I am in Cape Town for a month and the weather has been sunny and hot every day. It is like a different world to Scotland. I have been spending time with my mother and old friends. I have also been spending time with Rob Nairn working on the structure for a book on Insight. Finally, after many years deliberating, it seems like this book is starting to happen; well at least we are planning for it to happen!
I grew up in Cape Town and so being back here pushes all kinds of buttons. On the one hand, it is like being in an exotic playground of the senses with wonderful beaches, mountains, wine farms etc. While on the other hand when I meet different people, I am reminded of different phases of my upbringing – different relationships and interactions evoke different feelings and emotions that take me back to the distant past. It always amazes me how the body holds so much emotional memory that lies dormant until something triggers it. It is as if a whole host of different sub-personalities lie hidden in the subtle emotional body, and at any moment one of these hidden characters can pop up to the surface and bring with it a whole array of emotions, thoughts and memories.
At times like this, what really helps are the simplest aspects of mindfulness practice: slowing down and breathing, dropping my awareness into the body and allowing myself to feel the strange and unpredictable dance of different emotions, knowing that they are not permanent, and breathing with whatever surfaces into consciousness. Just doing this makes such a difference. It brings me home to the still place of Awareness that is always present behind the drama of the conditioned mind. I find that the important thing is to trust this inner space of Awareness, and to remember that the difficult, negative feelings are temporary, like the clouds obscuring the brilliant sunshine.
In Buddhism, this is the meaning of Taking Refuge in the Buddha. The Buddha is that still, unchanging space of Awareness within, and the more we trust it, the more it reveals its qualities. We just need to go back there again and again, and rest in this space of Awareness. This lies at the heart of what it means to ‘practice’.
I also find that being attentive to my thought patterns makes a big difference. Each of us has recurring, repetitive patterns of circular thinking. I notice that whenever my mind goes back into regret, dwelling and rumination, I immediately come back to being aware of what I am doing in the present; for example, driving a car, feeling my hands on the steering wheel, allowing my awareness to drop into my body and being mindful of my breathing. Then I consciously re-focus my mind on proactive themes of thinking – thinking that goes forward in a positive direction rather than thinking that goes back to dwell on negative stories. I find that cultivating a positive, proactive energy helps me to stay connected to the still place of Awareness within. Often, I cannot do this and that is OK too! But when I can do it, the inner space of Awareness allows me to really appreciate the beauty of this wonderful land of my birth.
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