Monday, September 22, 2008

Seeing beyond your story to who you really are

Even though you may become aware of your story, gain some distance from it, and begin to alter it in certain fundamental ways, you may still identify with it until you can catch a glimpse of who you really are, beyond your story. Such glimpses can take a number of different forms. Perhaps you have unexpected moments of peace or tranquility, when your thoughts settle down — or even stop entirely — and a sweet silence permeates your mind. Or you may experience a flood of unconditional love that momentarily opens your heart wide and gives you a brief glimpse of the oneness beyond all apparent separation.
Or maybe you have a sudden intuition of your inherent interconnectedness with all beings or a sense of being in the presence of something far vaster than yourself. Whatever the insight that lifts you beyond your story, it can irrevocably alter who you take yourself to be. Never again can you fully believe that you’re merely the limited personality your mind insists you are.
I can still remember how fresh and clear everything appeared after my first meditation retreat — the colors so vivid, people’s faces so radiant — even though I’d spent five days doing nothing but struggling to count my breaths from one to ten without losing my way. I felt as though a bandage had been ripped from my eyes and I could see things clearly for the first time. Everything
I encountered seemed to radiate being, and I knew as never before that I belonged on this Earth. Of course, the intensity faded after a few days, but I never forgot that first glimpse of clear seeing, free from the perceptual filters I’d been carrying around for a lifetime.

Put the story down and move on

Two Zen monks were walking along a country road when they came to a stream swollen to a raging torrent by the heavy spring rains. There they found an attractive young woman waiting on the shore, unable to cross.
One of the monks approached the woman and offered to help her. With her consent, he lifted her in his arms and carried her across the stream. Then the two monks continued on their way in silence.
When they got back to the monastery, the monk who had watched his friend carry the woman could not contain himself any longer. “You know we’re not supposed to have any contact with females, especially attractive ones. How could you possibly do that?” “Ah,” said the other monk, “I put the woman down hours ago, but you’re still carrying her with you.”

Changing your story

As you may notice after you meditate for a while, just being aware of your story can begin changing it in subtle (or even not-so-subtle!) ways. When you develop a certain distance from your story — knowing at some level that it’s just your story, not who you really are — you naturally become less reactive, people respond to you differently, and circumstances shift accordingly. Soon your life is just not the same old story anymore! Of course, you may already be struggling to change your life by manipulating circumstances or reprogramming your mind with affirmations or positive

Friday, September 12, 2008

Becoming aware of your story and how it confuses you

When you meditate regularly and observe your thoughts and feelings, you begin to notice recurring themes and story lines that keep playing in your mind. Perhaps you become aware of the tendency to obsess about all the times people misunderstood you or failed to give you the love you wanted. Maybe you watch yourself comparing yourself to other people and judging yourself better — or worse. Possibly you find yourself fantasizing about the ideal mate, even though you’ve been happily married for years. Or you may notice that you’re constantly planning for the future while ignoring what’s happening right here and now.
Whatever your particular patterns may be, you can observe how they keep arising to disturb you and pull you away from the reality at hand — which may be some simple task, like following your breath or reciting your mantra. Gradually, you realize that your story is just that — a story your mind keeps spinning that separates you from others and causes you pain. As John Lennon put it, “Life is what’s happening while you’re busy making other plans.” When you start seeing your story for what it is, you don’t allow it to confuse you in the same way anymore.

Becoming aware of your inner experience

When you sit quietly for 10 or 15 minutes and notice your thoughts and feelings, you’re making a radical shift in your relationship to your inner experience. Instead of being swept away by the current, you become, for the moment, an observer on the shore, watching the river of your experience flow by. Though the difference may seem inconsequential and you may not feel that you’re making any headway, you’ve actually begun to loosen your story’s stranglehold on your life. Gradually, you begin to notice spaces in your mind’s chatter, and what once seemed so serious and solid slowly becomes lighter and infused with fresh air.
You may find yourself laughing at your tendency to worry and obsess, or perhaps you pause and notice what you’re feeling before you react. As you practice welcoming your experience just as it is, including your judgments and self-criticisms, you may also discover that your attitude toward yourself begins to change in subtle ways. Instead of impatience or contempt, you may begin to notice a certain self-acceptance creeping in as you become more familiar with the repetitive patterns of your mind. Hey, you may even develop a measure of compassion for yourself as you see how self-critical or distracted or frightened you can become.

Allowing spontaneous release

When you meditate regularly, you start to notice that thoughts and feelings that have accumulated inside you naturally dissipate like mist rising from the surface of a lake. You don’t have to do anything special to make this happen —it just occurs naturally as your concentration deepens and your mind settles down. You may sit to meditate feeling weighted down by worries or concerns and then get up half an hour later feeling somehow lighter, more spacious, and more worry-free.

Who knows how this mysterious process happens? You might say that meditating is like lifting the lid on a boiling pot of soup — you create space for the water to evaporate and relieve the pressure that has been building up inside. To encourage this process of spontaneous release, you can practice meditation techniques that involve receptive awareness — open, spacious awareness that welcomes whatever arises. (You’ll need to develop your concentration first.) When your mind’s not fixated on a particular object — be it a thought, a memory, or an emotion — but expansive and unattached like the sky, you’re no longer investing energy in your drama, but rather inviting whatever’s churning inside you to unfold and let go.