If I hear “meditate!” one more time….Mindfulness in our healing work
Two interesting messages came through over the past week. The first was a criticism that in recent posts, I have been too critical of the metaphysical community without providing much in the way of alternative options.
I used to detest criticism. I was once a perfectionist who got a lot of gold stars and extra credit points. I was lauded by my teachers and bosses. When I would receive correction of any kind, I received it like a blow to the chest. I would cry, worry, and overanalyze. I would ping-pong between defending myself and berating myself. I do not doubt that I missed a lot of excellent feedback that would have helped me be or do better because I was too busy having an emotional and mental meltdown.
Now I welcome criticism, in the end. Oh don’t get me wrong, my gut still drops and I get light-headed and can’t take a deep breath for fear that I have been caught out. (At what? Depends on the situation. It’s insecurity, plain and simple). What I welcome is the result. After setting aside the complaint/suggestion/edit so that I can get back into my body, I pick it back up, refocus, and consider it. Sometimes, after consideration of the critique, I make changes. Sometimes I do not. Regardless, the critiques gives me a chance to consider something from someone else’s perspective which is an expansive exercise. It’s nice to see through someone else’s viewfinder once in awhile – to remember that when I see red, sometimes others see green or yellow or blue.
I’m sharing this with you because I believe that they way people choose to react or respond to criticism can inform them about their ability to do honest self-inquiry. If external criticism destroys a person, it is highly unlikely they are going to be able to critique themselves in an honest way. What if everything they feared they might be (loser, failure, bad spouse, bad daughter, bad student, bad anything, idiot, narcissist, ignorant) is actually true? When that fear lingers, the ego is running the show which only means that it becomes more difficult to get out of our own way so that we can find ourselves seated back in the heart.
So what might be a first step toward honest self-inquiry for the purpose of healing? Consider your reaction to criticism. Just think about it without judging it. How do you react when someone tells you that, from their perspective, you are either doing it wrong or could be doing it better? How does your body react? Your gut, your limbs, your facial expression, your brain, your lungs and chest? Observe it as a scientist would observe an experiment. A secondary exercise is to do this without judging yourself.
The second comment received was from someone who was frustrated because they would like to do self-inquiry and begin digging into their healing work, but they are tired of being encouraged to meditate or start a mindfulness practice to do that. When I received this feedback, I silenced my environment and meditated on it. (Which makes me giggle a little bit because I have a semi-warped sense of humor).
The reason why many teachers recommend a mindfulness practice, or meditation, is because learning how to be still helps us become better discerners. It teaches us to recognize thoughts for what they are (potential tools) and how to distinguish between helpful and unhelpful beliefs and stories. Self-inquiry requires the ability to be with the self so that we might know the self. When we become more acutely in tune with our physical bodies and get to know the different ways it communicates with us, over time we are less surprised by our reactions as they turn into responses.
Mindfulness or meditation practices help us get out of our minds and into our bodies, connecting with the breath. They help us slow down and access different parts of the brain. And there are many different ways to have a mindfulness practice. There are many different ways to meditate. Sure, some will insist that there are rules – do’s and don’t’s when meditating. Some will insist that their meditation practice is the only true meditation practice. Well, lots of people say lots of thing. Saying or insisting something is true doesn’t make it so. You get to decide. The payoff of a practice like this is that we learn how to train our brains to be tools of our Hearts. In a meditation or mindfulness practice, thoughts are merely observed: they are not go-commands or absolutes. Through simple observation, we can allow the thought to drop into our heart space where the Heart guides our awareness toward what to act on and what to lovingly set aside.
When I first started meditating I was very frustrated. I couldn’t do it. I would dim the lights, minimize distraction, light a candle, sit on a special pillow, and close my eyes in a sandalwood-infused space and just get frustrated. Time and again, I gave it honest effort for over 10 months, if memory serves, only to end up feeling weak-willed and spiritually lazy. I shared this with my spiritual counselor who asked me, “Tana, how do you spend your time on a day-to-day basis? What do you do and how do you do it?” I told her that I worked from home and that I spent my days researching or writing. She clarified, “So your day-to-day activity is generally done in quiet solitude and it is a very internal, mindful and disciplined experience?” I said that yes, it was. Then she recommended that I stop trying to meditate in quiet solitude because that was my usual way of being to do my job. She encouraged me instead to begin treating other day-to-day activities like doing the dishes, folding laundry, mopping the floor, mowing the yard, cutting vegetables as opportunities to learn how to still the mind. Watch thoughts come, detach, and let them go. Try giving all of your attention to the thing you are doing. Feel the water on your hands, the grass under your feet, the cloth against your fingertips, the knife cut against the board. Notice those physical sensations and get really inside your body. And you know what? It worked.
Before long, I found myself looking forward to chores because I knew it was going to be a chance to take a break from thinking and experience my reality through my physical body. I learned a lot about my physical body which began to teach me a lot about my subtle anatomy in time as well. The connections were starting to form because I was making space for them. Thoughts would come and I would breathe them out and come back to the carrot I was peeling. Thoughts would come and I would fall back into my legs and arms pushing the mower across the front yard. Thoughts would come and I would notice my body’s reaction. In time I was so fully inhabiting my body during these activities that the mind learned, “Oh, this is my time off. Catch ya later.” Once I had learned to fully inhabit my body, connected to my surroundings, connected through my breath, I was able to fall into that Oneness space I had heard so much about.
Something to keep in the back of your mind: the way you access this spaciousness may change over time. After a while, chores didn’t do it for me anymore. My life changed, I changed, my routine changed. I now access that space through another practice. Some people can start a practice and follow it everyday for the rest of their lives. Other people will pick up a ritual and put it down to pick up another one as needed. It’s all good.
We can experience a lot of judgment from others who are only looking to find validation for their own choices and practices. There is no one right way to do most anything. If this were true we would never see new inventions or innovative advancements. When we talk about meditation, we’re not really talking about meditation. We’re really talking about learning to be with ourselves fully: physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Oftentimes this involves quieting the mind so that we can clearly see how we’ve constructed our realities through a neutral perspective. However you get from point A to point B – I don’t really care and frankly, neither should anyone else. The important thing is that you figure out a way that works for you. If you’re tired of hearing that the answer to every question is to meditate, and you’ve tried to meditate repeatedly with no success, that’s okay. Figure out what meditation is supposed to provide and then figure out another way you can get there.
There are numerous rituals and practices to choose from. Journaling, attending a drum circle, taking a walk in the woods or a hike up a mountain – can you find your true self in these places where you can’t hide? Yoga, Tai Chi, Qigong – can you drop into your center and detach and access the expansive all? Gardening, washing the dishes, pooper scooping the yard (no lie) – do these activities help you assess yourself through your body? What do you do that enables you to observe your thoughts from a non-judgmental space? To access the collective consciousness? To drop into your Heart center? Go. Do. That.
You might be asking why I keep bringing up self-inquiry as a part of the personal healing experience. That’s because the only person who can heal you is you. The only person who can honestly access and assess your actions, thoughts, motivations, reactions, responses, emotions, etc., is you. I can have my perspective about you and your experiences, but I can’t fully understand them because my perspective – based on my personal experiences – will inevitably cloud the view. If you desire to experience healing in your life, you have to be able to know in what way and in what capacity. And then you have to be able to consider what you’ve done, thought, believed, emoted, etc., and how these actions (or inactions as the case may be) have contributed to your perception of imbalance. That’s self-inquiry.
I believe we need community – healers, friends, coaches, counselors, teachers – to walk alongside this sometimes difficult terrain. Other people’s experiences and perspectives can shed light on our own in unique and deeply expansive ways. In the end I am responsible for my own healing work. I am responsible for making the choice to heal and for taking the steps. No one can cajole another person into healing. No one can control another person’s healing and force it. But we can come alongside each other and support each other’s work. Sometimes we need to hear each other’s stories to experience a breakthrough. Sometimes we need someone to be fully honest about how they perceive us because we have blinders when it comes to ourselves. Our self-preservation instinct is strong. But we have to make the agreement.
If you have reached the point where you’re feeling able to dive in and begin a new stage in your healing journey that includes self inquiry – good for you. It seems that in just about every life scenario, there is an easy-out option that is not only available, but encouraged. And here you are, deciding to let your guard down and peer into the uncomfortable aspects of your life: your reactions, your feelings, your thoughts and beliefs, your routines, your everything. You’ve agreed to honest self-inquiry. As Pema Chodron and every great teacher has said:
Embedded within every complaint I have about an aspect of my life is a choice to stop pushing back and truly be with what I fear, hate, dislike, or am discomfited by. We can’t learn from that which we continue to try to shove into corners or closets. We can’t learn from that which we continue to reject out of hand. Life is inviting us, through each and every experience, to engage with it and learn from it and explore ourselves through it. It is the entire spectrum of experiences and their correlating emotional and physical responses that we’re being invited to engage with, which means not every exploration is going to feel good or safe or comfortable or pleasant. Because all means all. When we try to avoid the less pleasant experiences, we are choosing to only partially engage with Life which means we are choosing to evolve only partially. And this affects not only us, but our families and communities. The complaints or concerns we carry around with us about our experiences, our emotions, our world, our family, our friends, our country, ourselves will only continue to bubble up until we’re willing to fully engage with them.
So it must be asked and only you can both ask and answer the question: do you find that you cannot meditate or find a mindfulness practice because you’ve been too limiting in defining what that might look like for you? Or….Or, do you stop meditating when you become uncomfortable with what arises in your consciousness?
But how do I not become paralyzed when I first start to see my stuff?
I think one of the biggest lessons of all can come right at the beginning of this excavation process. The first time we choose to sit with an issue and be with it, our egos can really freak out and they try to distract us through judgment and guilt (more concepts/thoughts). This is particularly easy for the ego to do because people new to healing and self inquiry are usually still giving deference to their brains. And the brain usually hasn’t been trained yet to see situations multidimensionally. The brain, a terrific categorization and organizational tool, tends to live in Flatland where only 2 categories exist: good or bad.
The Heart is the place where everything can be held simultaneously. But we have to learn to recognize our Hearts and how to hand over the reigns to the Heart and that can take some time and practice of questioning our thoughts and beliefs and habits and perspectives.
Your “stuff” – whatever you’re seeing that you want or need to change – is not an enemy. It is not out to get you.
And you are not a horrible/bad/stupid/weak person.
You are worthy. You are loved more deeply than you know.
It’s just a rope. It’s just a rope. And we’re all hanging on it together.
So much grace and peace,
PS: f you work with crystals in your healing practice, some excellent mineral allies include sedimentary carbonates. Calcite, Rhodochrosite, Magnesite (great for Heart work), Stichtite, Serpentine, Aragonite, Azurite, Eilat Stone, Malachite.
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