Meditation on sensation, emotion, thought, memories and becoming aware of awareness. 1 hour + writing.
(This is a long one, take your time. 🙂 )
This morning, I meditated for an hour, by the end I was almost in a trance. I had woken up early, (for a Saturday during a Christmas holiday, that is!) and slipped downstairs at 8am while the house was quiet. I sat for an hour, uninterrupted, and breathed. Thoughts arose, feelings, worries about work (which still pervade despite being on holiday for a week thus far and still have a week to go) comments, and then I realised these are the layers of thought… I fell down through the levels… until suddenly one clear thought and feeling: ‘I want to just live in the moment’ followed by a raw yearning.
I found that I was again feeling in two places, here in the UK and in my old house in South Africa, that strange juxtaposition of time when I really got into meditation during the day, as part of my discipline to support running a massage therapy practice and teaching Tai Chi. It sounds strange, but I remember on the last day I was there, I leaned against the house’s wall, and something … resonated. It was as if I left a piece of myself there. And now when I meditate, eyes closed, I feel like I’m there. It creates feelings of yearning and longing – which is a sign of attachment. How to dissolve that connection? The reality was, it was too big, the garden flooded, and the windows didn’t let in the right kind of light. I miss the intense experiences I had there, of deep meditation, of moving meditation in Tai Chi, and of the clients I had, the business I was starting to build. The rupture that caused me to leave was so sudden, there was no time to really process it.
But I’m finding the same with the celebration of Christmas. I don’t remember the presents I got as a child, but I do recall the intense feelings we cousins experienced, when waiting behind the door for our Grandad (Abuelito, as we called him) to finish ‘checking that Santa had done everything correctly’. I remember the happiness that spread around the extended family table as we ate our Christmas meal… with the tree in the background and the piano.
I remember my mother’s face when at 11, I ripped through all my gifts in a matter of seconds, and then looked at her, disappointed there wasn’t more, to hear her friend’s exclamation of how rude I was, and the shame that has haunted me since, so that now I take ages to open a gift. A fellow blogger wrote about her little boy’s reaction to the Christmas gifts, and how his ‘Tears, tantrums and some serious sulking have taken over his kind, loving nature’. and I thought to myself, – yes… this is a tradition that brings out our addiction to dramatic emotion and to those in the know, the control over these emotions. Something has gone very wrong in this tradition.
Then there’s the avid need for the New Year to start well, as if the tick of the second hand will spread a wand of magic over our lives and transform us without effort.
I breathe during the meditation, noting how the emotions and memories are interplaying, how the invisible currents of air (thought) push about the incense smoke of emotions…
I breathe… sensing the moment when thought and memory seem to snag on the emotional chemistry of the brain and deluge the senses … to the pit of my stomach…
it is not the place, it is not the present, it is not the situation or the people, it is that simple raw hit of emotion as it explodes with chemical ferocity inside us… that is our addiction.
Bringing awareness to that spot now as I meditate I notice another trigger…
Relationships are fraught with this. In my case… the push and pull. Sharon talks about how clinging onto happy emotions, and averting negative ones only increase the suffering. The same happens in how we relate. Or perhaps this is just me, but I’ve heard similar things from others and read the symptoms in other’s posts. We ping-pong between the feeling of loneliness and sense of mob-like togetherness. One is dark, isolating, fear building and disconnected, the other is bright, clingy, attaching and overwhelming. Eventually one leads to the other, loneliness drives us to attach, and its opposite forces us to detach, each one engendering another cycle.
Lovingkindness and compassion are neither isolated, nor attaching, but merely the general expression of the humaneness we all have inside ourselves, inside our hearts, and is non-discriminating. Yet those relationships that are seemingly the closest to us, seem to have in them, an awful lot of trapped emotion that then comes out in the holidays, or is ruthlessly swept under the carpet under a stiff set of seasonal protocols. They are not warm and caring, but completely distracting. So many people have told me how they cope – alcohol, Valium going to Morocco to avoid the whole thing entirely. Very few have talked about joy.
What I’m trying to say is, as with thought, emotion and sensation, so with relationships. Things arise, positive and negative. What often happens in relating is that a whole slew of add-ons occur – past injustices, past emotions, future expectations. Memories, fantasies, mis-communications and conjectures. Then, if it is not playing out according to those scenarios, we either detach or dominate/submit.
The answer is – pay attention.
Bring the same awareness to the situation as you have to your own thoughts, feelings and sensations, and yes, breathe.
This is as much for me, as it is for my wish that these personal insights and reflections help others.
Underneath the push-pull is the fear of people. I have reason to be, I’ve met and related to some very disturbed people in my life, from quite young. The news is full of sensationalist stories of far more horrific things people do to each other. The most recent being that young medical student in India who has just tied from the ghastly injuries done to her by six men who in their deluded states, raped her viciously. God, the suffering!!!! Out of it, no doubt, will come a major shift in attitude towards the need for safety and respect for women in India, no matter which caste they come from, I hope.
Breathe, connect, and feel that sensation… not reason it. Feel it. Allow awareness to come into that horror, feel the shadows of fear shudder between the shoulder blades and release, feel the heartache of this world, and feel how that is an echo of the horror others have experienced and felt, building and building sometimes over generations. Feel how we can end that cycle within our own heart by simply… paying attention.
This is where lovingkindness is crucial – it is not about mushy warm feelings … but an acknowledgement of shared suffering. In in a way this is bringing a sense of fairness to the situation, a combination of the recognition that we are all conditioned by our upbringing, and reason – that we are part of larger cycles of suffering that stretch over time, moving from state to state, and the heartfelt desire to bring relief from suffering that having suffered ourselves, we understand. I bring these elements into my mind, and bring it to the woman, to the bystander, to the perpetrators, to those who must have found her and felt panic and horror and will never forget it, and those who tried to save her, to those who feel the echo of horror in their hearts and march for legal change, and those who are so numb, it seems to touch nothing. To those who believe she was stupid to take a bus without protection. To her family. To her boyfriend.
To my own fear, of such a violation of the most intimate aspect of being a woman, that aspect that in relationship, we give in trust and hope and often, have it violated. That is such a terrible fear that has had its hold over us for… ever it seems. It was that fear that led me into martial arts – several men had attempted over a few years, to drag me off. Each time I got away, but I got angrier and angrier. One day I decided to take up Aikido, and later I decided to study Karate. I did really well, moving swiftly through the colours to black belt. At the same time I learned massage and Tai Chi. One day I was doing a beautiful Kata… a series of movements of different punches, kicks and locks turned into a graceful dancelike movements. Then our teacher said it was time to learn the applications of the movements: breaking necks in 8 different ways.
I started practising with a partner. And then, during one of the drills, I froze, staring down at the fragile nape of my practise-attacker.
“Why am I learning this? I wanted to protect myself, not kill someone!” I realised that my anger and fear had led me to this point.
At the end of the class, I left the school and haven’t practised any of the killing martial arts since. A couple of years ago, during a discussion on community and safety, I told this story. A man looked at me sincerely and said, ‘I am sorry that you had to learn this in order to protect yourself, that you had to go that far.’ At the time I was amazed, thinking ‘But that’s reality! Women are raped daily on this planet, in numbers! What else could I do?’. Now I realise what he meant.
There are more stories of disconnection: friends and work colleagues that betray, getting caught up in intrigues and losing your sense of right, people who didn’t do things as expected, leaving a man, having a man leave you, finding out about another woman, being the other woman. Creating a relationship then having them dissolve into nothing, or move and so becoming distant in time eventually, meeting up again and things being completely different, unexpected, all change. All change.
There is risk in everything we do. There is risk in everything we don’t do.
As I meditate, (and as I write too) the awareness of all those patterns, all those cycles, brings me to the awareness of samsara, of this existence, and of the deep, underlying weariness I have with it.
I see you samsara, I see your gaping jaws, your spinning wheel, your endless pleasures and horrors… and even that is empty, a print of a painted thangka I see regularly in a meditation centre that I visit weekly.
I can hear the invisible audience that I am writing to, plead with me, c’mon, you have to focus on the positive, you have to give your heart to the world, you have to pick yourself up and strive, chin up, don’t let it get you down, breathe, believe in angels, God loves you… and so on.
All of it is imprints of stuff that I have drifted through as I have lived on this planet. Meditation and awareness has made me realise that I just can’t have faith or trust in any of it. ‘Test everything.’ said the Buddha. Including his own teachings.
I bring everything into awareness, physical life, emotions, the thoughts of my mind, the experiences of relationships, and the sayings and teachings of all the religions, and still… the only thing that seems real is the moments that I recollect breath.
Not the breathing itself – a dance of atoms in space… but the moment of recollection… of breath.
What is it?
I realise, I have no idea.
I want to know it.
Everything up to now has just been preliminary exercises.
So now, as I end this meditation, and writing, a new challenge for 2013 presents itself: meditation on awareness.
I will spend 2013 honing my concentration, insight and lovingkindness, but I will add a meditation on Buddha nature, consciousness, awareness… whatever you call it.
I’ve just realised that this was what I was headed for all along, in 2012, and that I’ve barely begun.
Dedicated to the 23-year-old Indian medical student. Sister, you are resting in peace. x
Om Tare Tutarre Ture So Ha. Om mane padme hung.