This Is a Test...of Your Meditation Practice...This Is Only a Test February 20, 2019 18:24
My practice said, “Bring it!”
The universe said, “OK!”
I recently completed a five-month meditation program in Crestone, Colorado, that included daily somatic meditation sessions, readings, lectures, monthly group calls, individual check-in calls, and two, week-long silent retreats, one at the beginning, and one at the end of the program. In addition to all of this, I also included daily personal practices: a sadhana and japa recitations. So, I’ve been doing a lot of meditating over the course of the last few months, and I’ve noticed an interesting trend…I am attracting all kinds of irritable, defensive, and angry people along with a few tumultuous situations as added bonus features.
What’s interesting…and new for me…I’m not freaking out about these cranky peeps and problems. In fact, I’m leaning in to welcome them…and to learn from them.
During these last few months, I’ve noticed that I’m more inclined to remain calm and steady, and I’m not taking the agitated behaviors or the unexpected surprises so personally. These practices have helped me navigate my way safely into the “eye of the storm.” I may be surrounded by upheaval and drama, but I am no longer contributing to it or participating in it.
I’m also not running away from it, which is new for me, too. I’m holding space and finding equanimity, and I credit these daily practices for helping me to remain calm and to generate compassion for these challenging people and circumstances.
I recently shared an interesting article that I read on a social media platform. It was about meditation—how important it is to choose your words carefully when cueing if you are leading a meditation session in a yoga class environment, particularly if students who are prone to anxiety are present in the class. This article was a personal narrative from the author’s blog. I thought she had some valid points and an interesting perspective, so I shared it.
A few minutes later, a Buddhist friend of mine wrote seething criticism about the article and questioned the author’s credibility as a meditation teacher. Clearly, he held a different view and interpretation of this article, which is fine, and as we exchanged comments, his language choice became increasingly more judgmental, agitated, and angry. The author did not write her blog from a Buddhist perspective, and she hadn’t trained in a specific lineage, so to my friend, this was not only appalling, but inappropriate. To him, only meditation teachers who trained with Buddhist masters for decades could be qualified to lead meditation sessions, even those occurring in local yoga studios. Ultimately, my friend commented that defending this author was deplorable, and before I could respond, he unfriended me.
The old me wouldn’t have engaged in an online debate to begin with. I would have been too timid to express my own views and explain why I found the article interesting and relevant. The old me would have complimented my friend’s vast knowledge of Buddhist wisdom (overlooking his obvious attachment and arrogance, of course) and apologized for posting the article in the first place. The old me would have immediately deleted the article from my timeline.
This time, however, I didn’t evade, avoid, apologize, flatter, or delete. Instead, using calm, respectful language, I defended my viewpoint. I remained open-minded and open-hearted as our written conversation progressed. I wasn’t participating in an argument—I was communicating in a clear, honest way. I wasn’t ashamed, angry, agitated, or scared. Instead, I felt relaxed, steady, and open. I also felt compassion for my friend, who was clearly growing more agitated as the conversation continued, but I didn’t take his reactions personally, and I also didn’t push my viewpoint or claim it was more valid than his. I did, however, feel sad that he ended the conversation abruptly and severed our social media connection. I would have gladly recommended that he look into the meditation program at Crestone :).
Granted, I still have a lot of work to do (Don’t we all?), but it’s promising to see the positive benefits of a steady meditation practice both on and off the cushion. These are just a few that I’ve noticed from my own practice:
- I’m less judgmental and critical of others
- I don’t lead with my expectations (or ego) as often
- I’m more relaxed
- I’m more open-minded and receptive
- I’m more courageous and confident
- I speak up more
- I’m tactfully honest (or, at least aspire to be)
- I’m more accepting
- I’m more present
I've completed a retreat program, but I'm not planning to stop practicing anytime soon. These benefits will continue to motivate and encourage me to embrace whatever surprises may come my way... and to grow from them.
Trigger Warning: How a Mantra Practice Can Help Manage Unsettling Emotions March 6, 2017 13:48
Triggers—we all have them. They can be situations, memories, specific sounds or smells, words and phrases, animals, or even certain individuals that can push us into a vortex of unpleasant emotions or mindsets. It’s easy, too easy, sometimes, to get caught up in this dizzying, unsettling flurry, and it can have a lasting impact, if we allow it.
Last week, I was chatting in the hall with colleagues after school. I like to laugh—a lot—unfortunately, I have a bold, loud laugh that can sometimes be misconstrued. At some point in our conversation, I let one of these bold laughs fly, and it triggered one of my colleagues. She had assumed that I was laughing at her, and that I was judging her, which was not my intention at all.
Even though I had apologized and explained to her that I was not criticizing or berating her in any way, I could tell that this did not completely pacify her. It still stung. She was triggered by my laughter—and I was triggered by her response. I felt awful about causing someone else pain, even though it was unintentional. Later on in the evening, it had an impact on my personal yoga practice. I couldn’t get that moment out of my head. I had trouble focusing, I didn’t enjoy my practice, and I started to second guess and berate myself as a result. What was the root of all of this turmoil?
Meditation can be an effective follow-up for my at-home yoga sessions, and it was perfect for managing the ripple effects of this particular situation. By incorporating the following steps, I was able to halt the negative self-talk, to recognize patterns, to answer lingering questions, and to offer compassion as an antidote.
Find a quiet place where you won’t be interrupted and sit so that you can be both relaxed and alert.
*Observe : Identify and name whatever reactions or emotions are associated with the situation. Where do you feel this reaction in the body? Are you holding tension anywhere? Notice what’s happening with the breath. Is your breathing ragged or smooth? Shallow or deep? Simply take time to identify, notice, and name what’s happening in the breath and body.
*Pause: Without judgment, and without taking these reactions personally, simply take some time to sit and acknowledge these reactions and feelings. They may be familiar to you—you may have felt this way before—and you may acknowledge patterns emerging. Whatever feelings or reactions that surface for you, be with them…without pushing them away….or looking for a distraction. Simply be still. Hold space for whatever you’re noticing.
*Reflect: Ask for guidance—what is this person, situation, etc. teaching me? What do I need to learn from this? What’s the message? Trust the information that you receive—and be patient—sometimes you won’t receive an immediate answer. This is usually the place where I begin a mantra recitation practice with a mala (japa practice). It’s kind of like waiting on hold and listening to music on the other end of the line—only the music doesn’t have to be annoying. Choose a mantra and a mala that resonate with you, and use this recitation practice to help you find clarity, direction, and calm. Again—without forcing an answer—without trying to manipulate or control your meditation session…simply allow…one bead, one recitation at a time.
*Release: Whether you choose to recite one round (108 repetitions) or multiple rounds with your mala and mantra, at the end of your recitation practice, offer yourself, the situation, and any other individuals involved compassion. Give yourself permission to release any fears, anger, frustrations, etc. that this situation may have stirred up for you. This part of the process allows for a sense of closure (at least for the time being), and it prevents this situation from hijacking the rest of your day.
Triggers in and of themselves can seem very small and insignificant, but they can explode into major disruptions if they aren’t dealt with or managed effectively. Using a mantra practice can help you notice patterns about yourself and be more mindful as you interact with others.
I still laugh—boldly, loudly—and although I may not be able to control how other people respond to my laughter, the more honest, clear, and compassionate that I can be in relating with others, the more we can laugh together.