Real practice is just being here right now
and not adding anything to this.
Charlotte Joko Beck
Breath is the bridge that connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold again.
In our community, where people are practicing the mindfulness of doing laundry, washing dishes, eating, walking and so forth, everybody learns to use breath as a tool for restoring mindfulness.
Thich Nhat Hahn
Whatever thoughts and emotions arise in meditation, allow them to rise and settle, like the waves in the ocean. Whatever you find yourself thinking, let that thought rise and settle, without any constraint. Don’t grasp at it, feed it or indulge it, don’t cling to it, don’t try to solidify it. Neither follow thoughts nor invite them; be like the ocean looking down at its own waves, or the sky gazing down on the clouds that pass across it.
You will soon find that thoughts are like the wind; they come and go. The secret is not to “think” about the thoughts but to allow them to flow through your mind, while keeping your mind free of afterthoughts.
As the previous post noted, we try to bring awareness to the patterns which repeat in our lives. However, they can often have very deep roots in the emotional wounds which we carry with us from the past of which we are unaware. This quote points to a way of working with them as they actually manifest in the day-to-day of our experience. Most of our deep wounds are connected to relationships in the past and therefore we can imagine a situation where a current relationship causes our anxiety and fears to rise. These then give rise to a cascade of thoughts about ourselves or others, painting worse-case scenarios or stories about deficiencies in ourselves. What is the best way to work with this? In this moment we do not know the roots in the past which the experience has touched into. However, we do have a very real feeling – of fear, or of flight – in the body. So we stay with that. We acknowledge, if possible, the story line that the mind is running, but leave it to one side. We try to stay with fear or anxiety as an embodied feeling and work with the energies associated with the feeling. Stay with the emotion with kindness and non-judgment as much as you can as a feeling in the body, breathing into the feelings and widening the space around them. In this way we hold ourselves and our fears in awareness and acceptance, just as a mother would hold a frightened child.
You may not yet be able to bring your unconscious mind activity into awareness as thoughts, but it will always be reflected in the body as an emotion, and of this you can become aware.
The more things go “our way” for a while, the more we can believe that that is the way it is supposed to be. And when things don’t go “our way,” which sooner or later they will not, we can get angry, disappointed, depressed, devastated forgetting that it was never “supposed to be” any one way at all.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, Arriving at your own Door
Cannot bear very much reality.
Time past and time future
What might have been and what has been
Point to one end, which is always present.
T.S. Eliot, Burnt Norton
Another post on remaining in the present moment, this time as a practical way of working with fear. It is prompted by a nice comment I got from Eric regarding a previous post, where he quoted Einstein. That set me thinking of another quote from the same famous scientist, which echoes some of the ideas we find in our meditation practice: People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.
When we meditate we come to see that – in one sense - the past and the future exist only in the mind. And often with regard to the future we create scenarios which will never happen, leading to worry. Last night in the MBSR Course, we had a discussion about how we can work when strong emotions, such as fear, arise. One thing we can do is to recognize that some of the thoughts connected to the fear concern future scenarios which may never happen. If we can let go of those thoughts – and that is not always easy – what have we got to work with when we just stay in the present? The main thing is the sensation in our body at this moment. We notice there is a tightness in the chest, a clenching or a knot in the stomach, or rushed breathing. So this is our practice: We recognize this, and stay with the present, experiencing fear or anxiety as it is actually happening, as an embodied feeling. We then try not to add any judgment about the feeling or about ourselves to the moment. We let go of trying to fix it. We practice just being with the sensation for as long as we can, seeing what is going on. Thich Nhat Hahn writes about this practice as a way of taking care of ourselves, almost like we would take care of a frightened child:
Mindfulness is there in order to recognize. To be mindful of something is to recognize that something is there in the present moment. Mindfulness is the capacity of being aware of what is going on in the present moment. “Breathing in, I know that fear has manifested in me; breathing out, I smile towards my fear.” This is not an act of suppression or of fighting. It is an act of recognizing. Once we recognize our fear, we embrace it with a lot of awareness, a lot of tenderness.