And so yesterday, the fourth day, I got down to the nitty-gritty of my retreat.
Most mindfulness teachers seem to either see mindfulness as a ‘spiritual practice’ on the path to Nirvana or as a ‘therapy’ they can add to their portfolio.
I am somewhat different, I came to mindfulness through stress. When I picked up the Power of Now in a bookshop in 2009, I was searching for something to help me deal with my stress.
Two revelations in that book transformed my weak Zen Buddhist meditation practices into a powerful tool that has helped me to transform my mind, and my life. This retreat is evidence that transformation is an ongoing process.
The revelations were simply that I am not my thoughts or my emotions and that the present moment is all there is. This helped me to become aware of my emotions, possibly for the first time, and most definitely for the first time as an observer.
This ability to observe emotions rather than experience them is a key element of mindfulness.
An analogy that I often use is that the mind is like a river. When the current is strong and the river level is high, it stirs up the bottom, becomes murky, creates waves and froth. The bottom of the river is hidden and so crossing it is dangerous.
Mindfulness clears the mind and creates a calm, still silence which enables us to observe and experience our thoughts and emotions. Mindfulness can become a safe space, one that, with practice, we can always find. This is the eventual goal of mindfulness meditation, to experience the mind safely, transform our minds and so, transform our lives, though not everybody either can or would want to experience this. One has to ‘be ready’. Nobody quite knows what ‘ready’ actually is, but you’ll know it when you’re there.
In the consumer society, meditating on emotions, thoughts and beliefs consists of becoming aware of our conditioning, questioning it and releasing the limiting beliefs, habits and emotions which unfortunately, is most of it.
From what I have seen, most mindfulness courses and mindfulness teachers don’t actually acknowledge this process. I think that this is largely because they haven’t been there themselves.
It’s not possible to speak about, for instance, the connection with nature, the joy of life and the bliss of releasing deep inner fears unless you have experienced it yourself.
Today, to repeat a commonly used expression, “all sorts of stuff came up”.
Of course, it is all good, but it really was a day spent with various tricky emotions such as resentment and grief.
Over the years I have used a number of techniques for managing this sort of psychological quagmire, but nowadays I just dive in and allow myself to feel it. I can almost invariably identify the cause and so either I allow myself to be aware of it and let it dissolve, or find a practice to resolve it.
My latest personal lesson is humility. And the practice I needed to find was how to practice it!
Here are the Dalai Lama’s teachings on humility:
Recently, I have developed a great deal of respect for the Dalai Lama. I’m not a Buddhist simply because I don’t believe in reincarnation, but I will seek out wisdom wherever it can be found, and for the record, that’s often in the most unlikely places…
For some reason, probably because I simply didn’t understand, I used to think the Dalai Lama’s teachings were a western ‘media friendly’ version of Buddhism, but recently I’ve discovered the power in them. I had thought for instance, that compassion was an outcome, a side effect almost, of having found inner peace. Recently, I discovered compassion is something I need to actively practice. In the same way, I now know that I need to practice humility. I need to review my interactions and decide on who I should be compassionate or humble with, and then go out of my way to do it.
I think if I can be compassionate to people that are resentful and humble with people that are arrogant, then I will have have found my way and rising to the bait will be a thing of the past.
To practice humility, I have now realised that I need to be mindful of how I have responded in the past and be prepared to defer to people not just when they’re wrong, but ‘especially’ when they are wrong, because after all, what is right and wrong except an idea we think is true that we hold in our heads? So why not just allow them to continue to believe whatever it is they want to believe?