When I lead a guided meditation, I always offer the idea of cultivating a spacious field of awareness for thoughts and emotions to pass through. This allows us to notice all that arises without getting entangled. (Of course, meditation is a practice, and often we do get entangled, but then we compassionately refocus our attention on the breath or other sensation.)
This spacious field of compassionate awareness, practiced regularly, affects how we are in relation to all that arises in our experience. In our daily lives, unlike in meditation, we continually engage with what arises. We’re not passive bystanders. Yet in everything we do, we have this gift of a spacious pause that allows us to align ourselves with our wise intention, view, effort and mindfulness—all the aspects of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path that we have been exploring in previous posts. In this way we respond to life instead of reacting to it in painful ways.
We see that we have many more options than we had imagined, radiating out from this personal point of power that is alive in every moment of awareness.
We can also see the presence of painful patterns of reactivity passed down from our parents and other influences in our lives, including our culture’s carefully crafted story that we tend to accept without question. We see that our ancestors did not invent these patterns, but received them from previous generations. Instead of cursing them for this inheritance, we can recognize that they did not have ready access to the means to perceive the unskillfulness and harm that they were mindlessly passing along, what we today call ‘emotional intelligence’.
Like most people, they were busy fortifying a separate sense of self, and whatever unskillfulness they noticed became an intrinsic part of their core identity, perhaps causing shame, anger, a sense of something to prove and something to hide. This might have made them defensive, prickly, self-punishing, judgmental and difficult to be around.
Exacerbating these painful patterns, they may have resorted to unskillful ways to ameliorate, ignore or deny their existence. In some cases they were also suffering from post-traumatic stress, and couldn’t acknowledge it, let alone seek help to process it.
Pause to consider your parents and grandparents, the conditions under which they lived, the trauma of war, economic uncertainty, discrimination, or the constant threat of nuclear destruction; and it will be perhaps a bit easier to hold them or their memory in compassion. Which is, of course, the first step toward dissolving these patterns within ourselves.
Next, we can recognize how our behavior, if left unexamined, will continue that painful heritage. We can set the intention to be fully present and compassionate in this moment, in every moment, for ourselves and generations going forward.
After setting wise intention, we recognize that it takes consistent wise effort to meet these patterns where they live: inside our brains. They are not ‘us’ per se, not who we are. But they are patterns that need to be noticed. If we pause before pouncing into habitual reactivity, and give ourselves a brief moment to gently realign with our inner wisdom, we can dissolve the painful patterns and create vibrant life-affirming actions.
In each moment, we are endowed with the power to make choices. Whatever we choose will ripple out into the community of all beings and down the generations. Please, let’s use that power wisely.