How to experience peace in one step

Practice letting go of your suffering everyday.

Easier said than done right? Maybe. Maybe not. In Buddhism, one of the Four Noble Truths is to acknowledge that we suffer. And the path to enlightenment is to find the source of that suffering, acknowledge it and let it go.

Let go or be dragged

I recently did a ‘Neti Neti’ meditation with David Wagner. Neti Neti in sanskrit means ‘not this, not this.’ The focus of the meditation was on all of the things we aren’t. We are not our stuff, our thoughts, even our bodies. We are the ones who dwell within.

In thinking about how to separate my ‘Self’ from my stuff (material & otherwise), I always come back to rediscovering myself as the watcher.

It’s easy to get caught up in mind activity, especially when it’s turbulent. But, I’m truly in touch with myself, when I’m the one watching the turbulence. That is to say that rather than trying to stop the chaotic thoughts, take a back seat and watch.

When you notice that you’re anxious or your shoulder hurts, for example, YOU or your ‘SELF’ is the one who sees it. You are NOT the hurt shoulder, you are the one who notices.

Seems a little too obscure? Try this beautiful practice from Thich Nhat Hanh in ‘The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching.” When you’re feeling pain such as fear or anger, imagine it as a baby. You are the holder of the suffering. You can give it the presence it requires by acknowledging it, not shoving it away. And then you can put it down – sated.

If you’re meditating and your mind wanders, observe (without judgement) that you are meditating and your mind is wandering.  YOU are the one observing.

And here’s the tricky part, acknowledge that everything is temporary – pain,  happiness, hunger, satiety – all of it is transient.  So, you don’t have to cling to any of it.  And letting go of that clinging is another way of stopping the cycle of your own suffering.

Ready to stop suffering?  The path to peace IS the peace.

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Don’t bury your head in the dirt

dog yard statueIt’s only natural to want to shy away from conflict or avoid facing issues that cause emotional discomfort. However, facing your fears head on first thing in the morning may be exactly what you need to do to break the cycle of suffering.

In addition to my daily yoga (asana) and meditation practice, I recently added a ‘wake-up’ meditation and body scan. Several months ago, after I’d started my regular morning practice, I noticed that I still had some bouts of anxiety during the day that I couldn’t figure out. So, I began to practice awareness as soon as I awoke, and found that it was just the ticket for quelling anxious feelings I didn’t even realize I was harboring.

Stress and anxiety are both natural states, and part of being human, but there is a simple remedy to ensure you start your day in as relaxed a state as possible — by greeting you with gratitude.

Too often, we jump out of bed, head straight for the shower, turn on the television, or down a cup of coffee. Our body is in fight or flight mode and it hasn’t even had a chance to acclimate. No wonder, there’s so much tension in western society. Tomorrow morning, try something different. Set your alarm for about five minutes earlier than usual to allow yourself time to feel what it’s like to wake up, instead of feeling like you’re under attack.

Before you even open your eyes, just softly bring your awareness back to your environment. Gently wiggle your fingers and toes. Reach your arms overhead for a nice stretch, and rub your hands together vigorously to make some heat before cupping them over your eyes. Then, just lie there and notice. Notice if you have any tension anywhere in the body. Notice if you feel dis-ease as soon as you come into the world, and welcome whatever sensations you experience. Say thank you to any physical or emotional feelings good or bad. This different type of awareness, one of gratitude, can quickly dissolve feelings of angst. Treat your morning wake up as gently as you would a long, restorative savasana, and you’ll eventually arise with calm.

Just yesterday, I was talking about this new practice to my mentor from teacher training, and she even suggested bringing your hand to that place on the body in which you’re feeling turbulence, and saying, “thank you.” I love this concept of truly connecting with the self through touch, presence and thankfulness.

In Buddhism, there are four central teachings known as the four noble truths. One of these is dukkha or suffering. The belief is that humans share a bond of suffering, and that living a life of dharma protects us from suffering. And, embracing suffering for the teacher that it is, with gratitude, is the first step toward peace.

We can’t all be boddhisattvas on day one, but when we begin to notice that we are experiencing dukkha at the hand of our own thoughts, and welcome all that is, we begin to live a life of presence — a life without suffering. So, don’t bury your head in the dirt to avoid pain, face it, embrace it and leave it.

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi

Sometimes, you just have a crap week

woman with an umbrellaOn a scale of one to un-fun, this week has been less than bright and sunny.   Between the ebb and flow of stress at work and dear friends experiencing loss and disappointment, this has not been the kind of week you celebrate.  Or, is it?

I’ve talked before about gratitude, and the stark reminders the universe often sends our way to be grateful for what we have.   This week was one of those reminders.   Several friends experienced the loss of loved ones unexpectedly, and another saw a dream slip away.  It made the horrible situation that I was dealing with at work seem quite trivial in comparison.  Yet, for all of us, the emotional pain was quite real.

How we cope with disappointment, loss and unexpected stress is a good indicator of whether or not we understand what it means to experience joy — even when current circumstances are extremely unpleasant.    Many people want to run away from pain, because, well, it’s pain.  It’s not fun or enjoyable.   I used to run away from pain with a glass of wine, or a daily dose of whatever the anti-depressant was for the moment, but the pain was still there.    I just chose to ignore it, not face it.   That shifted when I dedicated myself to finding joy.  My path happened to be through yoga.  Even so, everyone still has moments when we want to bury our head in the sand and pretend the day or week never happened.

This week, I’ve witnessed true beauty in seeing friends face their pain head on, sit with it, acknowledge it, and move through it.   And, in an attempt to continue to live the path I’ve chosen, and out of deference to my friends who are facing their loss with grace, I too resisted the temptation to succumb to the darkness of apathy and resistance.    Despite all the good in their lives, there are people everyday who are suffering.   And, yet, as trite and Pollyanna as it may seem, there is something good that can come of the suffering if you’re willing to open your eyes.

Sometimes in life, the greatest joy is only accessible after experiencing the deepest grief.   Today, April 21st, 2012.  There are two funerals, two heartaches and much loss.  And, there is also new life.   There are three babies turning one today.   There’s a baby on her way here in two weeks, and new love is finding it’s way.  Even less romantically poetic, we are here.  We are breathing, living, reading, blogging, loving, grieving, supporting, thriving, being.

Today is also a new moon.  A time for rebirth, renewal and starting over.  Set an intention today to be grateful that you are here, that you are loved, and remember why you get up every day and who is important to you.  Appreciate little things like no bills in the mailbox, a smile from a stranger or the sun peeking out of the clouds.    It WILL illuminate the darkness.

This post is for my beautiful friends Pam, Katie, Rob, Antonio, Nancy and Collette and everyone else who had just a crap week.

Namaste.

– Your Charmed Yogi