“Welcome to the path of the heart! Believe it or not, this can be your reality, to be loved unconditionally and to begin to become that love. This path of love doesn’t go anywhere. It just brings you more here, into the present moment, into the reality of who you already are. This path takes you out of your mind and into your heart.”
~ Ram Dass
About a month ago I experimented with doing metta during all of my sits for a week. I didn’t really notice much of a change when it came to opening my heart, so I’ve decided to give it another try, this time for an entire month.
According to Insight Timer I’ve averaged about 38 hours a month over the past year. That means over the next 30 days I’ll be practicing loving-kindness for the equivalent of a whole work week.
I’ll check back in here on or around February 23rd and let y’all know how it goes.
I’ve posted elsewhere that I don’t typically feel emotions that strongly/often. When I do feel something it’s often due to a powerful trigger and because of that I am sometimes overwhelmed by the strong feelings. I know that if I had more experience dealing with emotions at a less intense level, I’d probably be more effective at dealing with the more intense ones.
My method of learning to be more in touch with my inner landscape has largely been inspired by Tara Brach’s RAIN. RAIN is a mindfulness tool which helps decrease the confusion and anxiety around strong emotions. When I felt overwhelmed earlier today I used this tool. For those of you not familiar with RAIN, read on for an example of how this tool is used.
I was talking to a dear friend earlier and as often happens in conversation, they asked “how’s it going?”. I thought about for a moment and said “I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed”. I’m fairly certain that my inflection gave away just how unsettled I was actually feeling. The conversation wound up after a bit but even after I hung up I could feel the sense of being overwhelmed hanging over me like shroud. At that point I decided to use RAIN.
The first step is R – recognize what is happening. Turning my attention inward I recognized the familiar pressure inside my skull that accompanies anxiety as well as a tightness in my chest that I hadn’t been aware of. I also felt a coolness in my limbs and torso after letting my mind settle a bit an just observe.
The second step is A – allow life to be just as it is. Instead of getting wrapped up in all the factors causing me to feel overwhelmed, I just took a few moments to be with the emotions I was feeling and the bodily sensations that accompanied them. I was tempted to resist or distract myself but instead I just remained present with my experience.
The third step is I – investigate with kindness. I started by investigating the anxiety. I asked myself “how is anxiety manifesting itself in my body?” In addition to the pressure in my head that I mentioned earlier, I noticed that my neck and shoulders were even more tense than usual. I also asked myself “are there other emotions present?”. Upon some reflection I realized that the tightness in my chest was actually fear; fear of not having enough money to get through until next payday, fear of letting down my wife. Along with this realization came recognition of sadness. Not the “why me?” of self pity, but rather the sadness that accompanies doing your best but still not being good enough.
The last step is N – non-identification. Non-identification means that what you are feeling at any given moment is not who you are. This step kind of just happens after you’ve progressed through the first three.
Using RAIN today helped me get out from under the sensations of being overwhelmed. Next time you’re experiencing some intense emotions I would suggest that you try using this great mindfulness tool.
“Somewhere in this process you will come face-to-face with the sudden and shocking realization that you are completely crazy. Your mind is a shrieking gibbering madhouse on wheels barreling pell-mell down the hill utterly out of control and hopeless. No problem. You are not crazier than you were yesterday. It has always been this way and you just never noticed. You are also no crazier than everybody else around you. The only real difference is that you have confronted the situation they have not.”
― Henepola Gunaratana
I love this quote. It brings me great solace when I’m stressed out or anxious, when I’m depressed, when my mediation isn’t going quite the way I had hoped. When you think about it, you really have no control over what thought you’re going to think next. You might be at work, and suddenly a memory of a dream you had last night could surface. Or maybe you’re at the supermarket on a Tuesday and you find yourself planning the weekend. From what I understand, this is normal behavior for the average human mind.
When we meditate, we get a more intimate view of this process. By sitting and observing our thoughts (and not getting caught up in their stories), we can see the mind bubbling up all sorts of stuff from the unconscious. We also learn to let thoughts go and see just how impermanent they are.
“The game the mediator is the experience of his/her own life, and the instrument upon which he/she plays is his/her own sensory apparatus.”
“Time on the cushion is simply practice. ”
“When the mind becomes quiet it does not mean that there is nothing to do. The mind has just become ready! Bring in questions to help the mind look more critically at what is happening.”
—Sayadaw U Tejaniya
I’ve been listening to a lot of dharma talks lately on my way to and from work (I have a ~40 minute commute). One theme that comes up again and again is being aware of the present moment.
At any given time (that I’m not meditating), odds are that my thoughts are either in the past – rehashing something I’ve said or done, or in the future – hoping for a certain outcome or planning. I’m beginning to understand the futility of that approach. The past is done and over with, no amount of thought or effort can change what has happened. The only thing we have control over is how we relate to the past. Can we accept what has happened? Can we learn from our experiences? The answer to both those questions can and should be ‘yes’.
The future, on the other hand, hasn’t happened yet, but what we do in the present moment shapes what happens in the next moment (s). Worrying about a certain outcome is largely useless unless we are currently in a position to do something that will affect that outcome.
I am resolving to pay more attention to the now. I’ll attempt to be more present for my loved ones. I’ll attempt to be more mindful of each activity that I find myself doing, instead of acting mechanically out of habit. I realize this won’t always be easy, but not making the effort doesn’t make sense.
I’ve decided to document my new years resolutions here so that I’m slightly more accountable than if I had just kept said resolutions in my own mind. So, without further ado:
- Resolution #1: Keep the 5 precepts to the best of my ability. (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Five_Precepts)
- Resolution #2: Lose an average of 1 pound a week for the next year. (I am overweight enough so that this is at least theoretically possible).
- Resolution #3: Go to church or sangha at least every other Sunday.
- Resolution #4: Post something on this blog every week (at a minimum ), even if it’s just a pithy quote.
We’ll folks, there you have it. For once I’m actually setting reasonable goals. I’ll keep y’all posted as the year progresses.