The grass is covered in frost this morning. The Summer plants and flowers have begun to wilt and die this past week. The leaves have begun to fall. We see a frosty morning and learn to accept things that we cannot control, like the weather. Viewing life in this manner is skilful, because we see the wisdom in the continual change around us.
However, it is not always easy to calmly observe the changes around us and within us and they can give rise to fear. Fear has dominated the ecomonic and work climate this past year and the challenge is to find a way not to be consumed and corrupted by it. Learning to work skilfully with fear is essental to finding freedom and happiness.
As we persevere in practice we can see more clearly all our fears, some of which we may not even have known were within us. This may make us feel that we are getting worse not better, and uncertain about our strength and direction.
What the frost and falling leaves tell us is that even though we can never be absolutely safe, some difficult things are just part of the cycle of growth. We try to sit with these fears in a mindful way and not try to deny or avoid what is true. We try to simply observe its immediate and obvious manifestation. We don’t immediatel analyze it, try to figure out what the layers are, or what lies at its root. Our job as mindfulness practitioners is to meet, directly and gently, what is in front of us. We also try not to exaggerate the negative and judgmental thoughts which can arise when we are afraid.
The fearful situation, like the frost, can soon pass. Seasons come and go.
“We cannot be in the present moment and run our story lines at the same time. Impermanence becomes vivid in the present moment; so do compassion and wonder and courage. And so does fear. In fact, anyone who stands on the edge of the unknown, fully in the present, without a reference point, experiences some fear. That’s when our understanding goes deeper, when we find that the present moment can be completely unnerving and completely tender at the same time”.
Pema Chodrun Comfortable with Uncertainty
Since a Retreat on Saturday I have been reflecting on directing loving kindness towards ourselves.
Loving-kindness is the intention of goodwill towards ourselves and others. The classic phrases that are taught for practicing loving-kindness can be stated as “May I be well. May I be safe. May I be happy. May I have a life of ease.” I was reminded that when these phrases were written they were considered natural, and easier than wishing kindness toward others. Nowdays, however, people have great difficulty in regarding themselves with acceptance.
Sometimes what is needed is just taking time in one’s meditation to quietly hold ourselves in our hearts and wish ourselves well. I remember the words of the Buddha: “You could search the whole world over and never find anyone as deserving of your love as yourself.” He reminds us that love for oneself is possible; but more, his teachings describe this as a capacity we must nurture. It is the foundation for being able to truly love and care for others.
Othertimes, what is needed is the constant love of another person to provide the safe container, allowing us to look at our fears. When someone loves us, they supply the strength which we often lack to sit with what we do not like:
As Rumi said
“Don’t turn your head.
Keep looking at the bandaged place.
That’s where the light enters you”
Mindfulness practice encourages us to accept each moment as it, without wanting it to be different. It is a form of non-violence towards our life as it presents itself. This acceptance of life should also extend to an acceptance of ourselves, a gentle non-judging attitude towards our inner self and its growth.
I notice that often what hinders this is the expectations which we and others place on us. Expectations can come in many forms, the ones we put on ourselves, the ones others put on us, or a general sense of having to be a certain way or do certain things. They often can be hidden inside us and work against the type of kind gentleness which we are trying to adapt towards where we are in life and our efforts to do as well as we can in each moment. Real radical acceptance is freeing. It is the opposite to the fear which sometimes drives us.
As I read recently,”Opening to possibilities is empowering; falling into expectations is crippling. Recognize the difference and free yourself”
There is a lot of research on the effect of meditation on the brain and the results have implications in different areas of life. The following research was of particular interest to educators and to those involved in employment requiring an attention to detail:
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that practicing even small doses of daily meditation may improve focus and performance. Meditation, according to Penn neuroscientists Amishi Jha and Michael Baime, director of Penn’s Stress Management Program, is an active process that literally changes the way the brain works. Their study was the first to examine how meditation may modify the three subcomponents of attention, including the ability to prioritize and manage tasks and goals, the ability to voluntarily focus on specific information and the ability to stay alert to the environment.
Researchers found that even for those new to the practice, meditation enhanced performance and the ability to focus attention. Performance-based measures of cognitive function demonstrated improvements in a matter of weeks. The study, published in the journal Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience, suggests a new, non-medical means for improving focus and cognitive ability among disparate populations and has implications for workplace performance and learning.
Mary Oliver’s poems reflect a deep sensitivity to themes in nature and to being present in each moment. They are often used as reflections in MBSR classes.
Julia sent me a nice link to an examination of some of the influences on Mary Oliver as a person and a poet in the New York Times.
The link can be found here:
There is good news from Beatrice Weber who runs MBSR Courses in French in the Hôpitaux Universitaires de Genève. She is running two Courses in French, starting October 6th and 26th both of which are full. Her next available Course will be held in January 2010, starting on the 12th.
Beatrice can be contacted at 022 7184522.