When we feel stress or overwhelmed in our bodies, sometimes we want to do anything but sit with it. But here we are, with this invitation to be with what arises in our bodies, not ignoring it or avoiding it any longer. I feel the stress and overwhelming feelings stronger on certain days when my mind is especially active. Today, I decided to sit with it. Here’s what I noticed:
The Active Mind
As I sat, my mind kept saying “I need to do…”, “Don’t forget…”, “What if…”. To me, these thoughts sound like fear, worry, and unease. As much as I want to explore all that, I gently reminded myself that the thoughts are just “thinking” and brought my attention back to my breathing, back to my body.
When I brought my attention back to my breathing, I noticed that my breath was short, that I was holding in my abdomen, and my chest muscles were tense. My breathing definitely reflected what was going on in my body. So I slowed down my breathing, steadied the inhales and exhales, and breathed deeper into my lungs. As I slowed down, I breathed into the spaces that felt tight and tense.
Let Go of the Outcome
After sitting with it, I felt more relaxed and calm in my body. My breathing was steadier and my thoughts didn’t feel as urgent. I sat with what was coming up and I was okay! Sometimes after a meditation, the outcome isn’t always so positive and that’s okay as well. I’ve had times where I left a meditation with tears in my eyes and maybe even more frustrated and tense than before.
This invitation to be with whatever arises is a brave choice. It’s brave because you are choosing to do something that you may tend to ignore or avoid. You are choosing to turn towards it without being attached to the outcome, to be open with what comes up, and to do your best- whatever that looks like for you that day.
I’ve been reading Pema Chodron’s book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, and one of the things I like about it, aside from the massive amounts of wisdom she shares, is that you could open the book to any page and have some connection to the teachings. One of those teachings was on compassion.
Chodron tells the story about cultivating compassion by way of a 19th century yogi, Patrul Rinpoche. First, I’d like to talk about what compassion is. Compassion is defined as sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. The question is, as we cut through the surface level of those words, how do we embody the practice? How do we really start to feel the physical sensations of compassion in our bodies?
Back to yogi, Patrul Rinpoche- he would suggest an image to focus on to tune in to compassion. The image is of a mother with no arms watching as a raging river sweeps away her child. To practice compassion is to connect with another’s pain. In this story, can you imagine yourself in the mother’s shoes? When you try to imagine that for yourself, what do you notice- fear, rage, numbness, or nothing at all? What do those feelings physically feel like in your body?
The practice of compassion is not an easy suggestion to #getoutsideyourcomfortzone. Turning towards compassion is challenging. It’s invitation to practice experiencing distress and moving towards it with ease. Listen to your body and be open and willing to move as slowly as you need to.
It’s been a while since I’ve connected. To catch you up, 2020 has been the start of an intentional journey of self-discovery via meditation. If the image that comes to mind is of me sitting quietly, that’s a good start, but that’s a fraction of what this experience has been thus far. At this point, I’m relearning how to 1) slow down 2) breathe 3) connect with my body 4) and greet everything (and I mean everything) with no attachment to a certain outcome. As things come to the surface of my awareness, I slow down and repeat the steps. I may have to keep repeating this process over and over, slowing down even more than before. It’s a humbling practice.
I’m incredibly grateful to my support system and my teachers for their generosity towards me on this journey. Their wisdom, guidance, and tenderness helps me when I’m feeling lost, uncertain and at this point, frustrated. I notice that I move through life pretty fast (ouch) and I have some high expectations (oops).
To the student and teacher in us all- may we move slowly through this journey, slow like honey.
Change has been on my mind lately. I’ve mostly been thinking about why others are so good at it while I suck. Yes, I know what you’re going to say, “but you’re a therapist, shouldn’t you know how to deal with it?” It’s true, I have some tricks up my sleeve, but sometimes change can be challenging for me too.
“Be mindful even if your mind is full” —James de la Vega
I caught myself a few weeks ago saying “I’m not good with change” more times than I would like to admit. In a moment of mindfulness, I decided to pause, notice my breath, and pay attention to what I was saying. I noticed my breath was different than when I was relaxed, my chest was tight and my breath was shorter. I noticed that critical self-talk, “I’m not good at this” got loud and instead of judging myself further, I said “this is what it’s like when I’m experiencing change in my life”. Not too big of a deal, right? Be in the present, notice the breath, all without judgement.