“Warriorship does not refer to making war on others,
aggression is the source of our problems, not the solution…
Chogyam Trungpa, The Sacred Path of the Warrior
I just love the title of this book by Chogyam Trungpa gifted to me by a woman I met as I hitched my way to Italy in my adventurous younger days. She was a teacher of Buddhism in Italy and her compassionate actions and understanding taught me more than any book could. However, when I got home a series of life changing books begin to arrive through my letterbox. Norma would allow just enough time for me to read that one, and another would arrive! I now have a tiny version of The Sacred Path of the Warrior that I carry with me. What I’ve noticed about reading it, is that it seems I hear only what I am ready to hear at that moment in time; subsequent readings of the same text impart new insights. I’ve been reading the same book for 30 years and am still learning from it. I have also found this to be true with my meditation practice. I do the same practice, I go a bit deeper, and new insights arise –it’s a gradual deepening process – it’s like layers going down, rather than levels going up. I’m not ‘attaining’ anything, I’m done with striving – it’s more like I’m noticing more and more…removing barriers… to insight – the most ground breaking insights have come through the basic mindfulness practices, like, “I am not my thoughts”.
Sometimes it happens that a particular visualisation which has previously registered a blank suddenly becomes alive, relevant and meaningful. I’ve also noticed that I had preferences for practices and so I challenged myself to work with the ones I least ‘liked’. I’ve learned to go slowly and gently, to give myself time, to drop expectations; and I’ve only learned this through revisiting all the practices over and over.
The first time round on the Mindfulness and Compassion courses was powerful, and even though I was initially a little resistant to the secular approach – I found it very accessible. It allowed me to engage in a direct way that worked for me– this was nitty gritty, roll-your-sleeves-up-and-get-stuck-in stuff. I signed up for the course because I was troubled by my lack of feelings after the death of a close family member –I was completely numb, which struck me as something that needed unravelling. The course gently guided me through many practices focused on noticing feelings in the body…”and if you feel nothing, that’s okay” but for me my mind was screaming no it’s not okay! why can’t I feel anything?
It took me years to just get past identification with thinking, and now there I was being asked to feel things that weren’t there – what’s wrong with me? Heather gently says “nothing wrong”. Is this woman psychic?
“How does it feel to feel nothing? What does nothing feel like? Where exactly do you feel nothing?”
This was baffling. I had to trust this process even though it seemed a bit weird. I thought about Rob Nairn, Heather, and Fay and Choden and I trusted them. I was suspended in not knowing and not feeling and I noticed a lot of mental resistance. I learned to just be okay with that. So I sat in the middle of no feeling and not knowing and the barriers were palpable – I was facing a self-made dam of my own resistance and it’s like I was holding the whole dam from collapse which was exhausting and terrifying. Could I let go? Just writing about it reconnects me to those shaky feelings.
The key to warriorship… is not being afraid of who you are.
Ultimately, that is the definition of bravery: not being afraid of yourself”
I went back to the gentle and basic Mindfulness practices. The first Mindfulness course had showed me how I identified with thoughts, and I started to notice there was a difference between thoughts and feelings and emotions, as before it had all been wrapped in one big indistinguishable and uncomfortable ball, and I began to see how I was using thoughts and thinking to block emotions. I could see how my mind created stories that I believed. The Compassion Course showed me how to approach myself and my feelings whatever they were with kindness and forgiveness – even if I did not feel brave enough to confront the difficult feelings yet, the skilful training gave me the toolkit for when I was ready. There was more to come but this was enough for me now.
The course shone a light in my mind so I could see the great mess that was the workings of my mind and hold it all with kindness. I was still holding the dam, the numbness was still there, but now I had a way to be with it without expectation, and with lovingkindness.That was my first layer of Mindfulness. If I had left it there, and considered Mindfulness Level 1 and Compassion Level 2 ‘done’ I would not have experienced what came next.
There is something wonderfully bold and liberating
about saying yes to our entire imperfect and messy life.
In 2018 my spiritual warrior was ready for the next layer of Mindfulness. The Msc Mindfulness Studies Course requires 40 minutes at day meditation commitment and journaling to record the experience. It’s an incredible experience altogether and is balanced with a lot of reading around neuroscience. This is what I needed, the commitment to practice element – made stronger by the repeated curiosity around personal motivation and intention. I knew the course revisited all the same Mindfulness and Compassion practices. Thinking mind said, “you’ve done all this already” – courageous heart said, “You haven’t even started”.
I had ‘done’ compassion but compassion had not finished with me. I had difficulty connecting with the word – how could I feel compassion when I couldn’t feel anything? The answer lay in revisiting my shaky dam but now with self-compassion. The resistance I had to this practice was impressive. The resistance was the holding of the crumbling dam; a dam that I had made for good reasons, but which I didn’t need and couldn’t hold any more. Resistance, I have learned is a sign like ‘X marks the spot’. Dig here and you will find treasure. I stepped away from the dam and let it go.
I have huge gratitude to my tutors and my tutorial group who must have thought I was made of water and that I had sprung a leak. I continued to leak for some time and there was nothing wrong it was the opposite, this was all-right – I celebrated – no need to fix anything – the tears were tinged with joy, I’d opened up to allowing myself to feel feelings.
Now, I am able to notice my feelings and emotions as they arise, welcome them and with such a relaxed feeling around that, even around the uncomfortable feelings because I am no longer resisting them, the teachers have instilled such a wonderful gift in me- curiosity.
“Through the practice of sitting still and following your breath
as it goes out and dissolves, you are connecting with your heart.
By simply letting yourself be, as you are,
you develop genuine sympathy towards yourself.”
Sometimes when there’s a tricky issue, and it can be a subliminal thing that I didn’t even know was there, like me projecting onto my partner for example! (my favourite) it can take a few attempts to get round the thing; different approaches, different practices. I found Tara Brach’s RAIN practice brilliant for really getting to the bottom of things and letting them move through me. R is for Recognising or Registering that a certain emotion is present. A is Accepting or Allowing it to be there and welcoming it into your presence. I is Intimate attention. We sit with our feeling and really get to know it (even if it’s no feeling!). N is Non-Identification, which happens by itself. There are lots of great meditations on the Mindfulness Association App, for Mindfulness, and Compassion and Insight – you can download it on your phone and take them everywhere with you. (where there’s wi-fi). Here is a verson of RAIN led by Jacky on youtube, and HERE is a soundcloud verion led by Choden – take your pick – try them both! You really can’t do this practice too many times!
This week’s challenge: Notice resistance. Resistance can be very subtle – watch out for it, in all its forms. Do a RAIN practice and see what you notice when you welcome your feeling of resistance with intimate attention and a kindly curiosity. Maybe try a practice on the App that you may have been resistant to and pay attention to what you are resisting?
(PS Notice if you think you have ‘done’ mindfulness or ‘done ‘compassion. There may be more work to do. Let your inner Spiritual Warrior guide you.)