Time past and time future

Go, go, go, said the bird: Human kind

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.

Practicing mindfulness: Come back to the present as much as possible

Today I rose early and the weather had cleared after yesterday’s rain.  It was a lovely fresh morning, before the cloud and mist moved in again.  The birds are beginning to sing again and there was a sense of light and joy.  Bright mornings make it easy to feel clear and spacious within. And when we do, we find it not so difficult to be kind. It makes it possible to believe in the natural goodness deep inside us. However, even with bright starts on days like this we can still see that the mind has brief moments when it can get confused and dark. When a combination of circumstances come together that frighten us, we can become flustered and defensive.  It is always interesting  to see the mind’s capacity to wander from the way things are and live in thoughts and wonderings and wishing things were other, with the potential narrowing that this brings.

In sitting practice we are reminded to practice “starting over” – to return again and again to the breath when the mind wanders, without being harsh with ourselves. It is a lesson for life also. We frequently get distracted. We sometimes get lost.  And then we wander away from the natural kindness that exists when we are calm. So the practice is to simply try to start over again, by dropping into this moment, noticing what we are doing, becoming conscious of the breath or of the sensations in our body.  We do not need to add the extra judgment about how unworthy our behaviour makes us to the existing situation. We do not make a drama out of it. We acknowledge honestly and simply that we have gotten lost, or are in the wrong, and then go back to start over again.

Reduce your stress today: Flow with what is

This is a nice practice to work with, taken from Pavel Somov’s book, Present Perfect: A mindfulness approach to letting go of Perfectionism and the Need for Control. Why not try it today?

By insisting on reality being a certain way, we get stuck. To get unstuck, downgrade your expectations to preferences. Whereas an expectation is an unwarranted entitlement, a demand that reality comply with your vision of how it should be, a preference is just a wish. Instead of expecting traffic to be light, allow a passing wish for traffic to be light and then go with the flow of what is. Instead of wishing for that perfect warm weather  to go out for a walk, acknowledge your wish for the preferred weather,  then layer up and go out anyway. Instead of waiting for the perfect wind, pull up the anchor of your expectations and sail the wind that exists. Practice expecting nothing and flowing with what is.

How to bring light into the dark places within us

In the Christian Calendar today is the feast of Candlemas. While not as old as the Celtic feast of yesterday, it does date from the 4th Century in Jerusalem, and reflects the same need to mark this period of winter with light and hope. Traditionally it was celebrated by a procession of candles and the blessing of candles for use in the home.

From time to time difficulties occur in our lives which can then seem dark and without hope. Bringing awareness to what is going on inside us at those moments can allow light to shine in the darkness. We sit and observe  what arises and passes away in the mind and body. We  name it – “there is anger“, “there is fear” – thus creating a gap and allowing what we experience to become something known. In this way, our mood and behaviour will not be shaped entirely by invisible, unconscious conditioning, but can become a more reflective response.

When we meditate, we kindle a fire that never dies away.

When we meditate, we’re not idly passing time. In following the breath and learning to deal with our thoughts, we’re laying the foundation for a shift in attitude that has the power to change our lives in a truly meaningful way. There’s a lot of darkness and aggression in our world. Developing our best qualities has an immediate effect on ourselves and others. When we apply ourselves in practice, we’re not only doing something very present; we’re also creating the conditions for how our lives can move forward.

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche

Staying with the feeling

This statement by Tara Brach contains the essence of practice: All of our reactions to people, to situations, to thoughts in our mind – are actually reactions to the kind of sensations that are arising in our body.

See if you can practice this today: Notice the sensations in your body, before thinking sets in. Notice how the body reacts to pleasant and unpleasant events or experiences.  Stay with fear as a feeling in the body before it gets to thoughts or emotions.  Can you allow the sensation just remain a sensation in the body? Can you stop judging your whole life just because of a disturbing feeling in the body?