So many times in my life I have run from painful emotions, turning to unhealthy coping skills. The hardest teaching I have ever been given is to “sit with the feelings and navigate through to find the root cause and the truth of this particular painful feeling”. The interesting thing about my emotions and feelings I have to ask myself more times than not is, what am I so afraid of feeling? What is it that I don’t want to experience and why is it so scary to me?
We could navigate back to my childhood, where I felt like I didn’t have a voice, or to the abusive boyfriend who never comforted me when I was sad, or maybe to the Christian faith I was raised in that told me anger was wrong.
Needless to say I never learned how to sit with the emotion or let out my feelings and now as an adult who is in recovery from substances that allow for complete numbing out of emotions, this is a brand new experience.
Sometimes when I experience emotions I have to look at the question of “who do I think is involved with the painful emotion” “what happened before I experienced this emotion” and what am I doing to accept the emotion/feeling and be kind to myself.
So often for me simply investigating and giving myself space to feel whatever is present helps. Accepting that my angry, sad, self deprecating feelings are just like all feelings and emotions they will come and they will go.
I get lost in this process of thinking “this will always be this way unless I do something to get myself out of it” this always creates so much more suffering and pain that really needed to happen. However it is also a good learning lesson for me to sit and look at how I could of reacted to myself differently.
When I practice breaking down my feelings they become less scary, when I accept that it’s okay to feel this way I start to heal.
I have always struggled with being kind to myself. I think I am probably my harshest critic. I turn 31 in a few days and I still strongly battle an eating disorder that pops up more times than not. I have battled self-harm and alcoholism for the better part of my life as well. I have always found it so easy to be kind to others and not myself. So much so that I don’t stand up for myself sometimes for fear of it hurting another.
If I actually take time to slow down and break down what the next kind thing to do is I am bringing compassion to myself. For example if I get into an argument with someone and they hurt me I could practice sitting with that pain instead of resorting to an unhealthy behavior like self harm and my ED.
Part of this lack of kindness to myself is my personal need to try and control my own pain. If I make myself feel worse than that person makes me feel I give myself a false sense of control.
So often being kind to myself is simply pausing. Taking some deep breaths and letting the pain happen. However this is the struggle. I don’t always like feeling pain.
I spent most of my life treating myself like garbage and I am just now learning how to be kind to myself.
I always bring this to mind though, what is the next kind thing I can do for myself when I feel this pain or urge to control?
How can I use kindness to help me recover from this painful situation?
The kind thing for me to practice often is to practice nonattached appreciation. I know this good moment won’t last forever and by trying to make it last is unkind to myself. Then I resort back to the unkind acts that happen when I try to control an experience.
Breathing in I accept breathing out I let go.
One of the areas of mindfulness we practice is to remember what we learned in the past and to bring it into the present moment. In order to practice that we have to be mindful of all sense foundations in the present.
For example in recovery we experience a craving sometimes after we experience a familiar smell or drive by an old place. Either way something triggers a memory and we can get stuck in the memory from the past which creates the craving for that experience again. This brings the past to the present moment experience. If we are not careful to be mindful about where we are now we can get lost in the storyline our mind creates.
Here are some tools to help with this experience. Be aware of the body sensations ask yourself why do I feel excited? What about this past sensation makes me excited? What happened before when I gave in to that excitement or craving? Was this a healthy or unhealthy experience? Can I let go of the past storyline and keep myself in the present?
It’s so easy to get caught up in the stories of our past we think we will end up with a different outcome but most of the time when we chase cravings the outcome is still unpleasant.
To truly live with mindfulness we practice being in the experience fully each moment. Accept all things in that moment and live from one experience to the next.
As Buddhist practitioners we take a vow of nonviolence this means a practice of setting the intention to not cause harm every day. Some of these ways are obvious we practice not partaking in any physical acts of violence or killing. We understand the laws of karma and know that a negative action will have a negative result. However another way we have to remember to practice nonviolence is in our speech. Unkind words, gossip, and lying are all acts of violence to another being. So we set the intention to practice kind speech and not participate in unwholesome words or gossip. So often we get caught up in the moment and may partake in unkind words about other people especially those who we may think deserve it. I urge the practice of loving kindness to all beings even the ones we find it difficult to be compassionate too. The vow of nonviolence is a practice of being kind also to ourselves. How are we talking to ourselves? Is it kind and compassionate or are we being harsh or negative? It’s important to practice compassion to ourselves first because that will mirror to the world. We are all connected and to truly practice nonviolence we must send love to ourselves and all beings. Set an intention to ask yourself daily will this cause harm to myself, or another being?
May we all learn the practice of nonviolence in our actions, words, and daily life.
This morning I was looking around at all the buildings taking in the scenery and watching people hurry from one thing to the next. I similarly wake up every morning get my coffee, shower, and rush into work. I spend my days helping others and using my energy to find balance in the chaos of life. At the end of the day I always ask myself this question, was I happy in each moment of my day?
This brings me to talk about the truth of where we can find happiness. Happiness is not always present when things are going exactly how we want them too. Happiness is not always the moments when we feel we should be happy because our days are going as planned. What I have found to be true is that happiness is a state of mind that deep inside our hearts we keep open.
I can be happy in the painful moments and the wonderful moments. We train our hearts in joy and compassion and when we bring compassion to all life experiences we can find true happiness. Happiness is when we accept pain as pain and joy as joy.
True happiness is found in the hearts willingness to be present with all experiences.
The past few weeks the tension and anxiety has been at an all time high as we are faced with this Covid19 pandemic. It almost seems that even at work when everything feels normal in many ways there is a thick heaviness that every person is carrying but not really talking about. We go about our days trying to act positive and “normal” while deep down our hearts are scared and shakin.
I started to experience anxiety and panic coming back after a few years of having it under control. I started to have nightmares and worry about keeping my children and loved ones safe. I started to live in the worry about what may happen in the future. Even though my practice is to stay in the present and to experience the anchoring of my breath when my mind creates the storylines. However the stories just kept coming every time I walked by the news on tv or every time I opened up Facebook. The anxiety was crushing and the depression started to seep in.
I stopped one day and sort of gave myself a pep talk, I said “Hannah, stop you are afraid of something you can’t control and something that hasn’t happened yet.” I argued back with myself and said “I can though if I cover up how I feel and pretend I’m not scared I’ll be okay” then again I responded “no you can’t you have to accept your fear”
This gives birth to the antidote – it all comes back to the surrender of acceptance. The surrender of what I cannot control and what I can. I cannot control the circumstances life throws at me only how I respond. Once I said to myself “it’s okay to be afraid and worried, you don’t always have to be strong” I think I’ve always felt that being scared presented as weakness and this was something I needed to examine in my heart. I now thing true strength is in the honesty or surrendering to our fears.
I also started asking myself questions when I was afraid. Questions like – is this a fear of the future, past, or present? What is the root of this fear? Is it truly your fear or are you taking on the fears of others? Can I sit with my fear and know that in this moment I am safe?
Recognizing and accepting the fear is okay. It’s okay to be scared and to feel out of control. However in the slow pause between each breath you will find the strength to be in the moment.
May all beings find peace inside their hearts today.
To truly practice acceptance we must understand the truth of our experience in the present moment. So often we cannot accept something because we don’t see the truth of the present moment without bringing our attachments from the past into the present, or we cannot accept because of our attachments to the worries of the future.
For example I may not be able to accept something my father tells me because I am still holding a resentment against him from my childhood. I may not accept the pain of the present moment because I am caught in the triggers of the experience from the past.
How do we stay present and see things clearly without staying stuck in the mud, how do we bloom like a lotus without growing through the mud?
We must learn to accept that we are not in control of anything else but how we respond. Each time we are called to accept something we are shown two paths the path of holding on to resentments and the path of acceptance and letting go.
I will never be able to change or control my childhood or the pain I experienced but I can’t accept what happened to me and take responsibility for how I respond in the present moment.
Lack of acceptance puts road blocks in place so we cannot grow spiritually it leaves us stuck in the mud.
May we all learn to breath in “I accept” and breath out “let go”
One of the problems I have faced in life is the need to control. It started as a very young child when I couldn’t feel safe in my own home so I would try and control my safety by hiding under blankets or checking the locks on my windows multiple times before I would allow myself to go to sleep. Then as I got a little older I would turn to self harm to try and control my own pain instead of the pain coming from the outside. As I continued with these unhealthy ways of control it would turn into an eating disorder then alcoholism. Always trying to control something in my life because the fear of not being in control was to painful for me. I would often feel trapped or out of control because I was always worried someone would hurt me. So I learned to control myself internal in very painful ways creating these huge levels of suffering.
As I have said before life is full of pain and often we turn the pain into suffering by adding to the pain instead of reacting with healthy coping skills.
So think of the suffering you feel when you don’t trust your significant other or a close friend, the fear and worry of constantly thinking someone is out to get you. So you try to control by manipulation or putting rules in place for the other person so you feel better because you think you will keep yourself safe by doing this. Similar to habits you may of formed in childhood.
The question is this, how much more suffering do you cause yourself by trying to control outside circumstances?
When we accept that the only thing we can control is our own reactions to the outside and we make friends with the fear we find freedom to live without suffering.
In the second foundation of Mindfulness we are told to bring awareness to the feeling and the feeling tones. This means awareness to our emotional states, the sensations that come with our thoughts. For example, I think of my favorite dessert and there is a specific feeling tone that will accompany my thought. Most likely one of pleasure or maybe even escape seeing I am in recovery from an eating disorder. This one thought may also bring up a feeling of guilt or shame if I have put myself on a diet or a strict eating program. You see this second level of mindfulness is where we really start digging in to the root of the present moment. What am I feeling? Is it good? is it bad?
The struggle with this particular foundation is, what if you don’t know what the feeling tone is? What if there are a million different feelings rushing through your mind all at once? How then do you slow down enough to be present with what feeling is there?
This particular issue has been a problem for most of my life, I have lived in day dreams and escapes for probably the whole 30 years of my existence. The idea of the truth for me only comes when I feel safe and secure, which is almost impossible for me. Trauma plays a huge role in how we connect to the sense experiences.
So now I am going to tell you how I try to get to the root of these emotional states. It all goes back to the first foundation of mindfulness which is to learn to recognize the feeling tones in the body. Is my chest tight right now? If I am feeling some type of anxiety right now can I sit and experience that feeling and when it goes away maybe then I can ask what the emotional sensation attached the anxiety is. However in the moment of intense anxiety I may find it hard to see clearly into the root cause. So first when I am in a moment of physical stress or anxiety I work to release and accept that bodily sensation first. I let all the thoughts float on and I bring full awareness to releasing the pressure that has built up in my body. Switching from the fight or flight response to the rest and digest response. Then once I am aware of my body sensations I can slowly start to be honest with myself about my emotional feeling tones that were triggered after the bodily anxiety started to come up. For me my body always presents the feelings before my mind catches up to them. Trauma teaches us to react before we think because we must stay safe.
This also takes brutal honesty and hard work. Always be kind to yourself and when the stress of digging into an emotional state becomes to much accept that and relax back into your breath. The key here is to always know how to return to the breath it will always be the anchor that holds you down.
Can you be fearless with yourself today?
I spent a lot of years thinking I knew what the truth of my experiences were. I thought I could see clearly through the situations in my life. In Buddhism we call this delusion, when our attachments to the past or to the future put a mask on what is truly happening in the present moment. To see through the delusion I have to sit with myself and practice inquiry. What is really going on in my body right now? What is my mind trying to trick me with in this moment? Sometimes sitting and facing the present moment is the hardest thing we are called to practice. It means there is no escape or day dreams to distract us with it may even mean sitting with some very uncomfortable emotional states so that we can learn to take the blinders off. What I found to be true is when I face even the uncomfortable moments they are from something that has happened in the past or a worry I have about the future, a level of anxiety or fear perhaps. I was sitting in silent meditation the other night for example and my whole body hurt and was upset over a situation that happened a week before. What I learned was the pain I was experiencing was still attached to the painful experience I went through a week ago. If I looked clearly at the moment I was fine, safe, and okay. I also had to accept the feelings I was going through. So one thing I often practice in meditation is “as I breathe in I accept this moment, as I breathe out I accept this breath” Acceptance is key to seeing clearly, if we are stuck in the control aspects of our minds we will never learn to see things for what they are. If I learn to accept painful emotions I see that in that moment in each breath I am safe.