A key way of working with fears: Stay with the emotion in the body

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.

Eckhart Tolle

Don’t believe everything you think!


You don’t have to believe your thoughts.We sometimes find ourselves in pretty dark corners, with lots of thoughts whirling around: sad thoughts, depressed thoughts.

We have a lot of sweeping to do everyday, not just house cleaning, but also have to pay attention to the mind and sweep these thoughts, seeing in them what they actually are: a simple and natural activity of the mind.


Cultivating appreciation

Today was another beautiful day here, with early Spring sunshine. And in the afternoon I was fortunate to walk the lanes near my house and look over the fields at the Jura mountains nearby. It was another day where I was struck by the ordinary, simple, kindness of people and their support, as well as moved by the struggles and pains of others who are simply trying to make the best of life with the gifts and talents at their disposal. On days like this  it is easy to find space in one’s mind for kindness and spaciousness and practice appreciation for all the good things, big and small,  that come our way. This  wakens us up to all the gifts which are given to us.  When we do this we strengthen our capacity to be calm and relax with life as it is, not as how we want it to be. We are looking at the abundance that it already present in our heart and in our life, not  complaining about what we do not have.

Appreciation is a relaxing and peaceful state of mind. It creates a space in which we can accommodate the vicissitudes of life and even think of the welfare of others. Complaint, on the other hand, is frustrating and painful. There’s an element of anger and fixation involved. We are believing our thoughts, taking them to be real. Our attachment to the concept of how we want things to be is stressful, because that concept is always disintegrating. What we wanted to happen is not happening. We think complaining is going to get the world back on our track, but really it results in our being deaf, dumb and blind to the present moment. Narrowing our mind with complaint is unpleasant and claustrophobic, the opposite of contentment.

When we complain, we’re saying that the world needs to change in order for us to be okay. If only our parent or partner would behave differently, if only the food were better, if only there were less traffic, if only the service were quicker—then we’d be happy.

Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche.

Why do we let things get so complicated?

I was looking at some old family photographs last week. These black-and-white images from when I was a child on holidays capture little moments, frozen for all time. In them I can see myself when I was  young and carefree, smiling easily, not observing myself, not wondering how I am doing. Looking at them I easily get back in touch with a time when love was given without  complications, a love that  was genuine and asked for little in return. Times were simple, and we were simple too. We embraced life – and each other – freely.

Life has changed everyone in this photograph, as it does all people. The naturalness of childhood, with its trust and more open spirit, makes way for  the passing of time, for  older, supposedly wiser years, for the onset of worries, and for a focus on ourselves and doubts about what once seemed so sure. We grow up, and as we do we become less open, more complicated. We begin to guard and armour the heart, hardening in our attitude towards others and toward life.  The sad thing is, we convince ourselves that this is right.

I am sure that everyone reading this has memories like the ones I have when I look at  a picture such as this. We all wonder where did all that optimism and openness go?  What happened to the love  that we gave to others over the years, that we invested with the best of our intentions? All those dreams, that looking forward to something  good, to something that would endure for ever, and would be there in good times and bad?

It seems to me that all of us are doing our best in a life story where we are never really sure of the conclusion.  A story where we try to live good lives, and be fair to others, and yet still learn that there is a lot of things that are outside our control and where we have to learn through pain and sorrow.  And in some cases, the simple openness does not work; we realize that we have to let go and trust in a process that we cannot understand.  Why do some things not work out, some good people get ill and die, friends move away and no longer stay in touch?  And yet, even if  we have been visited by sadness or have been hurt, we keep touching back into that young heart, which believes in the goodness of life and in the power of love and of friendship. We have to move on, holding on to our hopes despite the unresolved aspects of our life and our story. We are asked just  to try, and try again, and then again some more.  The greatest tragedy would be to let the experiences of life convince us that the optimism and smiles we had as children were completely misplaced.

A practical way for working with strong emotions

Dense and intense emotional reactions can leave us feeling lost and overwhelmed. In these darkest moments, the practice is to bring awareness to the center of the chest, breathing the painful emotions, via the inbreath, directly into the heartspace. It’s as if we were breathing the swirling physical sensation right into the heart. Then, on the outbreath, we simply exhale. We are not trying to do or change anything; we’re simply allowing our heart center to become a wider container of awareness within which to experience distress.

Ezra Bayda, Being Zen

First steps in Mindfulness: Strengthen concentration

Too many meditators get discouraged at the beginning because their minds won’t settle down. But just as you can’t wait until you’re  strong before you start strength training, you can’t wait until your concentration is strong before you start sitting.  Only by exercising what little concentration you have will you make it solid and steady.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Building your mental muscles