May 31, 2017 Blocks to continuing your meditation practice
I was reading an article today in the newspaper that described a research project on how to lower blood pressure. It was a six week program where the participants who had very high blood pressure, were 3 times a week doing a supervised 1 hour fast walk, that raised their heart rate to a heart healthy level. The control group did not walk. At the end of the 6 weeks, the participants’ blood pressure was lowered. In the follow up the people did not continue walking. This reminded me of people who often start meditation by taking a course or workshop with a leader or even starting on their own and then after a few weeks or months stop.
Unfortunately, when we start something new, our personality type, our patterns we have learned and practiced since childhood come into play.
I remember when my husband and I started our meditation practice. We had a teacher and attended regular workshops. I often would tell people that I was glad I was married to a perfectionist (a one in the Enneagram system) who is very disciplined. My number 9 personality (laziness to myself and my own priorities) made it likely that after a beginning desire to meditate regularly would deteriorate into no desire to keep with it. I would feel lazy and feel like “I don’t want to do this today.” Other things would seem more important to do and I would fall asleep when trying to meditate and tell myself, “This isn’t bringing anything.” My husband, a very disciplined person, would say, “You don’t think about whether you feel like meditating today, you just do it.” My meditation teacher, also a “one”, said “Write it down in your calendar, have a place and time and stick to it.” I was really thankful for my husband who would say after breakfast, “Now let’s meditate.” Soon we were meditating regularly and I found this advice helpful with other things that require discipline, like keeping to my schedule of exercise and diet.
I noticed with other people how their personality got in their way. A number 6 (a fear and doubt type) called me after she started her meditation practice and said she was going to stop, as she now felt more fear and doubt than she had before she started meditating. It is hard to learn to stay and contain any feelings that come up. We are used to pushing them away and distracting ourselves. In meditation we say, “Stay with the feeling, notice what you are saying to yourself and drop the thought, the judgment or story. Just stay with the feeling.” Often it will change to another feeling (if you don’t add any thoughts to it.) like anger or sadness or emptiness. If you can contain each feeling and not push it away or make it bigger or act it out, it is possible that you will learn to drop into some aspect of your essence. Meditators often describe feelings of being one with everything, peace, love, serenity, or a connection to something higher than themselves.
Each personality type may have a unique way that their ego tries to sabotage their meditation practice. One’s may try to do it perfectly and find ways they are not doing it right and therefore criticize themselves. Number 3’s do many things to appear successful in the eyes of others. A “2” friend of mine said her mind was full of thoughts about other people, her husband, her children, her friends and it was hard to stop this flow of seeing what others needed. It was very hard for her to stay with her focus on her own needs. A “4” may be filled with emotions when they go inward. Their thoughts go into the past or the future or fantasy and they find it hard to drop these stories and to stay in the here and now. A 7’s mind is filled with future plans in which they can become lost in. It is very hard for them to stick with one thing (in this case meditation) and go deep. Uncomfortable feelings like sadness and fear could surface which they want to avoid. Number 8’s could start to feel vulnerable, which they don’t like to feel. A “5” may find it difficult to come inward and into his body and feel his sensations and feelings.
Whenever our ego, our personality type, or our unresolved feelings from childhood get in the way of our desire to meditate, it is helpful to have a teacher, a spiritual leader with psychological knowledge to help us understand and resolve whatever blocks are standing in our way.
Who is a Teacher for You?
I started reading a new book by Mark Nepo, “The One Life We’re Given” and in the introduction I read, “Aware of it or not, we each have someone who’s taught us something about how to live. Who is that teacher for you?” and I began to recall the people in my life who have taught me something about how to live.
First that came to mind was Dan, the principal of Dominican High School where I was a school counselor. He gave unconditional acceptance to everyone he met. I saw angry parents go into his office and come out smiling and shaking his hand. At a time when I was going through a difficult period in my life and felt very critical and hard on myself I experienced his total acceptance of me as I was. It changed me and was a teacher to me about treating others without judgment.
Another who came to mind, was Miré, my good friend and member of my women’s group, who helped me to stop comparing myself to others (to my detriment) and recognizing my unique qualities that are different from others, not better or worse. She has been my teacher in many ways, from giving me this great gift of friendship, which has intensified my psychological and spiritual growth. She has taught me how to live with confidence in myself.
Another great teacher on how to live, like Miré, is from my women’s group. Marijke, through her example has taught me the value of deep caring and listening and active giving of her time through phone calls and support. Her active, vibrant, cheerful personality is a great model for me on how to live a more active
life and step out of my more passive personality structure.
Another who comes to mind is Ingo. When I first met him, there was an immediate liking between the two of us. He was one of the first therapists I met when I came to Germany and our friendship and working together continued until he died a few years ago. He was enthusiastic about new ideas, a huge warm loving heart and loyal friend through ups and downs. From him I learned the importance of directness and honesty as he communicated his observations in his work with clients and in his personal life. He taught me to live with more openness, directness and love. He allowed me to know him at a deep level, enabling intimacy and contact and love to flow between us. He lived what he taught. A rare human being, whom I greatly miss.
Another important person in my life is Uwe. He has shown me, by example, how to stay in contact through ups and downs, to repair any possible breaks in the relationship and to be constant as a good friend.
Many of my clients have taught me as much on how to live, as I hope I have taught them. One of my recent ones confronted me on how I should not be giving him any advice. And I realized I had slipped into thinking I knew what he should do. In my work with clients I often learn
a lot from them. Many have surpassed me in their growth in some areas, which I am still working on.
My most important person in teaching me how to live is my husband, Joe. Through his deep acceptance of me as I am, I am more able to accept myself. He is an active model to me to live to the fullest in the here and now. His discipline has been a great help to me to become more disciplined and stick to my priorities. His humor in difficult times is a model in how not to take things too seriously.
I think the important thing I’ve learned from all of these people and many others that I have not mentioned, is the importance in relationship of unconditional acceptance and authenticity, open sharing of emotions and love. I have been blessed by knowing these people, who have taught me how to live my life more fully.
December 31, 2016
A few days ago a good friend of mine, Timothy Schwarz, died at the age of 49, after treatment for Leukemia. It was a shock as I expected him to survive. In my last talk with him (a week ago), we were both hopeful that the treatment would work.
I am sad.
And I began to think about what I wished I had talked with him about. I’ve noticed that when a friend dies, I often do this. A good reminder to not wait. In this case I wished I had talked with him about what his thoughts were about dying. Was he frightened, what did he think would happen? What would he like me to do if this happened?
I missed a chance that perhaps would have been helpful to both him and me.
His memory remains in my heart.
As a friend wrote to me after the news: May he be completely liberated and in peace.
Meditation is not what you think.
Recently, I heard this phrase in a podcast from Tara Brach. Just about all meditation instructions begin with asking you to notice what happens when you bring your attention inward and be still. What one notices is that the mind is full of thoughts. If you are trying to watch your breath, for example, within a few seconds you are starting to think. The instructions then are to bring your attention back to the breath. As beginners we notice that sometimes we stay in our thoughts a long time before we notice that we have done that and then bring ourselves back to the breath. We might begin to think that the idea in meditation is to get rid of all our thoughts. However, the first step is to begin to notice our thoughts, perhaps name them (future plans, thoughts of the past, fantasies, or just thinking, thinking). When we can start to be aware of where our attention goes, whether thinking, judgments, feeling, or physical sensations, we are ready for the next step which is to bring this ability into your daily life so that you can become more aware of when you are over-reacting to your partner, or worrying about a future event, or drifting in the past and not get lost in a reaction of your ego (your personality type.) With awareness it is possible to change your automatic reactions and to live more in the here and now.
One of the thoughts one begins to notice is our beliefs about ourselves. We have many beliefs that began in childhood which feel real but are not true. An examination of these through therapy, or inquiry can help us to realize how we are holding on to beliefs such as, I’m unlovable, I’m worthless, I’m not good enough, I don’t deserve to be loved, I’m all alone, There is no one there for me or It’s not safe for me to be myself.
These types of beliefs keep us small and unhappy.
The four questions from Byron Katie are good for Inquiry into a belief. You can ask yourself…
Self-observation does not become habitual. You have to keep working at it and practice.
Energy follows attention. To move attention at choice requires self-observation (awareness). Self-observation can be taught but never becomes habitual. (David Daniels)
If want to stop being reactive, you must do it. Notice your overreaction and stop. Come inward; Notice what you are feeling in your body. Fear? Anger? Watch it, notice it. Don't act out, don't repress. Notice. Come to your heart with your attention. What is the feeling under the over-reaction? Stay with the feeling, don’t add any thoughts to it or judge it. It has something to tell you, to inform you. It may lead to something that happened in childhood that the situation now reminds you of.
Noticing your thoughts during meditation and then being able to notice and be aware during your every day life is one beginning benefit of meditation. In my next blog I will talk about the further purpose of meditation.
January 2, 2017
What keeps us from our Essence?
Perhaps you have started a meditation practice and have begun to notice how your mind works, always skipping around from attention to past, future and fantasy and how hard it is to stay with the object of contemplation like the breath or the mantra. Meditation can train the Inner Observer to notice where your attention goes. Perhaps you begin to experience moments of calm and peace, where you feel you are no longer in your ego but more in your essence.
Different traditions have ideas of what qualities make up our essence.
The Buddhist view is that primordial awareness has three qualities: Clarity, Bliss and Emptiness. The Hindu traditions also have three qualities: Truth, Intelligence and Bliss.
I liked what Judith Blackstone says, as it corresponds to the three centers of intelligence that we use in Enneagram. (Head, Heart, Belly)
She suggests that the 3 qualities of non-dual consciousness, which she calls fundamental consciousness, are Awareness, from the head, Emotion, from the heart, and Physical Sensation, from the body. Not specific emotions, sensations or awareness but what she calls the unchanging ground of sensation, the unchanging ground of emotion and the unchanging ground of awareness. It is a part of stillness. Most of us have difficulty fully inhabiting our body and our 3 centers because of holding, defensive patterns developed in childhood. These physical, energetic holding patterns often are unconscious and do not release easily. Therapy and bodywork can help with releasing so we are more in contact with our body and emotions.
Childhood occurs in relationship. Our contact with ourselves and with others occurs in relationship with our parents, and others. It is greatly influenced by the capacity of these other people for self-contact and connection. It is hard to become more distinct from our parents than they are with us or to be more connected with our parents than they are with us. We learn how to separate and connect with our mother. She has her own history of loss, abandonment or rejection, her fear of connection. We learn how much contact we can have with our selves without loosing her love and how much connection to her we can have without lost of ourselves. We make compromises: a bit of loss of self for connection and alienation from her for the sake of contact with our own sensations, feelings and thoughts. These constraints harden with repeated use and become habitual ways of relating.
For example: two relationship styles, the 5 and the 9.
The 5, distancing himself from others. Defenses prevent them from actual contact with their own being; they reside in their thinking minds. They feel that life impinges on them with devastating force and they must defend against it. They are protecting their precious contact with themselves.
While the 9, abandon some of their self-contact for sake of connection and place their attention on other people. As the merge with others, the other feels that someone has invaded their space. But because inward contact with self is diminished, they cannot truly make the connection that they seek.
Our psychological defenses are not just mental: they are ways that we constricted our bodies when we were children in order to lessen the impact of painful experience. They are ways that we shaped ourselves – body, heart, and mind- in order to be loved and to feel safe within our childhood families. The defensive constrictions in our body prevent us from fully embodying ourselves, from fully contacting the internal space of our bodies. Wherever we cannot contact our own internal being, we are not available for contact with other people. As we become more in contact with ourselves and others, we also become more open to the spiritual dimension of life.
January 3, 2017
What is “Waking Up”?
Can one wake up through meditation?
I recently listened to a series from Sounds True called Waking Up, What is it? Tami Simon interviewed 30 spiritual teachers with this question. Waking up is usually thought of as having an experience of being one with all, of discovering that you are more than your body, that you are connected with God, that God, resides in you.
Some people have a spontaneous experience early in life that they don’t really understand and then begin a search for a teacher, or start a meditation practice or reading spiritual literature. They often then have more spiritual awakenings. This was the experience of most of the teachers that Tami Simon interviewed. A few said it changed their life forever, that their personality changed in positive ways. Most of the others said that they learned that this experience did not change their personality. That they had to do Shadow work or therapy or other things to make it possible to get along better with their partner and work through childhood experiences. They now say that in teaching people meditation, they notice when people need therapy or something more than spiritual work and refer them to therapists. Others have studied psychology and are able to help their followers in both psychological ways and spiritual ways.
Some of us have done our therapy and are on the spiritual path and would like to wake up. As I get older I would like to experience that I am one with God and lose any fear of death with the direct experience that I am more than my body. I have the belief that this is true, but I would like to experience this.
I think we all have glimpses of knowing we are more than our body and connected to something greater. Perhaps we experience this during a meditation, or being in nature, viewing a sunset or listening to music to name a few. Our thoughts go away and we are close to our essence.
What are your thoughts or experiences with this?