Sutra 1.3 Once the mind is crystal-clear, we begin to perceive the objects of the world the way they are; our perception is no longer distorted.
The first question I want to address, as we set out upon this adventure into mindfulness together, is the Why. Why are we here? Why enter into a day or a lifetime's worth of spiritual practice even when we are in the midst of so much suffering and chaos related to the pandemic? Why would we want to live with purpose, be kind and do good work in the world? Why would we want to be in alignment with our own wholeness allowing room for all to belong?
There is an analogy that is used not only in yoga, but in many other spiritual traditions called the spoked wheel. If we can imagine that each one of our lives is a spoke on a bicycle wheel, then we know that each one of our lives connects and meets in the middle, at the communal hub.
Marrianne Williamson, in her book A Return to Love describes it perfectly:
“If you define us according to our position on the rim, we seem separate and distinct from one another. But if you define us according to our starting point, our source--the center of the wheel--we’re a shared identity. If you dig deep enough into your mind, and deep enough into mine, the picture is the same: at the bottom of it all, what we are is love.”
When we begin to see tending to a loving relationship with ourselves as tending to the world, we enter into alignment with wholeness and into connection with what we truly are, love. It is no longer possible for us to see ourselves as separate or broken. This is key. You are not separate. You belong. You are a part of the whole. You are not broken, you are human. A wave is a wave, it crests and breaks, but it is always of the ocean, it is always what it is. A ray of sun is a ray of sun, but it is always coming from source. As we begin to other ourselves less, we also begin to other each other less. (Let alone the bazillion documented health benefits of a mindfulness practice, which this post is not about, but you should totally google it.)
“You are the sky. Everything else is just weather.”
So, when we shift our energy to be in alignment with our highest selves, when we tend to our own beingness, when we care for the deepest, most eternal part of ourselves, we also care for the universe, for the communal hub, for the ocean, for the sun, and for all beings. The intention of spending time together in practice is to care for our own well being, so that our light can shine freely, so that we can step into our power as well as our own vulnerability, so that we can embody love more fully, more often. In this way, ultimately, we contribute to the healing of the world, especially when the world is suffering collectively. In elevating the vibrational quality of ourselves, we elevate our relationships, our community and the world. We are more apt to engage with the world from a place of loving kindness rather than a place of judgement and blame. We are more likely to see connection rather than separateness and to see our differences through the lens of belonging, beauty, wonder and curiosity rather than as tools with which to create more harm. Community does not mean we always have to agree or be the same. In fact, quite the opposite, but that’s another blog for another day.
In this post, we are going to focus on the first of what I call the three “P’s”: pause, presence and perception. We cannot begin to create shifts in our internal landscape if we don’t know, intimately, the topography of our own being. So this teaching and the suggested practices below are all about You being with You. You taking the time to study your mind, your heart and your spirit. You, aligning with the essential nature of your being, which is loving awareness.
It is absolutely, totally possible--with practice--to be present with yourself and shift your perception to be in alignment with the fabric of a deeper, more steady, peaceful awareness. In order to do this, the very first thing we need to learn to do is pause.
The pause is what I like to call a moment of grace. The pause is like waking up. It’s the moment when we see our mind, our bodies, or our heart operating in a habitual way, perhaps in a way that is no longer serving us, and catching it. Noticing. I want to write ‘simply noticing,” but the noticing in and of itself, the compassionate witnessing, is a huge leap forward in personal development. Instead of continuing like we normally would, we see ourselves and our circumstances more spaciously and can therefore relate to ourselves with more kindness, compassion and warmth. Ultimately, we end up having more freedom, more choices, not less, and a more friendly relationship with ourselves.
You know when a friend points something out that you do all the time that isn’t necessarily that awesome, that maybe isn’t helping you out at all? that actually might even be limiting you? And at first you say, “No! Never! I don’t do that.…...do I?” But then when you start to see the behavior or habitual thought pattern, you can’t unsee it. And in not being able to unsee it, you get to choose to behave differently. It’s like that, but with yourself. You with you, all the way. Best friends forever.
In the same way that we can’t see ourselves clearly all the time, for most of our day, we all operate on autopilot, without much mindfulness. This isn’t a negative thing--in fact I don;t believe in positive or negative labels like good or bad or should or shouldn’t anymore. We need autopilot. It helps us be functional human beings out in the world who know how to do things like walk, drive cars, and brush teeth without having to relearn each task anew every time we come to it. Even our most sacred bodily functions--each breath, each heart beat-- happen without our having to think about it. However, when we bring our full wakeful-awareness and attention to the breath, we can change our state of being.
Try it now. Pause, close your eyes and take three inhales through the nose and three long, long extended exhales out of the mouth. Let your eyes stay closed for a moment and see if anything has shifted. Notice, that through the act of simply bringing our awareness to the breath, we make room for peace.
Begin to weave the pause into your daily life in both a formal 5-10 minute seated meditation and breaks from doing.
In meditation just sit still. Notice the mind. Watch it. Have a sense of humor about what a wild, creative and wondrous thing your brain is. She’s so funny. Watch her like you would a good friend, with a kind lens. All is welcome. All belongs. Set a timer. Make it a goal. You can do this. Just sit still and watch.
Three times a day, when you are involved in a “doing activity,” and it can be anything--cleaning, writing, working, reading, driving, cooking-- take a sacred pause. Begin with a few deep breaths. Feel into your body. Feel into your feelings. Feel how uncomfortable it might be to stop moving. Feel how tender it can feel to even feel. Allow for any and all feelings to arise. Name them. Notice how you aren’t your feelings. You aren’t even your thoughts. Notice the space between you and the inner workings of your mind.