Once, I ran from fear
so fear controlled me.
Until I learned to hold fear like a newborn.
Listen to it, but not give in.
Honor it, but not worship it.
Fear could not stop me anymore.
I walked with courage into the storm.
I still have fear,
but it does not have me.
Once, I was ashamed of who I was.
I invited shame into my heart.
I let it burn.
It told me, “I am only trying
to protect your vulnerability”.
I thanked shame dearly,
and stepped into life anyway,
unashamed, with shame as a lover.
Once, I had great sadness
buried deep inside.
I invited it to come out and play.
I wept oceans. My tear ducts ran dry.
And I found joy right there.
Right at the core of my sorrow.
It was heartbreak that taught me how to love.
Once, I had anxiety.
A mind that wouldn’t stop.
Thoughts that wouldn’t be silent.
So I stopped trying to silence them.
And I dropped out of the mind,
and into the Earth.
Into the mud.
Where I was held strong
like a tree, unshakeable, safe.
Once, anger burned in the depths.
I called anger into the light of myself.
I felt its shocking power.
I let my heart pound and my blood boil.
Listened to it, finally.
And it screamed, “Respect yourself fiercely now!”.
“Speak your truth with passion!”.
“Say no when you mean no!”.
“Walk your path with courage!”.
“Let no one speak for you!”
Anger became an honest friend.
A truthful guide.
A beautiful wild child.
Once, loneliness cut deep.
I tried to distract and numb myself.
Ran to people and places and things.
Even pretended I was “happy”.
But soon I could not run anymore.
And I tumbled into the heart of loneliness.
And I died and was reborn
into an exquisite solitude and stillness.
That connected me to all things.
So I was not lonely, but alone with All Life.
My heart One with all other hearts.
Once, I ran from difficult feelings.
Now, they are my advisors, confidants, friends,
and they all have a home in me,
and they all belong and have dignity.
I am sensitive, soft, fragile,
my arms wrapped around all my inner children.
And in my sensitivity, power.
In my fragility, an unshakeable Presence.
In the depths of my wounds,
in what I had named “darkness”,
I found a blazing Light
that guides me now in battle.
I became a warrior
when I turned towards myself.
And started listening.
by Jeff Foster
I remember many years ago when I lived alone, I used to feel a deeply troubling hollow, empty feeling whenever I returned home. One day I returned home and said to myself ‘Let me go and sit with this’. So I sat on my meditation cushion and was amazed to see the surface feeling break open to reveal a fountain of inner ‘material’ relating to feeling alone and insecure. This passed through my awareness and I held it with compassion. Afterwards, the empty feeling had completely vanished and I went downstairs to cook a meal for one feeling happy! I remembered this transformative moment when reading this poem.
Sometimes poetry is able to transmit such important wisdom to take into our practice. Often this level of contemplative wisdom is found encapsulated in the orthodoxy of a religious tradition. Poetry can give us direct access, in a non-denominational setting, to wisdom that is invaluable to a life of mindfulness and compassion. This is such a poem (along with all the poems we work with in our Mindfulness Meets
Mystical Poetry course beginning soon).
I signed up for this kind of warriorship many years ago and its radical process of transformation still lights me up with enthusiasm. Even though it is by nature a rocky road, there is something absolutely authentic and so deeply fulfilling, about this approach to inner growth.
I first became a mindfulness practitioner while living on the Holy Isle, a little island off the west coast of Scotland, which houses two retreat centres and nothing else. I lived there for six years in a little hut with a sea view, spending my days cooking for retreatants and meditating. It was here that I slowly found myself embracing a Buddhist path, something I never thought I’d do.
The type of Buddhism practiced by many of the community there is Tibetan Vajrayana. Vajrayana practice is complex, but the idea that transformation is possible through fully experiencing strong emotions or mind-states with acceptance and awareness, is part of it.
This definitely turns the idea that practice is about finding peace on its head! Here the practice is to welcome the full catastrophe (as Jon Kabat-Zinn puts it) as the path, which inevitably means we’ll be practicing in the midst of anger, fear, desire, jealousy. Often these intense emotions lurk unacknowledged beneath our self-limiting and unhelpful patterning. The murkiness of our habitual ways of being are sustained by these power
houses of feeling simmering unseen beneath. When we start to turn towards this subterranean world an alchemy takes place, which I think Jeff Foster shows us beautifully. Then things shift around and often we can experience more turbulence in the process of becoming more aware. And still I find myself enthusiastic about it!
I think it must be because this radical practice feels absolutely true to me, as a way to free myself from chronic twisted emotional patterning that holds me back. The rocky road is worth it for this.
What patterns and emotions would you like to bring to your practice? Can you bring them to your practice with the intention (not goal!) of finding out about the truth of what is driving them at a deeper level?
Ps. Want more? Sing up for our Mindfulness Meets Mystical Poetry course…
Photo by Krystle van der Salm on Unsplash