Intention and Compassion

I finally was able to do the workshop I had planned for the New Year. I was able to do it one week later after recovering from being ill. The practice of compassion is needed more than ever now. Everywhere we turn there is another story of division, hatred, greed, and harm. I had a discussion about this with my teenage kids who are all on the brink of losing faith in humanity as they learn and read about the state of the world today. It is so difficult to restore faith and trust in the teenage mind, which naturally divides into good and bad, to begin with, let alone after they learn of another terrorist killing somewhere.

The bottom line is I told them for as many people that hold hatred in mind there are triple that amount, if not more, that hold compassion and love in mind and deeply wish and want that toward themselves and others and in the world. It does come down to what we want to see, what we want life to look like and be like. That is where intention comes in. The Buddha taught that before action comes thought, before thought comes intention. What do you want to manifest? If it is peace and love than we are responsible for watching the thoughts we hold. Do they follow this path? Are you manifesting peace and love and self-compassion for yourself? If we live in self-harming thoughts and/or behaviors you can bet that eventually those thoughts and behaviors will find their way out and about into the world. Eventually they will influence how we act.

Compassion is quite the opposite energy. It is the holder, the mover, and the action-former. When we hold compassion toward ourselves, we allow for our human nature, our foibles, and our fears. Because we allow for them, we are able to face them, look them straight on and intend for something better. Intention and compassion go together. I call self-compassion the “re-set” button. It is the thing that allows you a “do-over.” You have a human right to fall. You also have the right to get back up and start over, and let go of what once was.

This week the embodied practice is Metta. Metta means love in Pali. It is a meditation that engages you in the repetitive words of care, compassion and love. It holds the intention that with continued practice, and with the intention of kindness that overtime that is exactly what will grow. Metta should be practiced daily. The full practice takes approximately 20 minutes. If you can only do one portion than do that. As always, some is better than none.

Words of Metta:

(repeat each set of phrases 5x for each category)

Begin with offering the words to yourself:

May I be safe, protected

May I be healthy and strong

May I find may way through life’s suffering

May I live in peace and ease

Call to mind a teacher, mentor, someone who has influenced you. Repeat the words holding him/her in mind.

May you…

Call to mind someone you love. This can be animal friends as well as people. Repeat the words holding him/her/them in mind.

May you…

Call to mind someone neutral, someone you do not know very well. Repeat the words holding this person in mind.

May you…

Call to mind someone who annoys, angers, triggers you. Even with the most difficult of emotions see if you can offer out the words of kindness to him/her.

May you also…

The last category is all living beings. Include in this our environment, our earth, our universe. All that is seen and unseen knowing that we are all connected.

May all beings…

MAY ALL BEINGS LIVE IN PEACE AND EASE

Responsibility and Self-Compassion

January 2, 2015 and I had scheduled a 2 hour workshop at the yoga studio on Intention and Compassion for the New Year. I was so excited to lead this workshop, as it is probably two of my favorite topics. After all, I am always discussing the importance of intention setting and compassion is one of my favorite practices to teach. The day before, New Years day, I was feeling very ill. The current flu-like thing going around hit my body hard and I knew I was not going to be physically able to teach the following day. I was very attuned to what my body was telling me yet my mind was preoccupied and focused on the many students I would let down and disappoint by not showing up. Therefore, instead of cancelling the night before I waited till the last possible minute on the 2nd to call for a replacement. I knew I did the right thing as I spent most of the day in bed recuperating. My body was certainly appreciative yet my mind was still preoccupied with feeling responsible for disappointing others. Wow. I sat in awe watching my mental process unfold between guilt, disappointment, feeling badly, and feeling responsible.

It immediately struck me as the revisiting of an old familiar theme this feeling responsible. It is one that I can clearly feel in my own body, the heaviness in my shoulders, the tension that builds in my neck. I knew staying home was the most compassionate thing for me to do for myself. I do try, as much as I can, to practice what I preach. Therefore, I knew I also needed to hold this lesson compassionately as well. I saw it as an opportunity to relearn once again.

What leads us to feel so responsible for others? A perfectly competent teacher took over for me that day. I am sure the 30 students that showed had a fine experience. Granted they may not have had what they thought they were going to have but nonetheless I am sure they had a fine experience. I realized a great deal of feeling so responsible comes from the ego. There is an ego grasp that says somehow somewhere he, she, they will not be o.k. without me. The idea that others will not be o.k. without us, whether we are aware of it or not, festers in our mind and body and grows. It grows large and often lingers in the body as the many aches and pains that we feel. We often carry the weight of others but it is time to ask for what reason? Is it that if we let this idea of responsibility go that we may also have to let go a little bit of ego at the same time? I have noticed that letting go of the responsibility of others, while very freeing on the one hand, also creates a little bit of sadness on the other. My relearning lies in this area. Can I step away and be with the sadness that I may not be needed as much as I think I am? It is not the easiest of questions/awareness’s to be with. Yet, if we do not ask the question we tend to act from feeling responsible toward others rather than from the truth. Had I decided to push my body that day and show up, it would have been exactly that. Just showing up in body but not in heart. Instead, when we attend to the truth, we attend to the heart, and from there we show the compassion for both others and ourselves.

I encourage you the next time you feel that “heaviness of the world” upon your shoulders to ask the questions, who in fact put it there and what would happen if I was to let it go? Maybe you can even allow yourself to let your shoulders fall, take a nap, and let someone else take over for a while.

Grasping

I am in the middle of my doctoral research right now and started to notice how badly I am looking forward to finishing this work. After all, I have been at it for years now, have given up a great deal to go for this degree, and am ready to take some downtime. However, I have just begun to sit with mounds and mounds of data to analyze so the truth is I am nowhere near done. I know this yet my mind was unwilling to let go of the grasp into the future and where I wish to go.

The first place I recognized this grasp was in my body. All week long I noticed the tension build in my back and neck. I could feel the discomfort and noticed it was there yet I struggled to let it go. It led me to contemplate on grasping and what this means in mind and body. It is one thing to plan for the future and to hope for something. It is another to cling onto and grasp as if life or who you are depended on it. Grasping is a quality of the ego that leads us away from the present moment into the future. It consumes a great deal of mental, emotional and physical energy as we concentrate on where we wish to be, rather than where we currently are, right here, right now. The Buddhist view of grasping is attachment. We often attach when we are in desire of something, someone. Desire moves us away from the moment and consumes the mind in search of, rather than in awareness. I often have my yoga students recognize how this shows up on the mat in their practice. For those of you who have ever done yoga you will know what I mean. Many students come into the class hoping and wanting and wishing for a certain experience, whether it is a good release, a rest, a workout. Whatever it may be. Then come the ideas of wanting and wishing for the teacher to instruct a certain favorite pose. All this mental energy consumed by desire, by the grasping of what we hope for rather than the ability to step back and see and feel what unfolds, what is. As often we learn the most from what we are resisting, not what comes easily.

This is such a challenging concept to be with, and to embody. To release my mental grasp I literally went “upside down.” I decided that the only way I could release the grasp of grasping was to turn it all around and flip it all. So, I found myself in headstand. I concentrated on my breath, my core strength and then slowly released. As I sat in the release the rest of my body released. All the tension began to fade as I had a good cry and let go of the expectations and desires. A headstand may not be necessary for you however, I do challenge you to be in your body in a way that you are not used to as a way to embody the idea of grasping and what you may be clinging to. Watch how your mind will fight and initially resist a new way. Meet the resistance rather than fight it. Embrace it with compassion and remind yourself that if you wish to reach a future intention that you must come back to now, as the future is dependent on now, not what will be.

May all beings live in peace and ease.

RESPONDING AND REACTING

This was the theme of my yoga class the week of Thanksgiving. After spending a week in my psychotherapy office hearing about the trepidation folks have about the holiday, as they reunite with family and friends, wondering who will get along with whom? Who may criticize whom? And, what will so and so say? These moments can sometimes bring along joy, but also bring along moments of triggering emotions and thoughts. It is not just about a holiday as we can get caught up in reactivity on any day. It takes a great deal of present moment attention to learn how to respond to someone rather than react.

When we react, we are often speaking from the mind moments of the past or the projected ones of the future. We are not in a grounded place, as it is only when we are present focused that we are feeling truly grounded. Therefore, emotions get the best of us, we may feel out of control, or notice our mood shifting to feeling judgmental and intolerant. All of this fuels the cycle of reactivity, rather than responsibility. Taking responsibility of one’s emotions and thoughts leads to responsible words, ones that come from “responding” in the moment from a grounded place.

So, how doe we get grounded? How do we attend to the present moment and take notice of what we’re thinking, feeling so that we can use this information to respond?  Our body is a great place to start as it often holds the answer. Your body will give you the first signal that you are starting to feel stressed and uncomfortable. I am sure you know what I mean. Tightness begins to take hold in your muscles, your hands may become clenched, maybe sweaty, and you can feel a quickening of your heartbeat, a quickening of your breath. A client of mine reported she could feel her face flushing when we was getting “worked up.” These are all signals that your body is getting ready to react. They are all normal, natural physiological responses when our system somehow feels under “attack.” The problem is, these visceral or body responses are delivered from a part of our brain, the reptilian brain that is responsible for reacting in the moment, without any awareness of thought. It is our job to attend to the signals and call conscious thought into the process to become aware of what is happening.

Now, we all know a Thanksgiving dinner, in and of itself, is not the problem. Instead the problem often lies in what we are holding in mind before we get there and old stories, and old relationships filled with old stories. The anticipation of the event often hypes up our nervous system before we even get there or the first guest arrives. Thoughts such as, “I hope Bob doesn’t talk about his new car again,” “I hope no one questions me once again why I’m not married yet?” And the infamous feared discussions on religion and/or politics. Our nervous system and body are already a bit charged prior to even getting started. From this charged place it is easy to react, rather than respond. It is from this point that the mind will follow. All of a sudden you may notice yourself drifting away as Aunt Sally goes on and on. You may find that there are many thoughts running through your mind. What you are noticing is the quickening of the mind. It is from this point that the desire to react in words as fast as possible starts to arise to defend, protect, or make a point. Once we fall into the mind-activated place, it can be tricky to slow it down just through thought alone. This is where we can turn to the body for assistance.

What does it look like to “call the body for assistance?” Well, it is actually quite simple.

Prior to a gathering, take a breath and notice areas of tightening and holding in your body by doing a simple body scan head to toe. While standing take your arms overhead and take a big inhalation, as you exhale through your mouth swing your arms down along your side to let it go. Do that a couple of times and then rescan your body for tense places. Notice how that automatically shifts the experience. Continue to breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Release breaths like this, is exactly that, a RELEASE! It is a release to your tightly wound nervous system, and sends an automatic signal to your brain to slow it all down. When you are in a hyped up state physically, you can sure bet that you are more likely to react, rather than respond from a grounded place.

What is the grounded place and what does that feel like? A grounded place is one in which the nervous system is calm, where you can notice your breath is at a steady, neutral place, and you are aware of any holding, and/or tension in your body. From here, you are able to take a pause, notice what’s happening in your body first, regroup by taking a breath, ground through your body by feeling your hands, your seat, and your spine. Take another pause, and then decide if what you are about to say will be helpful and necessary. It is only when the body is calm that you can effectively respond, rather than react from old, habitual places in the mind.

So, see what it is like to attend to your body and breath first, then pay attention to the thoughts that follow and the desire to speak. Ask the question, is what I am about to say helpful and necessary to both the other and myself? If so, speak from a responsive heart. If not, take a breath, and recognize that what was about to be said was an old reactive place that no longer serves you or anyone else. Enjoy the felt sense of “grounded.”

MAY ALL BEINGS LIVE IN PEACE AND EASE.