You don’t have to walk a tightrope

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After a summer hiatus, our meditation class happily regrouped this week.

Since we last met, much has happened in our lives and in the world. We looked at how we relate to all that arises in our experience, whether in our personal lives or in the news.

How do you handle what arises in your experience?

Do you see yourself walking on a tightrope over a deep chasm while you try to balance too many plates?

Perhaps you have developed some coping skills that help you deal with whatever arises. Pause to consider how you handle sudden difficult situations in your life, ongoing conditions and unsettling news. Are they effective in helping you to find equanimity?

Is there some situation or condition that is currently causing you concern? If so, tell yourself the story about it, get caught up in it enough so that it is active in your mind.

Now pause.  Notice any place in your body where you feel a new sensation, perhaps tension, tightness or achiness.

If you find tension anywhere, put your hand there. (If your hands are cold, rub them together first.)

Breathe into the area with tenderness and compassion. With each inhale imagine healing energy creating spaciousness. With each exhale imagine releasing the tightness and  discomfort. Just this simple activity can help to create more ease in the body and mind. You can spend as much time as feels useful, and you can do this on as many areas as needed.

Through this exercise we become more aware of how the body holds our stories, and how much more effective it can be to work with the body than to stay only with the story, telling and retelling it to ourselves, hoping to come to some different ending.

This is not to say that talking is useless. If we are really paying attention, saying the words out loud or writing them down can make us aware of what we are thinking so that we can question our assumptions and see the holes in our reasoning. But chances are we are thinking this same story over and over again without paying attention, and every time we tell it, the body re-lives the experience and tightens up. This is toxic for our health and well-being. Working directly with the body starts a healing that releases us from the story that has us enthralled. So consider incorporating this exercise into your daily life, especially when you feel overwhelmed.

It is so easy to feel overwhelmed, isn’t it? The to-do list, the demands from others, the hectic nature of rushing about to take care of business. Even when our time is our own and no one else is dependent on us, we can get caught up in such a flurry of activity that we feel overwhelmed. We wonder why on earth we do that to ourselves.

We can get into the habit of wishing this moment away in favor of one that seems potentially more easeful conducive to joy. But when we are caught up in that pattern of thinking, we discover when we arrive at that future moment, we are still wishing for more or wishing for different, wishing this new moment away, just like the last.

We are creatures of habit. We create patterns. Some of the patterns we create cause us to suffer, such as this longing for something different than what is, the ‘if only’ pattern, as in ‘If only this situation were resolved I could relax and enjoy life.’

Sound familiar? If so, notice if you fall into another very human pattern of thinking that this pattern you’ve noticed is one more flaw in your make-up, one more thing to work on, one more chore on your to-do list. Aagh!

Let’s remember that because we are creatures of habit who create patterns, we can create patterns of ease and joy too. The regular practice of meditation and other ways that we nurture ourselves are just such joyful patterns. The beauty of this particular pattern is the way it has of revealing and releasing many of the patterns that cause our suffering.

That’s why we take time to sit in stillness, the way we might sit at the edge of a pond. Within seconds we are seeing things we hadn’t noticed were there: a water skate, reflections, a perfect web spun in the branch overhead, the sound of birds, the feel of the air on our skin. Just so in meditation we simply sit and notice, and in the stillness of our intention to be present, the mental patterns reveal themselves. We might see the very leap our mind makes based on erroneous previously-unquestioned assumptions.

We reset the intention to be present, relaxed but alert, anchored in physical sensation, and we set the intention to be compassionate with ourselves and with others. If we get caught up in thinking about a situation or a person, when we realize we are thinking, we simply send loving-kindness to the situation, to the person and to ourselves, and bring our attention back to the breath, or the light on our eyelids, or the sounds in the room, or the feel of the earth under our feet if we are walking. This is the practice.

This simple gift of a practice enables us to hold whatever arises in our experience in a more spacious way so we are not sucked into the inner storm. The storm is more of a little tempest in a teapot that we find curious, interesting, perhaps amusing, and instructive. We are able to be mindful, to see how we, being human, create many of these tornados through the very patterns of mind that we hope will save us.

Instead of walking a tightrope trying to balance too many plates, we can sense the support of the earth and our interconnection to all life, that we are not alone. The weight of the world is not our singular burden to carry.

No matter what life is throwing at you, you have a standing invitation to pause, to sit, to walk in nature, to give yourself the gift of attention and compassion. This is the great gift of equanimity.

Let me know your thoughts on this.

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