My daily meditation practice gives me energy and clarity in all I do. It opens me to an effervescent field of possibility through which life arises. I cannot recommend it enough. Yet, since meditation is now commonly known as a means to find inner peace, it may be tempting to turn to it with a desire to escape the challenges of life. In a culture where pills can remove pain, we can misunderstand meditation as happiness medication, and come to our cushion with a hope to feel better.
For those who have tried meditation, you may know this to be true. Rather than the peacefulness you had hoped to find, you may instead at first meet your busy mind and churning thoughts. You may spend your practice thinking about what you will have for dinner, or how you will accomplish the tasks waiting for you at your desk, or what you want to say to someone who pushed your buttons. You quickly discover that there is more to meditation than a quick fix or peace pill.
The power of meditation comes through your continued investment in it. In this way, it is like a bank account. The more you put in, the more you can take out. Through it, over time, you develop a sense of space between your continuous stream of thoughts. Just as stirred water settles with less agitation, so too with practice, your busy mind settles and you feel more centered and whole.
With this understanding, you can come back to your meditation seat, and open. But as your mind begins to settle past its daily chatter, deeper layers of your psyche come to light, revealing your shadows and rooted attachments. As you come face to face with aspects of yourself you don’t like, and perhaps painful memories and uncomfortable emotions, you may be left again wondering what happened to the happy place you had practiced so sincerely to gain.
In fact, meditation begins in the uncomfortable places. When we touch darker aspects of ourselves, we see that our minds only know two ways of thinking: attract (pull) and repulse (push). Because our egos thrive in disconnection, we tend to live our lives feeling fundamentally separate. So we habitually pull at the things we want because we think happiness is “out there”, and push at things we don’t like, because we think they interfere. Yet trying to push and pull at life is like trying to move mountains. Sooner or later we end up exhausted and realize we won’t find happiness this way.
Meditation helps us realize the limitations of our push-pull mindset. It shows us that there is a force much greater than our limited ego or will. It shows us how we can choose to open to it. As we allow ourselves to move through the illusions of our shadows, we find our wholeness and lightness of being.
Here is a mindfulness exercise that may help.
1. Find a quiet, safe environment away from your busy life.
2. Sit upright, free from the wall or the back of a chair.
3. Close your eyes and go within, focusing on your breath, allowing your body/being to relax.
4. Give yourself permission to feel. Meet whatever arises, to the best of your ability, without judgment. Welcome your whole self into yourself, not resisting who you are.
5. If a painful emotion arises, that is perfectly all right; simply don’t get pulled into its drama. Witness it just as it is. Anger feels hot. Notice the heat. Fear feels tight and dry. Notice this. Feel unattached and open, maintaining your sense of wholeness. This is important. Painful emotions are simply congested energy. If you allow yourself to get caught up in them, you give them power. With space to flow, they loosen and release. Allow them to move through you. Keep breathing.
6. After some time and with an open heart, ask yourself: “How do I feel? How come? Am I willing to love and support myself?” Listen and receive what comes with warmth and gratitude. Breathe in saying “yes” to yourself, and to what this moment brings – all of it. Allow yourself to feel lovingly acceptant for whatever arises.
7. Do this as long as you need. Conclude with three breaths, breathing in love and acceptance, exhaling gratitude.
Take time to do this practice every day. As you make friends with your whole self, more energy, freedom and effortless joy will naturally arise. You and your precious life are worth it.
Parvati is an award-winning musician (I Am Light, Electro Yog, Yoga In The Nightclub), yogini (YEM: Yoga as Energy Medicine), author (Aonani of Avalon, Confessions from Your Awakened Self) and founder of the not-for-profit Parvati.org. All her work is dedicated to protecting all life on Earth by establishing the Marine Arctic Peace Sanctuary (MAPS).More info: parvati.tv; parvati.org.