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Sometimes, Things are Just Hard

It’s easy to sometimes regard the practice of mindfulness and/or meditation as being some kind of magical elixir (especially by new practitioners), as though we could (and should) use them to cure us of our woes and ailments – that somehow if we are mindful enough and meditate enough, we’ll be able to fix whatever it is we feel needs fixing. But, the truth is, sometimes, things are just hard. Having a mindfulness practice and sitting in meditation can strengthen our ability to stay present, balanced, and well-grounded in our own experience of whatever is unfolding – which can be invaluably beneficial – but, in the end, neither mindfulness or meditation can alleviate the causes and conditions of struggle, pain, sorrow, and so on. Our relationship with life can change, but life itself will always entail a certain degree of suffering, difficulty, challenge, and heartache.

What I’m trying to highlight here, is that it’s important not to use the practices of mindfulness and meditation to form some kind of emotional smoke-screen to hide or otherwise distort the simple and very real truth that sometimes life is just hard. And, in my experience, there is a strange and great relief in coming to this understanding. There is a powerful release in being able to simply state, with clear intent, that things are just hard sometimes – without trying to explain further or apologize or rationalize or sugar-coat something for someone else’s perceived benefit. Sometimes, things are just hard. End of sentence.

I recently watched a TED talk given by Susan Kaiser Greenland on the ABC’s of Attention, Balance, and Compassion. In her talk she stated that mindfulness isn’t about changing or fixing, it’s about understanding and being aware. And on one of her slides, it stated: Wisdom comes not from being perfect but from being present. I think we can get carried away and swept up in the false notion of perfection when it comes to a lot of things. But perfection is a relative construct – and I would go so far as to call it a farce.

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On Fear

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A week or so ago my husband Mike and I were discussing the topic of difficult emotions, in the context of our mindfulness practice. He mentioned being continually surprised by the common lack of mentioning fear, as one of the big prevailing emotions. Anger is referenced often, but seldom is fear spoken about. He posited that fear was, in fact, the root of all other difficult emotions. I agreed that anger, for instance, is not a root emotion, but a response to feelings of either hurt or fear. Most of what we feel arise as an emotion is rooted in another deeper layer of experience, often in our subconsciousness. But I never considered that fear may be what lies at the heart of all strong/challenging emotions. I took it as food for thought and have been chewing on it, so to speak, ever since.

When I first encountered the well-known quote by Marianne Williamson, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure,” I didn’t connect with her words and quickly sloughed them off. But now, years later, I understand. While I don’t presume to know how often this is true for others, I do know that a couple of years ago I discovered her insight to be true for myself. During a month-long retreat at Deer Park Monastery, I came to realize that I had a strong tendency of holding myself back from shining, which is what I refer to as our capacity to emit a certain inherent radiance when acting with joy and confidence in who we are and what we’re doing. I realized that what sat at the root of my trepidation, was fear. Fear of ego, fear of offending others or making them feel uncomfortable, fear of growing apart from certain loved ones by outshining them. Fear of becoming powerful beyond measure.

Ever since this light bulb of self-realization turned on, I’ve been slowly transforming this fear, working to dissipate it into the clear waters of understanding, where freedom resides. I’m learning the difference between egoism and self-confidence, and how it’s easy to confuse and misinterpret them. I’m learning that in holding myself back from shining, I’m also holding myself back from connecting fully, with both myself and others. I’m learning that to not shine as brightly as I can is to perform a disservice to who I am. And I’m learning to let go of over care-taking for people, by trying to affirm responsibility for their reactions, feelings,  and experiences.

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I’m learning to embrace the abilities and talents that I possess and shine as brightly as I can. It’s an ongoing process that continues to unfold and deepen. The more time I invest in becoming good friends with myself the more I see clearly about how important it is to develop this relationship – to relinquish my fear and embrace who I am with inclusiveness and ease.

Imagine the possibilities if more of us were less afraid of shining our light, helping to usher others forward to claim their own strength and wisdom. We all have the capacity to be the ones we’ve been waiting for.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2016 in Everyday Practice

 

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