The Really Big Picture
Many people meditate to develop skills to lower stress, focus attention, enhance performance and improve sleep, which are all incredible benefits of a meditation practice. In schools and in new therapies, we use meditation to help people stay mentally and physically healthy. You can stop there and enjoy all of the health benefits of practicing meditation, and many people do. But, if you are interested in exploring and deepening your practice, you will find that there is so much more to it.
Over the past few years, I have delved much deeper into my meditation practice and found a deeply spiritual side to the practice. This spirituality is not religious in nature and is not tied to any specific belief system. Instead, meditation has helped me connect to my heart and my own inner guidance system. It helps me live more fully and authentically. I can see things more clearly and recognize what really matters most to me. It has helped me flow through the ups (the celebrations, milestones, and many beautiful moments) and downs (disappointment, struggles, and illness) of life with greater ease and resilience. It has helped me see more “holes” in the road and “choose a different street to walk down” when necessary. Ultimately, it helps me live a happier, more peaceful and meaningful life.
I am excited to share many of the transformative teachings and practices with you in a new workshop on Monday, March 11, at 7:30 pm, at Tovami Yoga. Please join me for an evening of meditation and exploration as I share how meditation can be a path to spirituality and greater inner peace!
Here are a few of the many ways that meditation has taught me lessons big and small about life.
Big Lessons from My Meditation Practice
Know that we just don’t know!
Not knowing can be quite scary! In many ways, I think this is why many people resist meditation itself. Our minds can be a scary place and meditation, just sitting quietly with yourself, can be quite unfamiliar and uncomfortable for people. But not knowing what will be is the reality of our lives. We simply do not know what will happen next and we ultimately have very little control over it. In meditation, we learn to trust in the openness of not knowing. We never know exactly what each meditation will bring, but we find a certain liberation and freedom in the not knowing, a surrendering to what is and what will be. We can learn to move more freely and fluidly through each moment and be with it fully, whether it is pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. This is how we develop equanimity and creativity, and how we bring greater freedom, peace and resilience into our lives.
Letting go over and over again
In a very deep and profound way, meditation helps us learn to let go over and over again. Each breath is a new opportunity to let go – to let go of thoughts that aren’t serving us, to let go of tension in our bodies and to let go of trying to control our experience. This does not mean that we don’t plan or have goals. It does mean, however, that we do not get too attached to the outcomes and that we do not define ourselves by those outcomes.
There is real fear in letting go of control. It is unfamiliar to us. It is scary. A deep level of resistance arises as we face this truth. Therefore, we practice and we practice and we find a great freedom and peace in learning to let go, over and over again.
Accepting What Is
When practicing mindfulness meditation, we sit and we breathe. There is nothing to do, nothing to change, nothing to fix. We simply sit and are open to and “with” our experience fully. We learn not to push anything away or cling to any idea of how it should be. Instead, we are completely accepting of our experience as it unfolds. In being with it in this way, we start to feel lighter and more peaceful. We soon see that much of our discomfort or dis-ease comes from our resistance to what is. We feel this resistance in our body as dissatisfaction, stress or suffering.
We also become more aware of our mental habits or patterns of thinking that show our resistance. The . . .
I wish things were different.
I wish I were different.
I wish he/she were different.
I wish my life circumstances were different.
If only things were different, I would be much happier.
Simply being more aware of our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations helps us better understand ourselves and our relationship to the world. We can notice the feelings in our bodies and recognize that tightness and tension is an indication that we are not accepting what is. We are instead wanting it to be different or craving something else. We then learn to see this clearly and let go of our resistance to it.
The easiest way to do this is quite simply to be present. We use meditation tools of grounding in the body, feeling our feet on the floor, and being with a few deep breaths to bring us into the present moment and help us to simply be with what is and accept it fully just as it is.
Letting go, acceptance or surrendering to what is does not mean we are giving up, it means we are realizing the limits of our influence. We are understanding the truth that there is only so much we can control. It does not mean we have to like what is happening or be a “doormat” and not take action to change our experience in the future. It simply means that we are totally accepting what has already happened and can move forward with less “friction” and greater freedom and insight. In other words, as the beautiful words above illustrate, we can see the “holes” in the road and either walk around them or choose to walk down a different street.
Honor Imperfections and Find Wisdom in Suffering
This is not an easy or a straight path. We practice this over and over again. Each time we feel this resistance, dissatisfaction or suffering, we can learn to find it “interesting” and hold it, and ourselves, with curiosity and gentleness. When we feel angry, anxious or upset, we can say, “Well, isn’t that interesting!” We learn to face our suffering with a sense of acceptance and use the mantra, “This is how it is right now.” And, we become more aware of how we often add on to our suffering by beating ourselves up for feeling that way once again! We learn to let that go too!
Our instinct is to move away from suffering, to distract ourselves from it, to ignore it or to push it away. But if we really want relief from our suffering, we need to move towards it. The resolution we long for resides at the very heart of our suffering or underneath it. Don’t escape into “thinking” which takes us away from the present moment and what is really there. “Take refuge in the now” and shine the light of awareness on what is there. Then, you will begin to feel more freedom and peace.
“Nothing ever goes away until is has taught us what we need to know.”
– Pema Chodron