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.
This was the subject line of an email I received this week about the developmental tasks of 7 year olds. It’s all about making choices, learning from mistakes, and self-achieving success for that age range. I work with adults but often times we all need some “growing up” again. As an adult, with more internal and external resources and a full grown prefrontal cortex, I like the idea that I can help, support, and love on a younger version of me.
This is what a conversation between adult me and child me would sound like:
7 year old me- Makes a face, a hissing sound, and says “no” while still slightly curious.
Adult me, “Yes boo- take risks, make choices, and learn from your mistakes. You can figure things out and I love growing with you. Let’s do this!”
The process of failure and success bring big benefits to both versions of you- the adult and the child. Benefits include increasing connection with oneself, trusting intuition, learning new skills, and more healthy risk-taking behavior. Yes please!
I’m trying something new and I’m hooked! The first few times I went surfing, I had a great set of guides to help me be successful. They taught me as much as they could for the time that we were together. They encouraged me to go on my own at a different time with specific instructions to read the waves and connect to the water. It was different that time around though. I felt alone, frustrated, I barely got up, and I definitely didn’t have a photo op like you see above. It’s all good though, I still believe there was something to learn even with that experience. Trying something new can be exciting and fun as well as disappointing and discouraging. I guess it’s safe to say that all sorts of feelings will come up during the process and that it’s okay and normal.
Reminders when trying new things:
BEGINNERS MIND- The beginner’s mind is fresh and awake to possibilities, free from a habitual pattern of behavior and thought. There is an opportunity for a different experience when you can settle into this space.
BE KIND TO YOURSELF- Relax the tension in the face and smile. A half smile (lifting the corners of the mouth) for 3 full breaths can ease stress and can also give space from the expectations of success.
ASK FOR HELP- Have a teacher, guide, or mentor? Doing things alone is important but so is asking for help. Learning new things is a different experience when you can ask questions, make informed decisions, and have people that will support you in the process.
I had promised myself a hike today. I haven’t been on one in a while and it felt like a good way to recharge and/or work some stuff out. It also got me thinking about the narratives people use when they first start counseling.
During November, I did a daily self-love challenge. I lost momentum about twenty-one days into it. The focus of the challenge took a drastic turn one night when I yelled at my kids. I felt terrible for days and I couldn’t forgive myself for how I treated them. There was no way I could practice self-love at that point.
Wasn’t that what I was asking for this whole time? An opportunity to practice patience, forgiveness, and compassion? When I took my frustrations out on my kids that night, I felt self-critical and just plain shitty about myself and the situation. Did I deserve to go through a challenge of self-love or was it exactly what I needed?
This past weekend I was feeling funky. I didn’t feel 100% in my body, and my clothes didn’t feel great on me either. It’s embarrassing to say, as this is a minuscule thing to be concerned about given all the things that are going on in the world, but I wanted to share anyways.
I would describe myself as a highly sensitive person. Things like the fit of my clothes and bodily sensations are like sirens going off when things aren’t just right. I understand that I can do things to manage my emotions such as shift perspectives (check!), create a gratitude list (done!), and practice coping strategies to manage the frustration (on it!), but even with all that, it didn’t take away the discomfort.