answer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Keeping it Real: Know Your Ego’s Defenses!

hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil

Are there things in your life you are not allowing yourself to fully see?  Are you keeping them tucked away on the edge of your awareness where you can’t feel them?  What would happen if you let those things come fully into your awareness?

To live in a manner fully consistent with our truth, we must confront reality as it IS.  Not as we would like it to be.  Not as we imagine it might be some day.  What. are. you. feeling. and. experiencing. in. your. life. right. now.  There is pain there, and vulnerability, yes.  But guess what else is there?  YOUR LIFE.   True reality is that shaky, vulnerable place where you actually FEEL alive.  It is that open, spacious freedom where you realize you can actually ask for what you want, that it is okay to desire, that you are allowed to be human, and true love and connection are possible.  There is an incredible amount of vibrant energy there.

How do we live from this shaky open, true place?  If you are like most people, you have become so skilled at escaping reality that you do not even realize that you are doing it.  Our wonderful egos have protected our spirits in various ingenious ways.  When we were young and our egos were developing, these defenses helped us survive.  Now that we are grown, these same defenses constrict our awareness and distort our perception.

To be able to unravel our egos’ work and meet reality head-on, it helps to become familiar with the ego’s tricks.  With assistance from a book I am reading now, The Inward Arc: Healing in Psychotherapy and Spirituality by Frances Vaughan, here is a wonderful list of ego defenses.  Read them, know them, and learn to recognize when you are doing them.  As you become familiar with the ways you struggle to gain control OVER life, you will naturally relax these defenses and gain more clarity.  (I find that it is possible to sense the ego kicking in at an energetic level, a slight escaping or lessening of intensity.  This is part (all?) of what we are beginning to notice when we sit in meditation.)

Woo!  What a rush.  When you can SEE the truth, you can LIVE from the truth.  Like plunging into a cold pool, and laughing because the water is shocking but oh so refreshing . . .

EGO DEFENSES: COMMON WAYS TO ESCAPE REALITY

Denial (“Everything is fine.”)
Simply, the blank refusal to acknowledge what you do not want to see or feel.  When unconscious, you will not be aware that you are in denial.  All you will be aware of is that you think things are “fine” or “manageable” or you “can handle it” (often, denial can manifest as a weird insistence on your own strength to handle things).  You numb yourself out to your own pain or destructive patterns.  (Positive affirmations can work to increase denial.)

Projection/Blame (“It is THEIR Fault…”)
The inability to accept a part of your own consciousness, so you project it out onto other people.  Because you deny your own anger for example, others appear overly angry to you, and their anger might feel overwhelming or intense.  You then assume that the “cause” of your discomfort is the other person, rather than owning and accepting that the original discomfort comes from within.

Shame/Repression (“It is MY fault. . . “)
You are aware that you are feeling a certain way (angry, sad, vulnerable), but you do not think that it is safe or okay for you to actually be feeling that way, so you bury it.  Instead of just feeling that feeling, you feel shame and low self-worth.  I think of shame/repression as the flip side of blame.  Instead of pushing the energy OUT towards to the other, you pull it INTO yourself.  Either way, you are escaping the full brunt of reality.

Reaction Formation (“I’ll do it first.”)
To avoid being hurt, you become what you fear.  If what you are actually experiencing is a deep fear of abandonment, you might avoid this feeling by becoming really good at leaving people quickly.  If you are afraid of aggression and violence, you might become a bully to avoid feeling your fear and pain around this issue.  I am rubber and you are glue . . .

Rationalization (“Well maybe I didn’t actually feel that way . . .”)
You explain and justify whatever thoughts/feelings/action you judge to be unacceptable.  You feel something in the moment, but later on, you talk yourself out of it.  If you felt hurt or angry, you convince yourself that you did not have a “reason” to feel that way.  You move an intense feeling from your HEART to your HEAD, where you can dissect it.  In the process, you avoid processing your feelings and actions as they actually manifested.  (If we consistently cling to spiritual “knowledge” that does not yet exist at a heart level, we can rationalize away reality and actually increase our separation from life.  “We are all one . . .” “I forgive you, because we are all love . . . ”  There is a reason why this often comes off as inauthentic!)

Regression (“I am so hurt!  Rescue me!”)
You feel pain/anger, but instead of taking ownership of it, you make the other person responsible for fixing it.  You don’t recognize the ways that you are creating the conditions that allow this pain to arise.  In a sense, you project your own power onto the other person because it is too scary to recognize it in your self.  (As Marianne Williamson says: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”)

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Finding Energy to Move Through Daily Life

Tonight I had dinner with two close women friends.  We are all in different stages of our lives.  One is not currently working, but managing property.  One is running her own spirituality-based business.  And I am currently working for a company.

Despite the different stages in our lives, we all connected deeply when the entrepreneur among us spoke of the feeling of having to drag herself to accomplish things.  “It seems like there are always things to do, and it gets overwhelming, and I just don’t want to do them anymore.”

Our conversation made me realize two things that I wanted to share with you.

First, if you also feel secretly overwhelmed and exhausted by the seemingly endless demands of life, you are not alone.  You are not doing anything wrong.  There is nothing wrong with you.  This is life.  It is demanding and requires us to meet its challenges again and again.  I know that I have a hidden belief that other people–especially those who are doing fulfilling things like running their own spirituality-based businesses-don’t have to deal with everyday crap.  It is a relief to know that I am not in the remedial class of life.  No matter how much you love what you are doing, it can be a drag to get things done.

The second thing I realized is based off of what Thomas Huebl shared this weekend.  (See here for my other post on his speech.)  He said that when we end the day depleted, the issue is not what we did.  The issue is how we approached our day, how deeply we connected with what was going on.  When we learn to be fully present, then we emerge energized and vibrant.

What these two insights open up for me is this.  The idea that there is some “end” out there . . .  just around the corner . . . maybe if we fixed a few things. . . took care of a a few more . . . is an illusion. Something else will always arise.  We can, however, find freedom and peace and ease by completely surrendering to what is on our plate.  If we give ourselves 100% to the task in front of us, there is no friction and no drain.

Rather than pretending I have the answer to how this is actually accomplished, I will honor these insights by shifting the question I am asking.  Instead of daydreaming about some alternative life where there are no more demands (“When does this end?”), I will ask myself: “How can I dive more deeply into the life I already have?  How can I open more fully to the demands of daily life?  Does the rhythm of my daily life require a break right now?”  Oftentimes by shifting our perspective, we find the answer we are looking for.

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Standing Up for Yourself

I used to think of standing up for yourself as something you did when someone was being obviously rude and mean.  “Hey, you can’t do that to me!” you might shout.  But I have learned that standing up for yourself can come in many different forms, some much less obvious.

For example, you may have to protect yourself against someone you love: a friend, a lover, a family member.   That can make it that much more difficult because we are conditioned to believe that being close to someone means tolerating their hurtful or painful behavior.  We feel guilty cutting off someone we love (or we don’t want to admit that someone we love can treat us this way).  These self-limiting beliefs often prevent us from realizing that even in these intimate relationships, we are still in charge of taking care of ourselves.

To claim our full power, we must redefine what it means to stand up for ourselves.  It is not just a situation where we give a piece of our mind to a bully.  It is the hundreds of small ways that we say YES to ourselves, even if it means saying NO to someone else.   It can be done quietly, with love and grace.  It is often doorway to greater intimacy, not less.  For how can you truly love someone else if you are feeling vulnerable and unsafe?

Let’s examine how this works in practice.

How do you learn to identify situations where you need to stand up for yourself?  Every situation is different, but often you may not recognize it until it happens a few times.  So look for situations that keep on re-occuring with a friend that feels uncomfortable to you.  Each time, you might react in a slightly different way.  Maybe you dismiss it because you think you are strong enough to handle the pain, and the other person’s action are unconscious.  It’s not that “big of a deal.”  Maybe you “have a talk” with the other person, during which they recognize the issue and vow to change.  Maybe you question whether you have a right to feel uncomfortable.  Maybe you hide your uncomfortableness because you don’t want to scare the other person away.

All of these reactions have one thing in common:  you set yourself up to allow the situation to occur again.

At first it may be wise to take that risk, to see if the other person can change.  But when it happens again and again, that is a signal that it is YOU who must make a change in the situation.  The other person is not going to make that change for you.  You are sticking your foot out so that they can step on it.  Because they don’t realize that they are doing so (or they do realize, but can’t stop), it is you who must move your foot.

So the next question:  how do you make this change?  Often, we recognize that we need to act with more self-respect, but we feel totally stuck in this negative patterns.  Here are some insights from my own experience:

  • Allow life to change.  It can be brutally hard to realize that an era is over, a certain innocence and dreams are gone.  Grieve if you must, but adjust.  Make your life fit YOU, don’t cut yourself down to fit life.  If you can let go of the past, you will naturally find the courage to face the future.  (A helpful exercise is when you catch yourself wishing things were different, don’t push that thought away.  Instead, examine it closely.  Recognize what you are trying to hold on to.  Then, with a deep breath, let it go.  Feel the freedom of not fighting to hold on.  Notice the lightness in your body.  You are still here.  Life will go on.)
  • Act out of love for yourself, not anger or resentment towards the other person.  When you act of anger towards the other person, your resolve is muddy and weak.  When you act of love for yourself, your choices are firmly grounded and clear.  This does not mean that you may not experience anger–that is perfectly normal.  Greet it with compassion and recognize that you are larger than it.  Then out of that larger awareness, decide what is best for you.  Remember that you are not here to teach anyone else a lesson, you are just here to grow yourself.  Wish the other person well on their own path.
  • What feels right to you does not have to make sense.  Don’t try and analyze what your heart is telling you.  You don’t have to justify it to anyone, even yourself.  Accept who you are fully and wholly, along with your unique preferences and boundaries.

I hope these insights are helpful to you on your journey.  If you have any stories about your own journey on the path to self-respect and standing up for yourself, please share.  Much love and light!

 

 

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It’s OK to Be Sad: How and Why to Experience Difficult Emotions

eggshells

I wrote this last Sunday, but didn’t post it until now…enjoy. xoxo Nicole

Today I feel sad.  Normally, I might be moving too fast to notice it.  I might miss it because I am busy skipping from one event to the next.  But today is a slow, grey, Easter Sunday afternoon, and I don’t have any plans for the rest of the day.  I am purposefully not turning on my TV or calling friends.  Instead, I am meditating and writing and allowing myself to feel what is coming up in my heart.

We don’t usually just allow ourselves to just feel sad.  We tend to feel like we have to do something to lift ourselves out of this state:  we go for a walk, talk a bath, drink a glass of wine, re-read a positive book.  Maybe we call a friend and discuss the situation until we have figured out a “solution.”  When we feel better, we might even congratulate ourselves on our great self-care skills.   We assume that we are doing well when we have stopped feeling these negative emotions–the faster we can get out of them, the better we are doing.   This belief in the power of positive thought has been further exacerbated by the misunderstood teachings of the Law of Attraction (i.e., the belief that to manifest what you want you must be constantly joyful).

Some of you might immediately be thinking:  ugh–I don’t want to turn into a mess or wallow in the things that get me down.  But this sense of “wallowing” is not due to the emotion itself, but the unskilful way it is processed.  There is another, more skillful way to experience difficult emotions.

The skillful way is to be able to experience pain without fully identifying with it.  Thus, your awareness is large enough to allow room for the difficult emotion AND maintain contact with your fundamental power, peace, and confidence.   You can stay in touch with joy even as you allow yourself to feel sad.  You can feel strong and secure even as you experience vulnerability.  You can feel connected and lonely at the same time.

The best way to develop this enlarged awareness is meditation.  When you meditate, you develop your ability to stay grounded no matter what your mind or heart tosses up at you.  As you practice, you expand your capacity for presence.  Over time, you can handle more rocky stuff without needing to check-out, go unconscious, or otherwise distract yourself from the intensity of experience.  You can use this capacity to experience difficult emotions during your daily life without becoming overwhelmed or confused.

So, okay, we can experience difficult emotions more skillfully.  Why would we want to stay present for difficult emotions?  Why shouldn’t we be practicing getting rid of them, or transforming them into positive ones?

Because something important and valuable happens when we fully experience difficult emotions.  A lot of difficult emotions are tied up around our desire for life to be different than it actually is.  We want to be somewhere else, doing something else, with someone else.  When we avoid those emotions, we avoid directly experiencing life on its own terms. We live partly in our dreams and hopes.  This dream-world might be more comfortable, but its protection becomes our jail.  We lock ourselves up inside the belief that things needs to be a certain way for us to be happy.

When we experience difficult emotions, we come face to face with the way things are.  Even  though facing reality may hurt, the world does not end.  Instead, all of the energy we were using to avoid pain is loosed.   Instead of struggling and fighting the emotion and the circumstances that gave it birth, we relax.  We can LET things be the way they are, AND be happy.  Yes, we may have to wade through some pain and sadness on the way, but we are no longer afraid to experience them.  We acknowledge our pain and vulnerability with a soft, gentle compassion, not with fear or rejection.

With this softening, a new space opens up inside of us.  It is a new place for life to flow, to move, to breath.  Nothing has been solved or changed, and yet all is well.  This well-being is not a mere “belief” in the abundance and goodness of life–it is an energetic death of a closed/constricted consciousness (things must be so!) and the birth of a spacious awareness (surrendering to what is).  How appropriate for Easter Sunday that I find myself writing about allowing ourselves to die, so that we can be reborn.

 

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How do I Stop Thinking and Feeling? Answer, You Don’t!

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from a higher perspective, there is beauty and peace in a hurricane

 

“We have to make a relationship with our emotional energy. Usually, when we speak of expressing our energies, we are more concerned with the expression than with the energy itself, which seems to be rushing too fast. We are afraid the energy will overwhelm us, so we try to get rid of it through action. However, once you develop a harmonious relationship with your energy, then you can actually express it, and the style of expression becomes very sane, right to the point.” — Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche

 

One of the biggest misconceptions about Buddhism is that it is about getting rid of things: thoughts, feelings, the ego.  It is not.  If you focus your efforts on getting rid of things, all you do is spend even more energy caught up in the very thing you are trying to throw out.    At first you might start out angry about something.  If you try and resist that anger, all you end up with is anger AND guilt about being angry.  If you try and make a thought go away, all you end up with is a new thought: I should not be thinking about that thing (which you then immediately think about again).

It’s like those Chinese finger toys–the harder you pull, the tighter it holds you.

What you can do is develop a higher level of awareness so you can watch these thoughts and emotions arise, rather than identify with them.  I think about the process of disidentification very simply.  The thoughts/emotions are visitors. I stay present and watch/hear them do their thing.  I keep an open heart and a grounded presence, even as I feel/experience anger, sadness, mental jumpiness, ect.  I give them my full attention, but I do NOT let them live inside me and start pulling my strings.  And after a while, they run out of energy.  Then, I let them go.

So the idea is not to get rid of stuff.  The idea is to practice operating from another level that doesn’t get caught in the drama.   Actually, our thoughts and feelings can be important and valued guides.  If anything, I am working towards becoming even more open to my feelings and thoughts.   This helps me develop kindness towards myself and others, and grow more spacious and grounded internally.

It also helps relationships.  The more deeply I allow myself to feel sadness and pain around something, the less I need to create a story about why I feel this way (he is to blame, I am to blame, she is to blame).  Sadness is just sadness.  Anger is just anger.  Both of them are just strong energy moving through me.  Just feel them without pushing them away.

If , after feeling my emotions, it seems appropriate to express them, I can do so with a clear mind, taking full ownership of what I am feeling (see my last post on non-violent communication for more about owning your emotions).  People are much more receptive to you when you come from this place.  As Chogyam says, you can be sane, right to the point.  If you hurl your emotions at someone and say: “This is your fault!” you can’t be too surprised when they throw that ball of sh*t right back at you.  If you can approach someone and say: “I felt really hurt when you did this.” then you have created a safe space for them to empathize.

So, bottom line:  don’t try and get rid of your feelings and thoughts.  Just work on developing a better, saner relationship with them.

What is your relationship with your emotions?  Do you believe them?  Do you act on them?  Do you try and ignore them becuase they scare you?  Or are you strong enough to let feelings move through you without getting confused?

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