Tag Archives: aversions

Our own little world

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Are you, like me, sometimes in your own little world?

Do you sometimes get so absorbed in your own experience of something, or your own thoughts, that you forget that, all around you, others are experiencing the world in their own, unique way – a way which could be completely different to yours?

A couple of days ago, I was waiting to collect my son from the train.  It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, and, as I was waiting, I was people-watching.  You know, just watching the world go by.  Just noticing people. All, no doubt, in their own little worlds. And then, I saw a lady walking her dog.  The dog was trotting along, a jaunty little thing, running on its little legs to keep up with its owner’s walking pace.  It stopped to sniff a couple of times, but each time the lead grew a little tighter, just trotted along again to catch up, in such a way that it seemed barely perceptible  to the owner that her dog was exploring the world of the pavements and the hedges with such attention.  She, meanwhile, was focused ahead, looking at the blue sky, the view in front of her, raising her face to the autumn warmth.

And it was so apparent that, although they were on the same walk, their experiences were totally different.  Maybe not so surprising, given that they were different species, and given the difference in their height.  It may look a little strange if we walked along and bent down to sniff the pavement!

But I’m sure that this same sort of thing happens all the time, with our children, our partners, our friends.  We think we have experienced something together, and we have – and yet, we will have perceived it in very different ways.  Our reality is filtered – by our expectations, our memories, our mood, our likes and dislikes, or raga and dwesha to use the yogic terms. A very young child will approach a walk in a very different way to an older child, or an adult.  They are more open to the moment, to the present moment in which they find themselves.  They are not constrained by the weight of their former experiences, they are not motivated by time, so they are able to be in the moment, and take as long as they want.  Every leaf, every stick – as every parent knows! – can be worth seeking out, and spending time with, no matter what the destination is, no matter the purpose of the walk. Each and every moment is valued equally.

As adults, we can try to enter into that world through the practice of mindfulness. We can learn a lot from watching a small child (or even a jaunty little dog!). Whilst not every 5 minute walk can take an hour – try explaining you’re late to work because you were collecting perfectly formed pine cones or stones! – we can still really see, feel, and hear our surroundings.  We can register the feel of our steps on the pavement, the sound of the birds in the sky, the sensation of sun – or rain! – on our skin. We can usually spare a second of our time to notice the smells around us, maybe we pass a rose bush or a jasmine, or some freshly mown grass (one of the best smells in the world, surely!)

And sometimes we could go for a walk, just for the sake of it, just for the experience.  By the sea, in the woods, in a park – it doesn’t matter. Just walking mindfully, fully experiencing all there is to experience, as freshly and directly as possible.  A walk like this can shift our mood, shake us out of our preconceptions, and remind us that we are more than we think we are.  Instead of letting all our opinions, our expectations, our habits and preferences enclose us, we can expand and grow when we look at the world in a new way.

And I think our homes, our workplaces – ok, the whole world! – would be better places if we stopped to remember just how much we colour our experiences through the lens of our perception.  If we stopped to remember that someone else’s perception is just as valid as our own.  If we stopped believing that our way is the right way or the only way.  If we valued feelings and values as much as ‘facts‘. If we started accepting others, no matter what.

And starting in a small way, in our homes, we can truly change the world, as well as our own little world.

A calm clear mind

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If only my mind could always feel the way it does in meditation. Yesterday I was practising one of my preparatory kriyas in which my eyes are open on the inbreath and then gently close as I lower my head down towards Mooladhara chakra, internalising my awareness through the descending energy pathway. During this practice I noticed a small spider had sat on my lap and stayed there quite happily and unmoving for the rest of my practice (at least that part of my practice for which my eyes were open – he had wandered off by the end of my meditation).

I’m sure the small size and the stillness of this particular spider aided the calmness that pervaded my practice, and it may well have been a different story if a large,  fast-moving creature had decided to join me, but I like to think that my meditating mind would have not reacted any differently than to just continue my practice until the end. The oneness I could honestly and happily experience with such a tiny and clearly non-threatening creature exists between us all,  even if it is harder to see with the things/animals/ people we label as bad or scary,  the things we have an aversion to. In truth, when we are in meditation and our mind has calmed down, our aversions are not as great as they normally are, and our attachments to the good are not as strong.  And so our reactions become less extreme; we are able to accept our situation with greater composure. Our fears are less crippling, our emotions generally are more measured. With regular practice,  too, this calmer approach carries over into our daily lives, the effects lasting longer and longer away from our meditation as we nurture the mind and allow it to rest from our habitual responses.

And it doesn’t only have to be traditional meditation practices which can confer this kind of calmness and acceptance.  I often feel this same sense of the underlying rightness, the connection between us all, when I am giving a treatment or teaching – both times when it would be inappropriate in any case for me to allow my own issues to get in the way. This was extremely helpful when I was giving a reflexology treatment several years ago: a bat came to sit on the treatment couch, right next to my hand and, of course, my client’s feet. The sudden movement and appearance of this creature might normally have been enough to make me jump and perhaps make some sort of sound, but I was able to stay very calm and alert my client (who had his eyes closed so had no idea there was a bat next to his foot!), so that he didn’t move whilst I carefully moved the bat away – not entirely bravely, when it hissed at me!

When I was at university studying  Social Anthropology, many years ago, I wrote in an assignment that the belief system of a particularly peaceful group of Buddhists meant that the principle of non-harm or interference with other creatures even led people to move out of their houses rather than remove a poisonous snake which had taken up residence.  I am now a little ashamed of the way my own incredulity crept in to my writing on that occasion – I richly deserved the slightly sarcastic comment from my lecturer humorously scribbled in the margin of ‘now, now, what’s that lovely cobra ever done to you?’ I am sure this opened my eyes to remaining traces of  ethnocentricity in my approach and in my thinking, but I think it is only with increasing maturity and my developing meditation practice that I can understand more fully how respect for the oneness between all creatures could lead us to take the path of least resistance and, rather than make a huge fuss, simply remove ourselves quietly until the danger has passed.

This is something we can all do as we increase our consciousness of our learnt, habitual responses and realise there might be another way.  If we imagine the mind to be like a sheet of fabric stretched taut, we can allow our unchecked ways of thinking and reacting to thunder on that fabric like rain on a tent roof. Or we can try to tame the mind through our practice, creating some space between the events of our lives and our reactions to them, so that they become less disturbing – perhaps more like a feather floating down to land on that fabric, with barely an impact or a sound.

If only my mind could always feel the way it does in meditation……
It can, of course, and that way lies a calmer and a happier life.

Feeling the fear

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It’s been many years since I read the classic book by Susan Jeffers, ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway’.  Over a decade.  But in all that time I have tried to remember to face my fears and so move life on rather than getting stuck in an all-too-comfortable rut.

Fear is a basic human emotion, one which underlies so many of our other feelings.  It is also a physiological response to dangers, which may be both very real and also can be imagined and magnified out of all proportion.  When we are presented with a very real danger, then our bodies initiate the ‘fight or flight’ response, conditioning us to deal with the danger by fighting or running away.  We experience familiar symptoms including sweaty palms, a pounding heart, accelerated breathing.  Our muscles get ready to take action. Our digestion slows down as blood and energy is diverted to our vital organs.  A very useful response if we actually need to run away or fight an enemy.  But if we are stuck in traffic and worried about being late, or worried about a situation which we cannot actually influence in any material way, then these same responses can be counterproductive, leading to all the many symptoms of fear in the chronic, persistent condition of stress.

So fear can be helpful, or unhelpful, depending on what is inducing the fear.  But fear never diminishes unless we face it head on, and really look at it.  We can then try to decide if the fear is helpful, if it’s rational and serves a purpose.  Or if our minds have blown the actual danger out of all proportion.

There is a story Pema Chodron tells in “When Things Fall Apart” about a man whose meditation teacher sent him to meditate overnight in a tiny hut.  He thought he saw a venomous snake in the hut with him, and once his candles had burnt out he spent the night in terror. He – and we – will never know whether the snake was real or imaginary. All we know is that it was not there when the dawn came.  When the cave was illuminated, and the man saw there was no snake, the fear was gone. But the night he had spent had given him a much deeper knowledge of himself.

We may like to run away from our fears, and pretend we are brave whilst staying firmly in our comfort zone.  We can cement our aversions around ourselves like a fortress against having to really look at those fears.  We can prevent ourselves ever having to experience the sensations of fear.

Or we can try to stretch ourselves, to knock down the fortress of our fears, and face our challenges head on.  We might be terrified the first time we do something, but we may come to know ourselves more truly by ‘doing it anyway’.  We may discover qualities and gifts we would never have known we had, and grow into more rounded individuals. As Pema Chodron writes in “The Places That Scare You”:

Openness doesn’t come from resisting our fears but from getting to know them well”

Of course, fear can also be a healthy response to real dangers. It may be sensible not to do something which is well beyond our current capabilities, but to  learn more slowly.  We all have our intuition which can help us if we tune into it.   We can spend a lifetime discovering the difference between the fears that protect us, and those that hold us back.  And then we can keep pushing our boundaries just a little bit each day, so that we can look back at our lives and see just how far we have come.