I’m walking the labyrinth this morning and noticing dewdrops on blades of grass as they catch the light of the rising sun. Patches of dewdrops are visible only from certain angles. Otherwise, they are present but unseen. It’s an interplay that depends on where you and the object are in relation to each other and to the sun. Timing is also a factor because of the dewdrops’ transitory nature.
I recognized this immediately as my daily metaphor. Nature is a mirror that helps me to make more sense of the ambitious curriculum of Schoolroom Earth.
I can tell the labyrinth received some TLC recently, probably yesterday. It was neat and tidy and perfect for walking. Feeling appreciative, I stood at the end of the willow branch threshold and didn’t step into the labyrinth until I arrived fully in the space and could feel my feet on the ground, hear the sounds, and feel the breeze on my skin. Ground, sound, around.
As I walk, I notice the shadow pictures on the recycled slate steps of the labyrinth and think of all the different images that went unnoticed until I looked in a new way, and they became visible. Then I couldn’t believe I’d never noticed them before.
Isn’t that just how it works, though? You’re blind to certain realities until you’re in the right place and ready to see them. Visually and otherwise. Even when they are right there in front of you and had been all along.
All of a sudden, in one moment, breath, or footstep, it seems so obvious, and you can’t unsee the thing. I remember the day I first noticed the shadow pictures. It was like a new world opened up, and from then on, they were plain as day. Then I started noticing other kinds of shadow pictures. It was a new, expanded way of perceiving the world.
Sometimes other people can help us open our eyes. For example, one of my photographer friends shared a picture of geese floating on colorful, autumn reflections. Her image spoke to me and planted the seed of longing to notice and photograph the interaction of birds and reflections. Sharing her perspective made me aware of a new possibility.
Shadow pictures, others, self: It’s all the same. When the blinders finally come off, you see (and then can’t unsee) things that previously passed under the radar. We evolve by becoming aware of blind spots and expanding our field of vision and awareness. Sometimes it happens when there is a pressing need and we’re actively seeking a new perspective, and sometimes it happens when everything lines up just right. And when it does, there’s no value in regretting that you hadn’t seen it sooner. For whatever reason, you weren’t ready.
Just be glad you finally did, and go on from there.
I’m really glad I went to dharma meditation group this morning, even though I was five minutes late. It might have been because I got out of bed about a half hour before I needed to leave, and someone beat me to the bathroom, so I had to wait a few minutes. At any rate, by the time I left the house, I realized I would be a few minutes late.
What were my options?
Sit outside the door until the break between sittings.
Enter the meditation room as quietly and mindfully as possible.
The group meets in a wellness facility. A room at the back of a gym. When I got to the door, it didn’t feel right to sit outside the room. It felt more right to enter quietly.
Ever so slowly and mindfully, I turned the door handle, opened the door, and walked towards the meditation blankets and cushions, feeling each slow-motion, bare footstep making contact with the hardwood floor. It was a very short walk of fewer than ten steps, but in the piercing silence of the meditation room, it felt intrusive nonetheless.
I sat down silently on my cushion and tuned in to what was going on in my head and body. Most of all, I hoped I didn’t disrupt anyone’s meditation. Do I have a right to be here? Was it selfish to come in a few minutes late?
In meditation, you work with what arises, what shows up. For me, it was the voice in my head that didn’t want to bother anyone or act selfishly. I took a couple of deep breaths and did a body scan, which revealed energy in an area that often feels imbalanced, in a nook right below the center of my rib cage. So I directed my attention there, like a flashlight.
There was some panic in that spot. I was tempted to focus on my breathing instead of the tension. I noticed some resistance to being intimate with that energy and noted: Resistance. Then I realized there was a tender and vulnerable energy beneath the panic and investigated it. It seemed like a young child, and I heard: Am I lovable? Is it okay to make a mistake? Do mistakes make me bad?
This energy called for presence, not for the logical mind to step in and fix things and avoid connecting with and feeling the vulnerability. The childlike sweetness and purity of the questions touched my heart. I wanted to care for this little child.
But then I got distracted. I noticed the sounds outside the door: the whirring of an exercise machine moving very fast with an intensity that was in stark contrast to my stillness on the cushion. I heard voices talking. Were they louder than usual? OH NO! Did I not close the door all the way? Am I responsible for ruining everyone’s meditation?
Paying attention, I once again noted: Panic. I stayed with the source of that energy.
A few minutes later came the most dreadful realization of all: I FORGOT TO TURN OFF MY PHONE! Oh dear God, no! Please don’t let my phone make any sounds! What are the chances I will get a phone notification before the meditation bell rings? Okay, so I have a choice right now. I can hope and pray my phone will remain silent until the meditation is over. Or I could very mindfully and as quietly as possible reach for my bag, unzip it at a snail’s pace, and turn off my phone. Which would be least disruptive? Waiting for the bell did not seem as empowering a solution as turning off my phone. However, I decided to take that risk. Oh meditation bell, please ring soon!
Panic.Choice.Choosing to wait for the bell to ring.Questioning that choice. Noticing the temptation to criticize myself.
Then the bell rang, mercifully. I breathed a sigh of relief and turned off my phone.
After a brief break and dharma talk, we meditated again. I returned to the vulnerable energy at the base of my rib cage and placed a hand on that area to flow Reiki – unconditional love – to it. The energy wasn’t asking for reassuring explanations. It needed love. So I nurtured it with loving presence. How often do I shush that voice and focus on something else, thereby diminishing its importance and not hearing what it wants to tell me? And therefore not giving it what it needs.
After a few minutes, the energy calmed and cleared.
Then I noticed the voices outside the door again. The glorious voices! They were still loud. But that meant I didn’t mess up! It’s just the way the sounds are in that room. Maybe others were irritated by the voices and wished they would be quieter and less disruptive. In which case: Irritation. Desire.
Maybe some were grateful for the sounds of the voices bringing them back from wherever their mind had wandered. Returning. Appreciation.
Maybe when some people come in late, they squelch the voice that wonders if they are lovable, or maybe that voice doesn’t arise in them as it did in me. Maybe they assert their right to be here, and screw anyone who has a problem with it! (Thought bubbles over a roomful of meditators would be hilarious, heartbreaking, mundane, and everything in between.)
In the past, I sat next to people who came in late during meditation and noticed the sound of their rapid, shallow breathing, as if they’d been rushing. Compassion arose in me, and I radiated love to them and honored their intention to practice. Who knows what they went through before arriving. Their determination to attend meditation group was greater than whatever obstacle got in the way. Good for them!
I’ve also witnessed a meditator scowl at a latecomer. And I judged the scowling, thinking: He should just focus on his own breathing and reactions rather than get upset with someone who decided to show up after all. And then I caught my reaction. Judging. Storytelling.
Hello, Ego, my old friend. You nearly pulled me in again.
An observer might think it looks like everyone in the meditation room isn’t doing anything. But there’s so much that arises as invitations for awareness, healing, compassion, self-compassion. You work with whatever shows up. That’s the practice. When other people are involved, there’s an abundance of opportunity for practice because relationships are perhaps our principal means for learning in this world. But there’s plenty of opportunity when we sit alone in a room, too. There’s no shortage of material to work with, whether alone or with others.
At the end of the meditation group, an older woman approached me and complimented how quietly I entered the room and said she wishes others would come in so quietly. She told me she’s glad I came. Someone else might have a different response, a different story, different habits.
But you know what? The energy that arises in me is what I have to work with, and I felt good about how I handled it today, for the vulnerable, child energy received what it needed. The more I can accept and love all the parts of myself that arise, the more cleanly I can relate to others.
Of course, it’s important to get to meditation group on time. But if you are a few minutes late and choose to enter the room – or even if you’re on time or practicing alone – pay attention to the voices and energies that arise. They are there for your healing and liberation. All of them.
This afternoon, a friendly, older couple came into the library with a little girl about eight years old. They asked me to help them locate a DVD and handed me a piece of paper with only the call number written on it: 792.8 COPP. I didn’t need to know the name and didn’t ask.
It ended up being a DVD of the Coppélia ballet. They were taking their granddaughter to see it later this week at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) and wanted her to know the story ahead of time.
I saw the New York City Ballet perform Coppélia at SPAC many times when I was a little girl. It was my favorite ballet aside from The Nutcracker. I told the girl I loved Coppélia when I was about her age and mentioned that the costumes are beautiful, and I think she will enjoy it.
The grandparents’ energy was lovely. Their personalities seemed a lot like my parents’. My mom always made sure I knew the story of the ballets before seeing them, and the grandmother’s excitement reminded me of her love for ballet performances at SPAC. And the little girl reminded me of little me.
My mom worked at SPAC since I was in elementary school and retired a few short years before she died five years ago. When she retired, my parents were given lifetime, complimentary tickets for the ballet and orchestra performances. They always sat in “their” seats in the amphitheater. After my mom died, I accompanied my dad and sat in her seat. Their seats have plaques, and my mom’s bears the inscription:
Nancy Meyer “The Heart of Art of SPAC” From your SPAC Family
My dad’s, on the seat next to hers, reads:
Ed Meyer Nancy’s Husband “Partner in the Arts”
I haven’t been to the ballet or orchestra since my dad passed away. However, thanks to a partnership this year between SPAC and the libraries I work at, I’m going tomorrow evening with my family. I would have loved to see Coppélia, but I’m not free that evening. But it makes me happy to think about the little girl and her grandparents going to see it.
It was a really sweet interaction. However, when I sat back down at the reference desk, my eyes teared up. It was the kind of moment that has become so much rarer than during the early years of bereavement.
Grief is so very, very different now than it was for a few years after my mom (and soon after, my dad) died. It even feels benevolent. There’s still an initial sting, but it subsides swiftly into gentle ripples of gratitude and appreciation. I’m so grateful because grief was intense and overpowering for a while, a flood tide force that knocked me down and threatened to pull me under. There were a few complicating factors that made it downright brutal and certainly the darkest, most challenging years of my life.
It’s not like that now, for I’ve become familiar with grief and have learned to co-exist peacefully with it. Although every now and then a “moment” happens, it’s so much more fleeting than it was before. The sea is quieter. More of a gentle splash than a smack-down.
Within seconds of feeling tears welling in my eyes at the library, a familiar patron approached me with a joke that made me smile. Then he showed me a very marked up book of poetry he carries with him that has some of my favorite poet’s work in it. And just like that, the “moment” had passed.
If a distraction hadn’t come along, I probably would have greeted it silently: Hello, Grief. Then I’d generate lots of self-compassion and compassion for others all around the world who are grieving. That’s what Grief seems to ask of me these days. It wouldn’t have stayed long. It comes to connect me with our common humanity and to help me cultivate lovingkindness.
The moment of grief at the library was poignant but very brief. The brevity made me aware of the contrast between the dark years and now. As soon as I got home, I sat down to write this because I want you to know, if you are grieving the loss of someone dear: It’s going to get better. Grief is impermanent. It changes. Your relationship with it will change. It won’t always feel so intense. In time, there’s even a possibility that Grief will be your friend and reveal its silver lining. Perhaps you’ll even learn to dance together.
It’s incredible out here on the dock this morning. There’s a refreshing river breeze. It’s even a little cool, which is welcome relief from the heat and humidity of the past few days. The waves are lapping against the shore, the sunlight is sparkling on the water, the warmth of the sun is caressing my skin, and the birds are singing. If the water weren’t so choppy, I’d go out in my kayak. But honestly, I’m glad to have an excuse to indulge in a different pleasure this morning: playing my singing drum on the dock.
I’ve had the drum for less than a week but have wanted one for quite a while. Actually, I wanted a hang drum, but they are very expensive and harder to come by. So I began exploring alternatives and then kind of forgot about it until a couple of weeks ago.
I love to play my singing drum. Especially on the dock on a bright and breezy, summer morning.
There’s road noise to contend with. Always is here on the busy side of the river. I hear the familiar vibration of the steel deck bridge and the cars and trucks only a few yards away from my spot on the dock. But I’m trying to keep my attention on what’s most important: what uplifts me and feels most right in this moment. Just letting all the traffic noise be and not pull me away from my own be-ing.
Making music while all this other stuff goes on is this morning’s meditation practice. Choosing to feel and express my interconnection with the sparkling sunlight on the river, the eagle flying over the island, the wind, the movement and rhythm of the water. Focusing on that. Making music with that.
I can’t control the road noise. But I can control where I put my attention and whether I am in harmony or disharmony with my surroundings. Does my music embody union with the sparkling sunlight on the water or resistance to the rumble of traffic rolling by? Am I expressing wholeness or separation?
The state of your mind and heart is an integral part of the music you offer the world, literally and figuratively.
My advice? Play what you love. Focus on what you love, what brings you joy, meaning, satisfaction, grace. Can you keep your focus on that when all the other stuff is going on around you? Can you tune the other stuff out so you can co-create with life? Or even better, can you incorporate it into the totality of what you are living and embracing this very moment and express unconditional presence?
I sense our music is of a higher quality – less fearful and more authentic – when we play (talk/listen/act/love) from a state of presence and interconnection.
It’s all part of a larger practice of being more improvisational and not relying on notes (of one kind or another) on a page. Expressing from the heart in the moment and trusting that whatever arises is what’s most needed and real and true. That’s the leading edge of my practice these days.
When I hit the record button on my phone, I noticed a subtle shift from expressing to performing. From letting the notes and rhythms flow uninhibited to wanting to sound good and be appealing. But that’s a practice, too. A continuum. My intention is to push the record button and remain in presence, whether I’m communicating through music or words. It’s the same basic practice whether it involves playing music, interacting one-on-one, leading a guided meditation, facilitating a meeting or workshop, addressing a group, or teaching a class of young children. In my case, all my early childhood teaching experience has become a foundation for the rest.
Cultivating deep authenticity and trust…in myself and the wisdom inside me. And also in the magic of connection that happens in the moment, that transcends any stories I create in my head about relationship.
I looked to others for guidance and validation my whole life. But that need comes from the false self, which is a layer I’m in the process of shedding. Because it’s time, and I have a feeling that hormones are finally on my side. Now what I want most of all – more than any kind of worldly success or status – is to trust and follow my own guidance. To be MORE present, improvisational, inner- and inter-connected, and LESS self-conscious, rehearsed, and influenced by others. To express my inner being rather than try to be who I think others want me to be. The latter has had a long enough run! It’s time for a new experiment. It’s kind of scary. But even more, it’s exciting.
So this morning, I brought my singing drum to the dock and allowed the sparkles of sunlight on the water to be the notes I played. They looked like this:
And if you’re curious, they sounded something like this:
The holistic fair had been on my calendar for months. I made sure not to schedule anything else for the day and looked forward to attending the event.
Then the day came, and I just couldn’t motivate myself to go.
I wished I had some girlfriends to go with who shared my interest in all things mind-body-spirit. No doubt I do. But nobody came to mind. If I lived in Ithaca, I could send an email to my Hidden Treasure group and go as a group. It would be fun. That kind of companionship and sense of belonging to a community is what I long for.
I thought: Maybe I should push myself to go anyway. But when I checked in with myself, I kept hearing no – and argued with it. There was a gigantic should hanging in the air.
If there’s anything I’ve learned in recent years, it’s that in moments like this, the sooner I can get out of my head, the better. The dilemma would not be solved by thinking about it. Because there was emotional energy involved. Frustration, confusion, sadness. I was in an energy funk.
Feelings are signals that are part of our inner guidance system. The energy in my body had information to offer me. If I just thought about it, I’d cut myself off from a powerful source of wisdom and guidance. The emotional imbalance in my body was a signal to tune in and be present to what was happening right now in the moment without getting caught up in mental activities like stories I have about who or how I am or theories about why.
So I sat on my meditation cushion, made some inquiries, and paid attention.
An Alchemy of Presence
First I asked: What feelings am I experiencing now? (Sadness.)
Then I did a body scan to notice where I felt it the most. (In my heart area.) I placed my hands there and let them rest gently over my heart while I tuned in to the energy of that area.
What does the feeling look like? (I saw a hunk of clay.)
What color is it? (Pink.)
Then I saw golden hands kneading the clay that had the consistency of Silly Putty. The hands kept kneading and kneading and kneading. Whereas I was eager to find out what would become of the clay, the hands seemed very patient. They just kept kneading, and as they did, I allowed impatience and sadness to be with me. I didn’t push them away.
Then a female voice (that seemed to be attached to the hands) told me that I am putting too much pressure on myself. It’s okay not to feel like striving today. It’s okay not to have a clear vision yet of what I am in the process of creating. She asked me if I trust the hands that are kneading the clay. (Yes, I do.) Then I just stayed with the pleasant sensation of kneading. I was being asked to be patient and just allow it to be what it is right now.
The voice told me THERE IS NO RUSH. Don’t worry about what it is to become. It’s all in good hands.
At one point, a worried thought arose, and it was worked into the clay. It got absorbed and became part of the substance that was being kneaded. Anything could be added to the mix, and it would help to create this substance that eventually would be formed into something.
I remained present to the kneading, and eventually the hands stretched the clay until it was very thin and transparent, allowing the light to shine through. It became so thin that it turned into a bubble. Then there were lots of bubbles. The voice explained that there are so many possibilities.
One bubble caught my attention. It tumbled along the green grass, and when it came to rest, I sat inside it. There were lots of translucent colors on the surface of the bubble. I became curious: What color did I gravitate toward? (Blue.) I allowed the blue light to shine on me as I sat inside the bubble. The blue light charged me with a different kind of energy.
Then the blue light mixed with the pink of the clay and turned purple. The purple became butterflies. So many butterflies! The purple butterfly energy filled me. It fluttered inside my body and filled me with a sense of certainty. I would just know. It was a completely different energy.
Then I saw the face that was attached to the golden hands and the voice. The face was like the sun and blew purple butterfly kisses to me. The butterflies filled me, and then there was a golden bridge that connected me with this higher being. The butterflies inside me pulled me in the direction of the golden hands and face. It was my Higher Self beckoning me.
After about 20 minutes of witnessing the story that unfolded in my heart chakra, it felt complete. The energy of sadness and confusion had shifted into peace, acceptance, and contentment. I felt calm and whole. When I returned to meditating, I experienced the sensation of a waterfall of light flowing down into my head and through my body. My energy pathways felt clear.
The confused, conflicted energy in my body was a signal that wisdom or guidance was trying to come through. It was a message of patience and not feeling like I have to strive today. Instead of going to a crowded convention center, I walked in the sunshine and fresh air, and that felt like exactly what I needed.
I’ve been no stranger to anxiety. It’s taken the form of worry, white coat hypertension in medical settings (traced back to early experiences), performance anxiety, and social anxiety. For a long time, my approach was to try to make the anxiety go away. I couldn’t accept it. It felt like a weakness or defect. If I was “spiritual” enough, I wouldn’t feel anxious. At least that’s what I told myself.
But trying to make it go away didn’t work. I tried taking deep breaths to get rid of the anxiety. That tended not to work, either. I was still stuck in my head.
This power struggle with my body and my attempts to force it into submission cut me off from its tremendous wisdom. Recommitting to mindfulness meditation practice has helped me to cultivate a different relationship with my body characterized by greater acceptance and less rejection. Hallelujah!
Recently, I discovered “The Felt Sense Poem” (author unknown) written in the voice of the symptoms and conditions that arise from having a body (meaning that I would read it as Anxiety speaking to me). It describes eloquently a different kind of relationship we can have with our bodies, by listening, allowing, and being present rather than indulging in our storylines and beliefs. Here are some excerpts:
I am your friend, not your enemy. I have no desire to bring pain and suffering into your life. I am simply tugging at your sleeve, too long immune to gentle nudges. I desire for you to allow me to speak to you in a way that enlivens your higher instincts for self-care. My charge is to energize you to listen to me with the sensitive ear and heart of a mother attending to her precious baby.
Let me be one of the harbingers that lead you to the mysterious core of your being where insight and wisdom are naturally available when called upon with a sincere heart.
Not your typical way of relating to physical or mental afflictions, huh? That’s what I’m talking about.
All the Incredible Stories
There are stories living in our body. Illuminating, healing stories. When I notice emotional energy in my body, I can’t wait to tune in to see what story will unfold. What it wants to tell me.
There was the time when a wild boar leaped out of my solar plexus chakra and ran into the woods. It was an energy that had been living in me for quite some time, and I felt so light and free when it left!
Another time, a mermaid swam around underwater and knew that the structures that seemed separate above the surface were connected underwater like the root systems of trees. When she came above the water embodying this understanding, her tears created healing rainbows.
There was the time when I felt anxious about a doctor’s appointment and saw water in the ocean pushing against a wall that kept me safe from all the water pressure. This story played out in my heart chakra. When I decided to allow the wall to dissolve, I discovered there was a magic umbrella I could hold onto that allowed me to hover over the water until it became calm. Then I enjoyed the sensation of floating on my back on the immense sea, feeling connected with it, part of it. I remembered how enjoyable it was for me to float on my back when I was young, before I became so self-conscious about my body. This was very different from the pressure of keeping that wall in place! I felt the difference and called on that imagery to relax my body when it tensed up before my appointment. The image carried the energy of safety. It was like a portal into calm.
There was the seriously EPIC story that played out in my sacral chakra. The story of the gleaming white Temple of Ascension in which trauma was transformed into transcendence through the presence of unconditional love and light from many angelic beings gathered around me. I can tap into the powerful, healing images and feelings of that story whenever I need to. It is immensely healing, especially when shame arises.
When I felt upset and experienced a desire to control and possess, there was the story in my heart chakra of a large monkey inside a cage. The monkey didn’t want to be in the cage and stomped his feet. Eventually, the monkey shrunk until it was small enough to slip between the bars and out of the cage. Then it regained its normal size and started to spin the cage like a top. It was a golden top spinning gold light. It spun faster, and it was all golden light. Eventually the monkey dissolved, and only the spinning, golden light remained. And my energy had shifted into peace and equanimity.
When I felt very introverted before a Hidden Treasure group retreat weekend began, there was a story in my throat chakra of a bird-like creature almost like a bat with its wings folded around itself, but the wings were blankets. When I rested my hands on my throat area, the shining sun warmed the little creature, and its blanket wings unfolded and became prayer flags. Then the little creature dissolved and became the wind. My energy had shifted from introversion to being ready to connect with my classmates.
And there was the time I felt negativity toward someone whose picture came up in my social media feed. This was another heart story, of a gigantic, black, iron teardrop. As I felt great sadness, the teardrop sweated. I kept my hands on my heart chakra and felt the warmth and noticed the image change. It started to become more greenish-blue and transparent. I noticed hands inside the teardrop, reaching outward. Then the greenish-blue became the ocean. The iron teardrop had dissolved and become the ocean. Then the hands put the sun into the sky. The sun was the head, and the hands were part of a gigantic, luminous body that contained the ocean and everything in it. There was nothing this luminous energy would exclude. This luminous, inclusive being was so much bigger than anything in this world and could embrace it all.
When this story ended, I felt Universal Love toward the person and no more negativity. If I find myself going back into that reaction, I can recall that luminous image at the end of the story and experience it again. It’s more effective than working with my thoughts and self-talk because that image carries healing energy that I can take refuge in.
Out of Our Head and Into the Present
Some of our thoughts are like balloons or bubbles that just float away or dissolve on their own or when they are observed. They’re not emotionally charged. Others carry an emotional charge that’s anchored in the body.
That’s where our energy stories reside. We can dissolve the energy blocks and get the energy flowing by tapping into those stories and images and bringing the energy of unconditional love to those areas. Like a mother attending to her precious baby. If you can become aware of where you feel the energy in your body, your witnessing presence can transmute uncomfortable sensations into healing wisdom.
This is different from going into our heads to try to dominate and fix the problem. Being present to energy sensations in the body is a more receptive response of connection, empathy, and care. For balance, we need both, along with an awareness of when to use them.
When we go straight to the action step and employ our thinking minds to manage an emotional uprising, the suppressed feelings might get lodged in our bodies, leaving the wisdom untapped and undermining true resolution. This approach only addresses part of the issue. In my opening example, my thoughts revealed a longing for girlfriends I can do things with. But that was only part of the solution. The energy work offered another kind of wisdom.
Instead of going straight to problem-solving, we can notice where the energy is in our body and be present to it. That might mean resting your hands on that spot with loving presence, simply being aware of the energy (and the act of noticing helps it to shift), or seeing if there are more visuals to work with, or even a story unfolding.
In the beginning, and especially when there is trauma involved, it’s good to have a guide for this kind of work. My spiritual director, Alice, has guided me through the process a number of times, and I’ve witnessed her guiding others during our Hidden Treasure meetings. I had a psychotherapist who used this approach, too. Eventually, I started remembering to take myself through the process when emotional stuff came up.
Experimenting with this approach has been really helpful. It gets me unstuck. It was always available, but I didn’t realize it because I was trapped in my head, convinced thinking was the answer. I’ve learned there are limitations to taking an intellectualized, rational approach and remaining in our stories, explanations, and theories about how we are and why. Especially when feelings are involved.
There is another way to work with emotions that arise, by paying attention to what is going on right now and the fresh content that is emerging. At such times, the sooner we can get out of our heads and into the present moment, the better!
Scrolling through my social media feed last night, I got the distinct impression that 2018 was a very difficult year for many in my network. I know the feeling (been there, done that!), although 2018 was quite the opposite for me. As I drove home from work last night, it occurred to me that 2018 might have been thebest year of my life thus far. I took a mental inventory of every year of my adult life and affirmed that it was. My intention for the New Year is to keep that positive momentum going, which is quite different from all the years I was grateful for the fresh, new beginning the New Year offered.
If 2018 was a real dud (or worse) for you, then I wish you a much better 2019.
New Year, New Material
I woke up this morning from a dream that revealed a couple of opportunities for growth this year. I also experienced some feelings that surprised me last night and showed me there’s opportunity for growth there, too. Then there’s my very conscious intention to feel more physically fit and comfortable in my body. In other words, I have some material to work with – which is always the case. And that is actually quite exciting.
And Old Material, Too
Feeling self-conscious about my body is really, really old stuff that has kept me from engaging more with the world. It even kept me from agreeing to be my sister’s matron of honor when she got married. (Yeah, it was that bad.) And I’ve always done my best to avoid any dancing scenarios – although I did teach aerobics many years ago. But now I feel ready to do something about this ridiculousness.
I know when body shame became activated. It was when I was ten or eleven years old, and my mom sat me down and had a little talk with me about my weight. At the time, I was an early developer going through a “filling out” stage. Until that day, I hadn’t given much thought to how I looked. But that talk rocked my world and made me feel there was something really wrong with me. I became fixated on my appearance and felt I needed to look good in order to be loved.
I never told my mom how serious an effect that talk had on me and on our relationship. She never meant to hurt me. She worked as a flight attendant recruiter, and in that world physical appearance was of the utmost importance. And I was a sensitive kid.
I’ve done some inner child work in which I imagined my current self as a loving presence in the room during that talk and assured my fifth-grade self that she was beautiful and loveable just the way she was. That was part of the healing. Now I mostly work with feelings as they arise and constrict the present moment, and send love and compassion to both my mom and my younger self.
Back to the Gym
Last winter, I walked outdoors in all kinds of weather conditions, and it was great to experience the fresh air and nature connection. However, it didn’t do much for me physically and actually left me feeling more out of shape than I’d ever felt in my life. When we had a snowstorm in November, I decided I wasn’t going to spend a long winter exercising outdoors (though I do hope for a good season of snowshoeing) and reactivated my gym membership. I’ve been working out almost every day for the past six weeks or so, and it feels awesome.
Every day, I imagine how great it will feel when I finish my workout, and that feeling motivates me to get to the gym. Focusing on positive feelings is key.
I was inspired by a few friends who’d recently committed to fitness and experienced results that included losing weight, having more energy, and feeling better emotionally. Still, I held off on reactivating my gym membership because the thought of exercising indoors around other people with lots of television screens mounted from the ceiling was entirely demotivating.
But I found a way to make it work. I have a subscription to Gaia and spend my time on the cardio machines absorbed in enlightening, inspirational content. The rest of the world melts away when I’m in my little cardio-Gaia cocoon.
So that is going well and has momentum. I do it because it feels great, and I also anticipate how I will feel even better months from now – because that’s what happened with my meditation practice.
Last spring, I recommitted to a daily habit of meditation, and after more than seven months, my practice is solid. It’s not something I feel obligated to do. There’s no dogma attached to it. I do it because it makes such a positive difference in the way I feel, and I want to feel that way more. I expect to experience the same kind of positive effects with exercise. Already, it’s something I’m motivated to do because it feels so good, instead of being something I “have to” do. It’s a subtle yet important difference.
The other part of the physical fitness equation, of course, is food intake. I have a pretty healthy diet already but can improve in terms of quantity. There’s a powerful reference experience for this, too, that gives me hope.
The weeklong vipassana meditation retreat I went on last spring and have referenced frequently (because it was so transformative!) involved sitting meditation, walking meditation, dharma talks, and EATING MEDITATION every waking moment. More than 100 of us gathered in the dining hall three times a day for completely silent meals. No eye contact or words spoken. Just mindful eating. Contemplation of what was on our plate and the sensations of tasting, chewing, swallowing, craving, fullness, etc.
During those meals, my plate was like a mandala. A complete universe. I didn’t think about second helpings, and while chewing a forkful of food, it even felt too complicated to think about the next bite or to arrange the food on my plate while still chewing. Instead, I was mindful of the taste and physical sensations and didn’t pick up my fork until I was ready for the next bite.
I appreciated the sensation of comfortable fullness and noticed the pull between that lovely satisfaction and craving more. Resting in satisfaction and choosing to stay with that instead of longing for more is what I remember most about mindful meals at the retreat center. When the retreat was over, I set an intention to eat mindfully one meal a day. But I didn’t follow through on that. Life got in the way, and meals were often rushed. Stress-eating happened.
When I got home from the gym today, I had a homemade buddha bowl for lunch and became aware of thinking about what I’d have after finishing the bowl. Then I remembered my retreat experience and tried to be present to the sensation of enoughness. And it worked. I didn’t have the rice cake with peanut butter afterwards. Didn’t give it any attention. Instead, I lingered in satisfaction. It was a sprawling, spacious sensation, a sense of fullness. It felt really good. Just like a good workout or meditation session.
So mindful eating is a new frontier I want to focus my attention on. Not in a dogmatic way. No shoulds. Better to remember the delicious sensation of one-plate satisfaction from the vipassana retreat and my intention to bring that awareness into my daily life because it feels so good, in itself. Add another healthy habit to my life as a gesture of self-love and lovingkindness, rather than focus on dissatisfaction.
A Path of Kindfulness
We all have our areas for improvement, but what a difference it makes to set intentions based on self-compassion rather than on self-loathing. Focusing on how we want to feel rather than on a current, unsatisfactory condition that brings us down. Imagine it alreadyso, as Adriene Mishler from Yoga with Adriene encouraged in her kickoff email for Dedicate, a 30-day yoga journey to start the New Year that I’m doing for the fourth year in a row. 2018 was my best year yet because I learned the value of focusing on the positive and not giving attention to negative, disempowering thought patterns.
We have a choice about where we put our attention. Choosing presence and satisfaction over craving is a lovely experiment. When you experience the loveliness of it, it can motivate you to do it more. To make it a habit for all the right reasons.
In addition to being aware of satisfaction and craving through mindful eating, you also can be mindful of your thoughts and realize when self-consciousness about body image creeps in and let it just pass without clinging. Then your thoughts about your body become an opportunity for awakening and practicing lovingkindness, tenderness, and acceptance. Through kindfulness, you can appreciate and accept your body now, even as you envision feeling even better about it in the future.
Gratitude is another friend when you’re working with body shame. It is a blessing to have a body that is healthy and not in pain. So many people in this world would give anything to have a healthy, pain-free body. Being able to exercise is a blessing. So is having food to eat.
I absolutely did not intend to write today about the cliché New Year’s topics of diet and exercise. I didn’t intend to write at all. But as I sat in satisfaction after finishing the last, nourishing bite of my buddha bowl, it’s what arose. (I love the inspiration that comes from Presence, and writing was more satisfying than more food would have been.)