Making space

I remember years ago, after I had been consistently meditating for some weeks, getting into an argument with my husband. As I was loudly and energetically extolling the reasons why I was right and he was delusional, a calm – almost bemused – voice in the back of my head commented “You know, you could just stop this now if you decided to.” Ah the wisdom of the Witness Consciousness and the magic of meditation.

What was I arguing about before this little incident occurred? Truthfully I’ve not a clue. The only thing I remember is that voice in my head, because that was the one moment when I was truly present. Prior to that moment I was most likely acting out of emotion: anger, resentment, self-righteousness, fear – all the things that make it impossible to communicate effectively. In that moment when my Observing Self came online, though, I was there. And being there I was able to see the absurdity of being carried away by my emotions.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that emotions are bad. It’s just that they’re not terribly reliable or effective lenses for viewing the world. When we are in our emotional selves we’re not usually thinking from a place of wisdom. But if this dual consciousness is online, we can see ourselves through a clearer lens and make choices about how to respond. It is possible, for example to step into the space between someone’s action toward you and your response and in that space, make the choice about how to respond. How many times have we said: “I couldn’t help [my actions], s/he made me mad.” Really what we should be saying is, “She did something to which I chose to respond with anger.” It just happened so fast that you gave up control over your actions, and then blamed the other person for your choice.

Meditation helps us to find that space in which to make the choice not to give ourselves over to the whims of others, the space to take responsibility for our own emotional states and responses and stop blaming other people for our emotions. In that space is where the real work begins – the work of chosing who you are going to be when you can’t pass the blame anymore.

Becoming peace – mindfulness of low-level stressors

As a yoga instructor I hear a lot of people talk about how stressed they are.  It occurred to me a while ago that our lack of mindfulness might be contributing low-level stressors that increase our daily stress level without us even realizing it.

I’ve noticed that there are a number of habits of mind and body that contribute to my own stress levels.  This is not to say these things have been eradicated from my life, but at least now I am conscious of the stress they are producing and have the choice to do something about it.  So here are a few of the lessons I’ve learned so far – mostly common sense.  They are not in any particular order except for how they fell out of my head:

1.    Be where you are.  Eckhart Tolle said in The Power of Now that stress is being in one place, but wanting to be in another.  Simply put, if you’re at work but wishing you were on vacation, this creates stress.  Similarly, if you’re mentally at work while on vacation, you create stress on your vacation!  Makes sense, right? This is also the yogic principle of santosha – being present with what is.

2.    Eat when you’re hungry.  Get enough sleep.  Use the bathroom when you need to.  Really.  Sounds simple, but the needs of the body can be insistent.  Stress lives in your body, so the more you abuse your body, and ignore its basic needs, the more stress you create.  You also prevent your body from being able to tolerate other stressors that might come up.  A healthy and well-respected body should also make you more efficient and more productive.

3.    Don’t procrastinate.  Putting things off just keeps them on that to-do list in the back of your mind that’s always nagging at you.  Take care of tasks a little at a time if  need be.  Let Facebook and TV be the rewards for getting things done – not the distractions.

4.    Do one thing at a time. It is an illusion that you can actually multitask – from what I’ve read, brains don’t work that way.  Instead, the attempt to do multiple things at once creates an unnecessary level of stress that could be alleviated by simply focusing on one task at a time (including eating meals or being with your kids).

5.   Meditate – even for 10mins per day.  Daily meditation has been shown to positively affect the body’s biochemistry.  If meditation doesn’t appeal to you, find another practice that helps you to find that state of connection with yourself.  Yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, martial arts, running, fencing, swimming… there’s something for everyone.  But don’t just pick something that emphasizes your already unbalanced tendencies – find something that helps you to grow into a more balanced state.

6.    Let go of judgment. How often do you get anxious over other people’s behavior? Don’t you have enough of your own stuff to deal with?  On this same note, allow other people the right to their own lessons – isn’t that what this life is all about?  You can help if they ask for it, but taking on their suffering only creates more suffering in the world – not less.  As one of my teachers often says, “suffering is not noble.”

7.    Study yourself & take responsibility for your own actions. The yogic principle of svadhyaya teaches us to study sacred texts in order to know ourselves better.  Imagine what you could learn by studying the sacred texts of your own body and mind.  In order to really know yourself, however, you have to be willing to recognize how you have contributed to our current state of life, and this cannot be accomplished by blaming others for your situation.

8.    Recognize that it’s not all about you.  This was a great lesson taught to be by a former coworker.  How much of other people’s behavior do you take personally and allow to rattle your serenity, even to the point of making you hurt and angry?  Can you entertain the possibility that maybe their behavior has everything to do with what’s happening in their lives and nothing to do with you?

9.    Face your fears. How much does fear contribute to your daily low-level anxiety.  What are you afraid of? Is your world view based on fear?  Where did that fear come from – is it even yours, or was it inherited?  How much of the way you relate to others is based on fear?  What would happen if you related to the world with love, rather than with fear?

10.    Love yourself. There isn’t much to be gained by beating up on yourself when you notice you’re not perfect (did you really think you were perfect?).  If you make a mistake, treat yourself as compassionately as you would a close friend.  Then learn from your mistake and move on.  Just letting go of the mental anxiety we create by our self-loathing and project onto each other would go a long way to allowing Peace in the world.

Hope this is helpful to someone besides me :-).

Who are you talking to?

If you’ve been trying it you realize how much being “in the Now” is a challenge in itself. Today I realized how much not being in the Now affects our perception of others. It occurred to me today that it is really easy when we relate to each other to relate not to their current state, but to our history with this person (including all the hurts and pains they have cost us?) This is an issue because if we are only present with someone as their history, we never really allow the person to be who they are now – devoid of our polarized lens.  We hold on to our past impressions and often miss any changes that have occurred.

The yogis describe this polarized lens as samskara – our latent impressions of things based on conditioning and past experience. Our goal as seekers is to let go of this impressions so we can see our lives (including ourselves and others) clearly. Is this even possible?  According to A Course In Miracles (ACIM), and according to yogic teaching, we would have let go of those impressions to really be present with what is real. ACIM calls this forgiveness – the recognition that all that we see is projection/perception and that we have an opportunity to make a decision to shift our perceptions of things. According to ACIM a miracle is simply a shift in perception and there “is no order of difficulty in miracles.” Yoga would refer to this as detachment – letting go of the story, so to speak.

I saw a great example of this today – an argument where the two people couldn’t hear each other because they were obviously talking to the their past perceptions of each other. I know I often do that – especially with those who have offended or hurt me.  It is a protective mechanism, but it often gets in the way of approaching others with love.  ACIM says “All healing is release from the past.” It also says that we must learn to see the innocence in each other rather than the guilt. Those past perceptions are essentially the guilt that we place on each other, aren’t they? They are also the burdens we place on every interaction, and on our own energy fields in holding on to all of that stuff. Letting go of the past – forgiving – helps us to be fully present with each other as we are Now rather than as we were.  Being open to someone’s current possibility also releases them from the burden/prison of our expectations.