Friday, December 31, 2010

How to Make Friends with Your Experience

If you’re like most of the people I know (including me!), you tend to be exceptionally hard on yourself. In fact, you probably treat yourself in ways you wouldn’t consider treating any of your loved ones or friends. When you make a mistake, you may call yourself names or heap harsh judgments and criticisms on yourself, including a laundry list of all the other mistakes you’ve made over the years. When you feel some tender or vulnerable emotion, you may dismiss it as weak or wimpy and attempt to push past it, rather then give yourself time to feel it fully.
Just the other day, for example, when I couldn’t find my keys, I was startled to hear this irritable, impatient voice inside my head chiding me for being so stupid and forgetful! Sound familiar? Most of us hold some image of how we’re supposed to act, think, and feel, and we’re constantly struggling to get our experience and behavior to conform to it — and blaming ourselves when we don’t.
In meditation, you have an opportunity to reverse this trend and explore your experience just the way it is, without trying to judge it or change it. To replace the stress, conflict, and turbulence inside you with peace and harmony, you need to make friends with yourself — which means treating yourself with the same kindness, care, and curiosity that you would give to a close friend. You can begin by bringing a gentle, nonjudgmental awareness to your thoughts and feelings.

Meditation for Challenging Emotion

Meditation tends to make you calmer, more spacious, and more relaxed —at least most of the time. When you follow your breath, repeat a mantra, or practice some other basic technique every day, your mind begins to settle down naturally, while thoughts and feelings spontaneously bubble up and release like the fizz in a bottle of soda. The process is so relaxing that the folks in Transcendental Meditation call it unstressing. When you meditate regularly for a period of time, however, you may find that certain emotions or states of mind keep coming back to distract or disturb you. Instead of dispersing, the same sexual fantasies, sad or fearful thoughts, or painful memories may keep playing in your awareness like a CD stuck in the same old groove. Or you may be meditating on lovingkindness but keep coming up against unresolved resentment or rage. Instead of watching the mist rising from the lake, you’ve begun your descent into the muddy and sometimes turbulent waters of your inner experience. At first, you may be surprised, dismayed, or even frightened by what you encounter, and you may conclude that you’re doing something wrong. But have no fear! The truth is, your meditation has actually begun to deepen, and you’re ready to expand your range of meditation techniques to help you navigate this new terrain.
At this point, you may find it helpful to extend your practice of from your breathing and your bodily sensations to your thoughts and emotions. As you gently focus the light of your awareness on this dimension of your experience, you can begin to sort out what’s actually going on inside you. In the process, you can get to know yourself better —even make friends with yourself. If you keep it up, you can eventually start to penetrate and even unravel some old habitual patterns of thinking, feeling, and behaving — patterns that have been causing you suffering and stress and keeping you stuck for a long, long time.

How to Soften your belly?

Stephen Levine, an American meditation teacher who has written extensively on healing and dying, counsels that the state of your belly reflects the state of your heart. By consciously softening your belly again and again, you can let go and open to the tender feelings in your heart.
  1. Begin by sitting comfortably and taking a few deep breaths.
  2. Allow your awareness to gradually settle into your body. Become aware of the sensations in your head and slowly allow your awareness to descend through your neck and shoulders until you reach your torso and arms.
  3. When you reach your belly, gently soften this area of your body. Consciously let go of any tension or holding.
  4. Allow your breath to enter and leave your belly. When you inhale, your belly rises. When you exhale, your belly falls.
  5. With each breath, continue to soften your belly. Let go of any anger, fear, pain, or unresolved grief you may be holding in your belly. You may want to help the process along by silently repeating a word or phrase like “soften” or “let go.”
  6. As you continue to soften your belly, notice how your heart responds.
  7. After five minutes or longer of this softbelly meditation, open your eyes and go about your day.
Every now and then, check in with your belly. If you notice that you’re tensing it again, gently breathe and soften.