Last week was one of contrasts, worlds colliding, working my edge.
Having completed my second year of the MSc Studies in Mindfulness I feel relief, surprise that I managed to get this far, and celebration at the progress both in knowlede and practice. All of this tinged with a hint of sadness at finishing our last module – insight. Our year group missed our final get together at the end of this year – having completed our Mindfulness, Compassion and Insight as modules (but not as life practices!)… I say ‘completed’, but really it’s only ever the beginning, each day each moment is new – I will never say I’ve mastered mindfulness! The course so far has transformed my life, changing my relationship to myself and my thinking as well as to others around me and has also brought me closer to finding deeper and more authentic and compassionate ways of working – bringing mindfulness into my art practices. I am looking forward to reading more Chogyam Trungpa, Akong Rinpoche, and Carl Jung, John Dewy, and others; interested now, in the aesthetic experience of art and mindfulness…and I’m looking forward to my course in mindful art therapy as part of my research.
At the end of each year on the MSc there is a retreat on Holy Island in Scotland; a chance to settle, ground and rest in the most conducive environment… but not this year.
I watched myself assimilate the idea and reality of my Holy Isle end-of-year MSc retreat being delivered at home through the screen that I sit at most days for my work, in a room by the front door, where my dog barks every time there’s a delivery and right by the stairs to the rest of the house.
There was a reluctance, resistance and definitely a feeling of impending collision which I could feel as building tension in my body, a stiffness. I wasn’t looking forward to it. I wanted to see my retreat colleagues in person, feel their energy, have a cup of tea with them, be at peace on an island with the sea and the waves and the gulls and the wind and the rain, in Scotland, my homeland! I was nostalgic and a bit grumpy about it. The notion of my homeland is a bit of a nonsense that my brain came up with to add some drama. I laughed at myself for that one.
I have lived all over the place, and as I have discovered in Safe Place practice ‘home’ hasn’t always been a safe place – so for me – the safe place I have connected with is the space I inhabit in my mind when I knit, or read, or paint or walk in nature; colour can be a safe place for me. An island feels like a nice safe place to have a retreat and relax. But not my office, not my home! My work desk isn’t exactly conducive to retreating or relaxing – you can imagine.. but hey isn’t mindfulness all about integration, one-ness, living mindfully in my daily life? Living mindfully with my family...Can I get my head round this? Can I relax around this?
So I’m sitting in my office in my house like I’m made of wood. My two worlds are on a collision course. There is no place for my virtual island, no water to cross, no barrier. I am vulnerable. I have a door. I put a sign on the door ! KEEP OUT ! no – that’s a bit extreme “Please do not disturb, meditation in progress”. Better, but as I am writing it, I am noticing what’s happening while it’s happening. My practice is somehow about to separate me from my family, now in a concrete way with a door, but I now wonder – have I been making myself an island through my practices? I admit to being a secret practitioner, I keep it all to myself, that way I avoid confrontation; I try to be mindful instead of talking about it to my family. But now I see how actually maybe, perhaps that the way I am engaging with the teachings could be separating me from my family. I can’t find a way and I feel really conflicted.
How can I reconcile my inner lifeworld as a mindfulness practitioner ‘on retreat’ (i.e. being seen to be ‘doing nothing’ (!)) and my outer lifeworld as a family member of a household that has a dog, a cat, frequent parcel deliveries hungry people, a messy kitchen, and a growing washing pile? What kind of retreat is this going to be exactly?
“Don’t look for any other state than the one you are in now; otherwise, you will set up inner conflict and unconscious resistance.
Forgive yourself for not being at peace. The moment you completely accept your non-peace, your non-peace becomes transmuted into peace.
Anything you accept fully will get you there, will take you into peace. This is the miracle of surrender. “
During the retreat – I watched the psychological barrier in my mind and the physical barrier of my office door slowly open. By the end of the 5 days the office door was wide open with no sign on it. Whatever was unfolding in my house became part of my practice. It wasn’t that I wasn’t uncomfortable with the arrangement, I was, but I managed to stay with the feeling of ‘uncomfortable’ and allow the retreat to be as it was as I allowed my home to be as it was. I was definitely experiencing that unsatisfactoriness the dukkha that we are taught, the “this moment is not quite right!” feeling. I noticed that there was something around me and boundaries. Edges, where my needs meet others’ needs, I will revisit this with some self compassion. I think I have been perhaps too available. I found it difficult to grant myself something that was good for me. Some time for myself.
I noticed how I was expecting difficulty, confrontation, demands, intolerance, a whole host of problems which, when observed with mindful attention, turned out to all be projections all coming from my own mind. None of it happened. This was perhaps one of the greatest insights over the few days – about what I project onto my family. It may be as a result of years of conditioning, however I could see how the brain fills in the gaps for me, unchallenged, it’s on automatic pilot – what Rob Nairn calls the Default Mode Network; – the mind goes off, creates a drama, and then delivers it’s news with a dose of adrenaline just to make sure I stay in a perpetual state of fight or flight. In this case freeze was my preferred threat response! I can see how a tendency for anxiety is fuelled by my own neurotic thinking. Urgh.
So the retreat was delivered brilliantly and was received with gratitude. What was completely unexpected was that the energy from all the people I could see on my screen via the Zoom platform pervaded my room and my home in a lovely way. I relaxed into the practices and my body became more supple and relaxed, I stood up and moved when I needed to. My home felt different and you know I think it still does. The enquiry practices we learned from the teacher training were enlightening and in fact I consider them to be important life skills; – I tried the technique out on my family – open questioning, deep listening and real active curiosity – with enormous success – resulting in very open and interesting conversations – that was a deeply rewarding part for me. So the whole retreating at home experience has been enlightening. The cat has been let out of the bag and now my work desk has a new normal – the compassionate energy of mindfulness meditation has flowed from my screen, through my open office door into my hallway and house, and even the dog sat with me to receive the blessing that is Mindfulness at Home. I’ve changed my screen saver to a beautiful Cherezig Image – body of light emanating rainbow compassion on a dark blue ground.
Maybe my mental ‘keep out’ sign is a thing of the past and I can let it go and open my door.
Warm wishes to you,
Weekly Challenge this week: This week notice when you feel challenged by perceived demands. Notice any feelings that go along with the thinking. What is happening here?