Where do I even begin.
Last night I joined in the evening sit – it was the first time I had managed because usually I am cooking dinner then. I’ve decided that we will eat earlier and make sure I connect with this most precious offering from the amazing tutors at the Mindfulness Association. I was dubious about this online ambience, but as soon as people’s faces started popping up on my screen, (with some folks from far-flung corners of the world!) there was an immediate intimacy, connectedness, and powerful energy of togetherness as humans, just sitting with our vulnerability. At times sitting in a silence which was both full, and empty, and delicate. Sitting together was incredibly moving, along with Heather’s advice, and my own intuition to go back to simple practices, Vin took us back to basics with a wonderful settling grounding resting with breath as support. It was incredibly moving for a couple of reasons. There is a little window that popped up, in which people dedicated the practice to loved ones, National Health Service workers, vulnerable friends and people who have the virus around the world. This little window was like a magic box of positive intentional energy. During the practice, there was a poignancy to focusing on the breath at this time. As I breathed in, I felt the aliveness and spaciousness within; the freedom in my breath. I let go and let the body breathe itself. This simple act I take for granted, each free breath now a precious gift. As I breathed in I took in breath for all those suffering with their breath, as I breathed out I let go of fear and suffering. I dedicated the practice to all humans everywhere in the world.
Today, the sun is shining, buds are bursting open, birds are busy dashing about with twigs, the new hens are a-laying; nature is singing. This morning I moved the rescue-bunnies onto their summer pasture (the lawn) and they appeared happy to hop around, in their new lush-but-confined space, exploring and sniffing and checking out their new patch. I thought as I watched them explore, that we too as a family have to deal with our new world of confinement; the question is how can I find spaciousness and joy within it?
I noticed that while I was present with the rabbits, and with the hens, that that presence for that time was all that there was. Pure and simple awareness, with no stories clouding that presence. Spaciousness, freedom.
It’s not long though before my thinking mind had jerked me and claimed me back to its tight neurotic thinking – shouldn’t I be worrying about something?! thoughts swirl in around pandemics, work, family health and safety, separation from loved ones, the dread-loaded thought of infecting my asthmatic partner – and my growing feeling of paranoia around every a hint of a sniff, cough, sneeze; is that a dry chesty cough? am I feeling hot? if I’m not careful, my Mindfulness can be hijacked by thinking mind to flag up the tiniest of shifting symptoms and catastrophise the scenario – it’s starting to affect my equilibrium. I’m having a mental wrestling match in my head. The result is that I can’t seem to focus on anything.
The MSc Mindfulness studies course practice has required 40 minutes of mindfulness meditation a day, and the benefits of that sustained and daily practice have seeped into my daily life; (the practices are exactly the same as are taught on the MA syllabus). The affects are subtle, and there’s no trying; the practices of Mindfulness, Compassion and Insight are like a buoyancy aid under the surface mind, holding my head up above the tumult of the waves, keeping me afloat, so I can see the spaciousness of the sky and not get pulled under, dragged in to the undercurrent of thoughts and emotions. Practice has taught me how to relax into the fullness of the experience and to allow myself to feel it fully, to give it space in which to arise, manifest and dissolve.
But when things become turbulent, like this week – it’s the true touchstone of my practice. Avoiding practice because the house is full of people is a red flag. I’m getting lost in doubts and fears; – I am met with resistance from within, I hear my inner voice giving me reasons why I don’t have time for “practice?! this is an emergency! – too many people around! you need to work! work work! No time for sitting doing nothing! Nothing to do? Nowhere to go?!” I feel myself resisting what is, and that to me now, is a sign that I need to strengthen my intention and remind myself of my motivation – I need to sit myself down; there is work to be done on the cushion.
Heather’s short video on Mindfulness in Times of Difficulty is hugely reassuring and helpful for me this week. Finding nourishing (meditating, walking) and not depleting activities (like checking media incessantly), setting an intention for myself to stop reading the news has proved very soothing and helpful; a mindful walk with the dog and a shorter sit suits me better now as my house is now full of my family with all the busyness and challenges that that brings. The Mindfulness Association App is always available, wherever I find myself, and I use it often as a support.
This week finds my house with the three of us at home; unusual demands of attention and a certain amount of disruption – and so the luxury of meditation space, uninterrupted peace to work are compromises that need to be met. Some time ago through my insight practices I realized that every “encounter” with my family, every challenge, every disagreement had something to do with me and my egoic self. I watched with horror as I became conscious to it, how manipulative I was and had never noticed, always maintaining a subliminally superior stance, trying to make things work for me..totally not in line with my ‘I’m a nice person” version of myself I had created. My family are my teachers. Every encounter where I notice myself asserting a position – is a reminder to be mindful. Every time I meet resistance in my family is an opportunity to practice loving kindness and compassion. And every time I manage to resist sticking my oar in, is an opportunity to celebrate.
“If you think you’re enlightened go spend a week with your family” said Ram Das who has inspired the challenge this week (and actually for the weeks to come, perhaps this is a monthly challenge!)
What Ram Das said is funny, and deeply profound.
So this week’s challenge, is to celebrate. Celebrate every moment where you achieve a moment of Mindfulness. Celebrate your and your family’s little irritations – they are fuel for growing Compassion. Mindfulness and Compassion do help us to connect with the spaciousness and joy that we so need right now within whatever confines we find ourselves.
I wish us all many mindful and compassionate moments in the coming weeks.
May we all be healthy, may we all be happy, may we all live with ease.