Don't Add Suffering
I'm extra-grateful for you all this morning because my commitment to writing to you once a week has helped me shift.
See, yesterday, an adult said something hurtful to my daughter. And I have been in a "state" ever since she told me about it -- imagining and re-imagining my confrontation with this adult, thinking about the effect on my child's psyche, ruminating on why this line was crossed.
In other words, I added more pain.
Earlier this week before this happened, a friend reminded me of the Buddhist teaching of "the second arrow." I'm no expert on Buddhist teachings but as I understand it, the lesson is that life launches arrows at us and we are going to, inevitably, take some hits. People are not always kind; accidents happen; stress builds; loved ones die. When we are hit, though, we don't have to shoot "the second arrow."
"The second arrow" is the mental reactivity to the first arrow. Rather than just sitting and breathing into the situation mindfully and waiting for the right response to emerge from the heart center, we dive into a swirling, chaos of thoughts. And what happens as we drown in that sea of negativity? We suffer. The suffering is the second arrow.
So, even though I had just been reminded of the the second arrow, when I got triggered yesterday, I dove right into my messy, angry mind and flailed... and suffered.
I sat in meditation this morning before the sun and that helped. Writing this right now is helping. Meditation, writing, and my community are my life rafts. So thank you for being there and for being in community with me.
Who are we as a community? I know I speak for Savitri too when I say that we want our community to be people who come together to heal. We recognize that life's arrows will come but, with our practice, we can move through and beyond the pain. And hopefully, we (I) can learn to stop compounding the pain by suffering our thoughts. When we falter, we can remember again. We can remind each other. We can remember together.
May the Truth in you guide you.
The expansive emerald lawns of Omega institute have a special dapple of sunshine and shade that is so inviting, so soothing - a living, breathing reality all its own. Omega has gracefully enveloped thousands, perhaps millions of spiritual seekers and teachers over the years in its transformative embrace, and the effect is palpable. For seven days I submerged myself in that rarified atmosphere, along with 300 other souls, for a silent meditation retreat with the great, yet humble spiritual teacher Adyashanti.
Be Your Own Whisperer
I know my way around a baby. I've been taking care of babies since I was a teenager. But a few weeks ago, I had a humbling experience that taught me not only about babies but about all of us and our feelings.
My daughter (Gwen) and I were babysitting my 18-month-old nephew, Remy. When my sister left, he began to cry and call out for "Mommy."
This wasn't surprising. It was to be expected. I knew what to do. I sprung into distraction mode. Get his mind on anything except the fact that his mommy isn't here. I grabbed books and toys off the shelf: "Look at this truck." "Want me to read about the caterpillar?" "Here's your doggie."
He cried harder and louder.
Gwen looked at me like I was crazy and said, "Mom, stop." She scooped Remy up and carried him to the rocking chair. She looked him straight in the eyes as she rocked and with so much compassion, she said, "You miss your mommy; You're really sad; You want your mommy to come back." As she sweetly said these words, he looked right back at her, and his wails became whimpers. She kept saying them over and over, as I watched in awe. Remy put his thumb in his mouth and stayed focused on her, "You really, really want your mommy to come back right now." Then, his eyelids got heavy and moments later he fell asleep in her arms.
Later, I asked Gwen how she knew to do that. She explained that she put herself in Remy's shoes. If it were her, she'd be so frustrated trying to tell people she's sad and she misses her mommy and people are showing her trucks.
Isn't my daughter amazing? Isn't that insightful? What Remy needed was not a stuffed doggie but his feelings acknowledged. Once validated, the acuteness of his feelings began to dissolve.
It got me thinking that we all need that. The problem is that when something makes us sad or mad or overwhelmed or confused, we can't, as adults, cry out and have someone validate us and rock us to sleep. I mean, it could happen. But let's face it, it's unlikely.
So what do we do? How do we acknowledge our pain and move beyond it?
As I see it, we meditate. We get quiet and allow the feelings and painful thoughts that we don’t talk about, that we can’t talk about, to rise up. Then we “deal” with them by shifting our consciousness. By bringing our focus to a particular breath, by placing our bodies in a particular position, by weaving a mantra through our whole selves, we change the sharpness of the pain. We change the suffering.
You know how there are baby whisperers, horse whisperers, dog whisperers — people who can “speak” to creatures who can’t speak for themselves? We need to be our own whisperers, allow our unspoken pain to surface and then soften.
A state of meditation is being your own whisperer.
May the Truth in you guide you.
Don't Expect Your Thoughts to Stop
Meditation terrifies some people. They think they won't be able to do it "correctly" because they can't stop their inner dialogue in its tracks. Given that, they imagine that meditating will be just sitting with their thoughts. The idea of being bombarded by mental chatter without the distractions that modern life usually provides -- social media feeds, work, emails, household to dos, etc. -- seems like torture.
These are misconceptions. And I'm on a mission to disabuse folks of these misconceptions.
First of all, you don't have to stop your inner dialogue in order to meditate "correctly" or get the benefits of meditating or enjoy meditating. I have been practicing Kundalini Yoga for about 20 years and meditating a lot for nine of those years, and I have yet to experience a cessation of thoughts. Even so, I LOVE meditation, and it has been my rock.
Second, if you choose a Kundalini Meditation, you are not just sitting with your thoughts. You have tools to distance yourself from the monkey mind.
Most Kundalini Meditations offer a position of the arms or hands to maintain. Then, there's a specific breath practice. Frequently, there's also a designated eye focus to manage. And finally, there's usually either a chanted or silent, internal mantra attached. Each of these tools serves to bring you out of the stress of the everyday mind and into a more neutral, blissful state.
Let me unpack a Kundalini Meditation to show you what I mean.
Take Meditation for Tuning Up the Frontal Lobe of the Brain for example. And let's use Michael A. Singer's term the "neurotic inner roommate" to personify and understand the mind's fluctuations.
Before I begin my meditation, my neurotic roomie is front and center chattering away, talking to me about all the other things I should be doing instead of sitting and meditating. I get into the position. I raise my arms to shoulder height and turn the left palm down and the right palm up (as shown above.) I know I'm supposed to hold this for 11 minutes. "Hmmmm," says Roomie. "How are you going to do that? Eleven minutes is a long time. That's going to get difficult. I don't like difficult."
I begin the prescribed breath of fire. Breath of fire itself takes some attention to maintain, and it starts to get a little crowded for Roomie, who's still fairly determined to be heard ("You really should have finished the kids' laundry. What kind of mother are you anyway?").
There's no eye focus indicated for this meditation, but I use the third-eye dristi -- beneath the closed lids, I direct the eyes up and in (as if trying to see through the center of my forehead). This is my favorite focus. The sixth chakra, the center of intuition, is located here at the brow point. Directing the focus toward this intuitive space is pushing Roomie back even further until it's hanging onto the door jam -- clinging for dear life: "Listen to me!!!!!! Everything's a mess!!!!!!! So much to deal with!!!!!!!!."
So, I bring in the big guns... Mantra. When I practice breath of fire, I like to use the mantra Wahe Guru. It seems to fit well with the speed of breath of fire. Wahe Guru means "a great celebration of the energy which moves me from darkness to light." Silently and internally, I match Wahe Guru to the breath.
Wahe Guru. Wahe Guru. Wahe Guru. Wahe Guru. Wahe Guru. Wahe Guru. Wahe Guru. Wahe Guru. Wahe Guru. Wahe Guru.
Now, the Neurotic Inner Roommate is starting to get the picture. It releases its grip on the door jam and retreats to the background, into a back corner mumbling -- still lobing thoughts at me but they are muted and distant and without force.
My thoughts don't stop, but I change my relationship to them. My roomie doesn't move out, but my Higher Self is taking up more space. I'm focused on Wahe Guru, a positive, ancient sound which affects my consciousness. I'm elevating with breath of fire. I'm creating a picture of myself keeping up, keeping my arms up even when the going gets tough.
Roomie might emerge from its corner at points along the way, and I'll have to refocus my eyes, intensify the breath of fire, or remember Wahe Guru. And, of course, in this position, my shoulders will fatigue, and I'll have to talk Roomie out of putting them down. The point is it's a non-linear process that, in my experience at least, doesn't feel like pure serenity.
So, please forget about the goal of thoughtlessness. In the Kundalini world, we accept that the mind will be fast with thoughts, and we provide tools for not letting them take over. The tools don't stop the thoughts. Instead they take away their power to injure and their power to divert you from your sacred moment.
Blog by Cate Baily
Cate discovered Kundalini Yoga by accident over 20 years ago and was surprised and thrilled by how engaged, energized, and inspired it made her feel. She's been practicing ever since. Click here for more complete bio.