Wednesday, November 23, 2016

The power of the mind

There was a little kernel of truth that was discussed briefly at the retreat and it has stayed with me. The man who lead the retreat, a name well known to Australians, made the comment that "the mind focuses on what has the most energy". If you are told 'don't think of a white horse', what do you do? Well, try as you might not to think about a white horse, your mind goes to the image of a white horse. The mind "takes the target".

If you say to  a child "don't jump in the puddle", the idea of jumping in the puddle becomes irresistible. The woman at the retreat whom I referred to as Rachel in a previous post said to me that she tried this with a friend whilst out walking. They were crossing a  shallow pool of water via a log and once across she turned back to her friend and called out, 'Don't fall in!'. Right on cue, the friend fell off the log and into the water.

So, the message is don't talk to people about what not to do but rather give them a positive direction. If a friend  or loved one is obsessing about a person who no longer wants to be in their life, the message is not to tell them to 'stop thinking about him/her' but rather to think about something else.

In the same vein, there isn't much positivity in thinking about what you don't have, or can't have, but much positivity to be had in finding a new direction or focus or interest. As someone who likes all her important relationships to be 'tickety-boo' and who feels held back when they are not in good order, I find it helpful to focus on something else and often times, that's my relationship with myself.

King writes about the power of the mind and how focused thought can get you where you want to go. I recommend you read the article for a full understanding but let's focus on this thought late in that article, that "The real power of focused thought comes from the amount of emotional and physical energy it generates."

When I feel a little removed from the love in my life, even knowing on a rational level that there is an abundance of it, I take myself to my cushion in order that I may explore that emotion. What word would I use to explain this feeling to myself? Hmmm, perhaps 'lonely', or 'isolated' or 'distanced' or 'frustrated' or 'confused'. I don't deny this feeling(s). I go straight into the feeling and I feel it intensely; deeply. This little exercise often lifts the feeling and transforms it to something else. I mean, it's a silly thought. I'm loved, I'm really quite sure of it, and I love, without question. Sometimes, it is vexed and troubled in my mind, but the love exists regardless of the state of it at that moment when I experience some sort of disturbance in the flow of it, either way.

There is a little trick to experiencing the state of bliss that I discovered one Friday night several years now. At the time I was attending a meditation/discussion gathering of people on a Friday evening. We'd talk about some philosophical issue or other and we'd have a couple of short, say, 20 minute meditations. I can't remember what led me into this meditation but I found my mind surveying the important people in my life. As I surveyed them, that is, looked on them from afar, as if I was in heaven and had some sort of vehicle to get from one to the other, I felt this very deep wave of love for them wash over my whole body. I was awash in feelings of love going both ways, from me and to me, and as these feelings gathered I found I had collected an enormous pile of love. My cup runneth over and tears gushed down my face, some landing on my neck and shirt. I had, without direction, hit onto the state of bliss.

We talked about bliss at the retreat and the man leading the discussion, let's call him Ewan, said one day, 'You don't want to get stuck in bliss'. Of course, we were far too devoted disciplines to question this, but his wife, a devotee to be sure but not at all afraid to question him, said, 'Well, Ewan, I can think of worse place to get stuck!' and of course, we all laughed. ''

Of course, bliss is a sort of thinking state. This is what he meant. I conjured this state with my imagination, or with my thinking mind. Still, it is indeed a wonderful state, and I'd recommend it to those who are struggling with relationships at any point of time. There is a fabulous surge of 'feel good' feelings that light up the whole body and remind us how good it is to be alive and how lucky we are to have certain people in our lives.

When the focus is on 'that loving feeling' so many other complicated thoughts tend to lose their oxygen. Empathy flows. Those matters that disconnect from others become much less important in the moment and for some time thereafter.

It's not Thanksgiving here but rather that period of time when the weather is in flux and causing no small amount of trouble - earthquakes in New Zealand and Japan, and high pollen counts in Melbourne causing serious and sudden bouts of  severe hayfever and asthma. Still, I am aware that most readers of this blog are Americans and I therefore wish you a happy Thanksgiving Day, a favourite day of the year when I lived there with my young family.

I found myself ranting last evening after I had watched the news. This is unlike me, but news of Trump tends to makes my bile rise and then I find myself angry. I guess we shouldn't be shocked at Trump's behaviour any more. What you see is what you get. I don't know why we were ever confused about that. Comedians and satirists generally now admit that thinking about him in any other way was not helpful. Why I was surprised he called the media to task in a meeting and openly complained about any reports against him I just don't know, except it is a new one on me in a democratic country such as the United States that has accepted free speech for quite some time. Thanksgiving conversation, if based around such topics could be tough if there are disparate views at hand. It is not likely to be easy. May feelings of love towards those in the room be your guide as to how the day goes. Focus your mind on what you want to achieve at the end of the day. Give it your best shot.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Clarity of thought

An event occurred yesterday with my husband; something that was intended to be uplifting and positive but unfortunately did not have a positive ending. Intuitively, I knew to remain very quiet all day. I am certain that no-one had the vaguest idea that anything might be wrong with me. They were busy doing their thing and I was busy keeping myself busy. In fact, I was quite productive throughout the day and intent on not being upset, if that makes sense.

I'm not so good at this ethereal/philosophical/Buddhist/spiritual thing that I can repair the event in my mind and end up with an immediate 'everything is as it should be' sort of outcome, but at the same time I didn't say a word about it, to anyone, and nor did I write anything. I recognized that I needed time to process what had happened before I could even think of taking any action, or making any comment, or even just thinking about it in any sort of clear way.

The mind is as the mind is, and thus I had running through it all sorts of thoughts. I've come to a place where I completely understand and accept that we are not our thoughts - that thoughts and emotions come and go, and that we are the awareness behind all of that. In my flawed human way I noticed the thoughts, the tendency to see this event as catastrophic, but I simply noticed that. I had that quiet curiosity about the thoughts, of these invasions of my peace of mind. In other words, turbulent feelings, emotions and thoughts remained but I had a reasonable handle on them.

While I was on the retreat I got into several quite deep and meaningful conversations with a woman we shall call Rachel. She told me her life story and it's one of the most fascinating explanations I have ever heard of the reasons behind a person becoming a psychiatrist. I got to like her, a lot, and respected her as someone who had way more experience than me in these matters. 'I'm tired of Tolle,' she declared to me one day. I thought about it. 'Well Eckhart is a good place to start,' I suggested. I actually don't think Eckhart Tolle ever gets old and he helped me a lot yesterday. Here's what I read:

‘Don’t look for any other state than the one you are in now; otherwise, you will set up inner conflict and unconscious resistance. Forgive yourself for not being at peace. The moment you completely accept your non-peace, your non-peace becomes transmuted into peace. Anything you accept fully will get you there, will take you into peace. This is the miracle of surrender…
To offer no resistance to life is to be in a state of grace, ease, and lightness. This stage is then no longer dependent upon things being in a certain way, good or bad. It seems paradoxical, yet when your inner dependency on form is gone, the general conditions of your life, the outer forms tend to improve greatly.’
- Eckart Tolle, The Power of Now.

This passage was a poignant reminder to me that we must not resist our emotions. I was...upset. When I am not sure how I am feeling about something, maybe angry, maybe sad, maybe disheartened, I tend to use the word 'upset'. My mind and my body are upset, not at peace. This, for me, is good enough of a description. This was the truth and undeniable.

The passage reminded me too that I hold myself to high standards. I don't want to be 'upset' and it's upsetting when I am upset. I'm mad with myself. Why can't I get a grip so that I don't experience upset? But Tolle's wise words reminded me that I experience what I experience and that's okay.

It's the next bit of the statement that is really profound - that the moment you completely accept your non-peace, your non-peace is transmuted into peace. This worked on two levels:

When I read this I sat with my non-peace state. I breathed into it, focused on my breathing pattern and within that simple process I could feel my non-peace state to turn into a more peaceful state - a recognition that I would not always be in peace, that it was unrealistic to expect it to be so, but that at my disposal was enough wisdom to see that the non-peace was fleeting...that in my humanness and he in his humanness, we had ended up with an outcome that was...upsetting.

It wasn't the end of the world, or the product of a failed relationship, but simply the product of a failure to communicate. It wasn't as complex a problem as it seemed, but rather a quite simple one. No, we were not ideally suited to one another from a sexuality perspective, but neither were we as far apart as it seemed in the moment. Some skills needed to be honed, for sure, and we needed to devise a way for me to express what was happening to me in a heavy bondage scene, but all of that was surmountable. It didn't all spell the doom and gloom that some of the uninvited thoughts suggested.

Some day when the time is right I will share the three elements required for a successful life, as presented to us at the retreat. I am still reflecting on them myself. But, I think the first is now very obvious to me. To have a successful life one must have clarity of thought. Meditation is a bit like various experiences within a power exchange relationship. I can't really explain those experiences, although I do try on these pages. One learns about them within the experience. Meditation is like this. Alone with one's mind on a regular basis, clarity of thought begins to rule one's life. A still and calm mind speaks it's own language.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Finding peace in an emotional, changing world

When I arrived at the meditation retreat I had no idea what to expect, none at all. My friend had told me of the magic of the location and how wonderful it all was and I went with her on the strength of that. In fact, it was hard work; not just for me but for all of us. By day 3 we were all exhausted. It must have showed because by the evening of the third day the announcement was made that we didn't have to stay for the evening teachings and meditation if we didn't want to. We could go to bed early. Half the big room evaporated of participants. We were dealing with a new diet - no sugar, no animal products (no meat, fish or dairy products); no caffeine and alcohol; early morning rising; hours of meditation and remaining in the meditative pose and, last but not least, the contemplations.

Contemplations can occur in the meditation process. One can be asked, as we were, a series of questions to contemplate, or one can ask oneself a question alone in meditation and ponder on it. In these contemplations we were asked to delve into our strengths and weaknesses. This occurred over several days and in this process I identified that the weakness I most wanted to work on was the feeling that my emotions were out of my control. I didn't and don't like this feeling and I wanted that sort of emotionality to go away.

I think my emotionality springs from anxiety that has been my companion for most of my life. It's a combination thing: fear of something happening to my loved ones; fear of failure; fear of abandonment or to put it another way, fear of not being loved and of being needed.

In an ideal world an anxious sort of person has at least someone in their lives who can settle them down. I remember one day running around like a chook with its head off, collecting my son and anxiously wanting to get home. My son asked, 'What's wrong Mum. You sounded stressed on the phone.' 'Well, suddenly there are four extra people coming for dinner that I didn't know about and I don't know what time I am going to be able to serve the meal.' 'Mum, he said, 'It's the holidays. They don't care what time they eat. Don't make it more than it is.' That's stayed with me. 'Don't make it more than it is' and I often settle myself down simply by saying that phrase out loud.

Some people are more anxious than others and their anxiety is expressed through words; lots and lots of loud words that often end up upsetting those around them. My husband emotes and it's my goal and challenge to not allow that emotionality to infect me. I try, through meditation, to allow his upset to be there without labelling it. I recognize that it comes from within him and I remind myself that I am not responsible for his inner thoughts and feelings, only my own. Naturally, I aim to soothe him and to be sensitive to his sensitivities, but at the end of the day, I am not responsible for his inner thoughts and feelings and nor for the choices he makes. I am only responsible for my own thoughts and feelings, for my own choices. We are all only responsible for our own inner lives. Attempting to change someone else is ambitious and unrealistic. Changing yourself is challenge enough.

In the process of the week at the meditation retreat, I settled. The truth is there were a lot of tears, but I settled. I developed 'acceptance' and I work on this every single day now. I meditate. And, I accept each day as it is. It is what it is without me needing to invest my emotions; without judging or catastrophizing. At least, that's the goal.

Yesterday, I took my mother to see the neurologist. I had taken her to the doctor with my suspicions and he wanted to wait. I looked him dead in the eye. 'My mother is 84 with Parkinson like symptoms. What are we waiting for?' He said not a word but turned to write the referral. The neurologist was a lovely man, gentle and kind with my mother and he confirmed the situation. This dear woman who has for 25 years lived out her life alone and without her loving and loved husband, will need to rely on others more now; to accept that life will be different. I speak softly to her. I repeat over and over the same things until she feels more sure. She is fearful. Of course. I try not to be fearful for her. We will face this, step by step and in a positive manner.

There is a little trick in meditation. You breathe in as if it is your last breath and you hold it. If you don't breathe out, well, that's death. And so, in life, we can have a little taste of death, and it's not really all that bad, the still and empty mind.

If we can let go for a time of fear and even of hope, we can live in this moment. This moment will turn into the next moment. Emotions will come and go. The clouds will roll on through like thoughts of  the mind. Underneath is the blue sky. The blue sky is always underneath. That's our still mind. That's our natural mind. In this way, peace is available to us. Peace lives within us. I strive for peace.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Meditation Retreat - ponderings

The week long meditation retreat recalibrated me, body, mind and soul. It was a very emotional time for me. I cried on a number of occasions, uncontrollable tears pouring down my face, but that happens to me sometimes when I meditate, or am awed, so it wasn't entirely unexpected. I would never have thought it was possible to bond with 25 strangers as I did; to feel wrapped and protected in the arms and affection of people whom I had known for simply a few days, but that is exactly what happened. I am not ready to put it into words, that joyous experience up on that mountain.

To give some sense of it at this time I will share that we spent much of the time in silence. The Tibetan gong, we knew in advance, would be played at 7.15 am and by 7.45 am we needed to be on our cushions (or prayer stools or chairs) ready to meditate together. Since the walls were paper thin in the rooms in which we slept we waited for the gong before we turned on showers. Well, my friend in the room beside me who worked at the retreat as a psychotherapist showered before that, but that's another story.

Breakfast of a lacto-vegetarian kind came after that and we gathered our food in silence. We ate in silence. We prepared for the morning teachings and the meditations session after that in silence. We ate lunch in silence. It was not until afternoon tea that we were given permission to talk and that's when we got to know one another, not so much at afternoon tea which was not a particularly leisurely time and occurred prior to evening teachings, but over dinner.

Really, where we got to know one another was in the teaching sessions when everyone bravely shared their innermost thoughts and showed their true selves. There was very little talking - we were encouraged to make notes as prompted - but what talking did occur was the sharing of key words brought up from within ourselves - our strengths, our weaknesses, our hopes and our fears. We went to dark places before we quite naturally reached up to the light.

I doubt I need to say to anyone who has done the scantest reading of this blog that I luxuriated in the silence. This being the fourth day home, it comes as the understatement of the year to say that I miss it. People speak too many words. The world makes far too much noise.

To counteract this mental upheaval of leaving behind the world of the retreat I begin my day on my cushion. The days are not my own - not yet - but if I begin the day on my cushion I can enter the stillness of the still mind in the early morning, before the household has woken up, and this settles and soothes me for a day in the real world of words, bustle, opinion and ego.

If you don't believe in the power of psychotherapy then think again. I had three group psychotherapy sessions with the goal of motivation for daily meditation and so far every day I wake with the script running in my head, 'You have an irresistible desire to go to your cushion'. Indeed, I do.

I'm a lucky gal to have come across a man who has been taught by the highest spiritual leaders of this world the portals into the stillness of the natural mind. The opportunity to share time with him, and for him to be at the place in his life where he is ready to reveal that knowledge to those ready to hear it is the greatest gift I could ever have been given. Having been offered a glimpse into the power of the still mind, I will pursue my practice with vigor.