because of the joy I find in gathering friends and strangers to experience oneness with God, ourselves, each other, and all created things. That sense of interconnectedness, of being part of the whole, as direct experience and not just not theory, is amazing to me. But there’s more.
Saturday I was blessed to lead an adventure in mindfulness meditation with a woman from India who was trying out meditation for the first time, a man from Venezuela who has begun teaching fourth graders to meditate in his classroom, a musician from the Episcopal cathedral who just completed mindfulness training, and a friend who trained in mindfulness with me last year. In other words, most everyone was in the beginning of a practice that can be life changing.
I loved sharing principles of the practice and guiding the group through the experience of entering a place of self-compassion, where we hold whatever arises within us in loving awareness. That can be very challenging of course, considering the stream of thoughts and emotions which can arise in a short period of practice. But the challenge is worth it, as we learn that even the most troubling thoughts and emotions can be soothed by a persistent attitude of loving awareness. In effect, we are holding ourselves with compassion, treating ourselves with lovingkindness.
Here is an example of how that can work. In completing our family taxes the program revealed a doubling of the rate we owed for our share of the Affordable Healthcare insurance. That discovery threw me. I wanted to cry or choke or curse. Feelings of being a failure in providing for my family arose. Unworthiness was the main emotion that was drowning me. I needed help. I needed a practice of holding the emotions in loving awareness.
I spent the week working with those emotions as best I could. The feelings returned each day and I kept trying to hold them in loving awareness.. There was no magical solution, and no pill to make them go away, just a daily practice.
However, out of the holding came a realization that I needed to share my feelings with a wise guide. So I set up an appointment with my spiritual director. That too was a form of self-compassion, a decision not to isolate myself with feelings of unworthiness. And sharing those feelings proved very valuable. I came away from seeing my spiritual director with a sense of being valued and loved, just as I am. In effect, she helped me deepen my practice of holding the feelings in loving awareness, (as well as helping me to form an action plan to address our financial situation).
Because I had spent the week holding my own emotions in loving awareness, I could share that teaching and practice with the class from direct experience. In meditation practice, experience is everything. Without that, our words fall on deaf ears because people intuit when we are only speaking of information we have acquired.
There was more in the Saturday group experience. There was a feeling of timelessness which came for several moments along the way. There was the joy of simple being, with no need to be accomplishing anything. The Venezuelan man described feeling what Thich Nhat Hanh calls “coming home,” a way of being at home in our own skin.
As we shared our experiences, the Indian woman said she struggled with how her attention kept being pulled off into various thoughts. We all agreed that we got that, and normalized her experience of the wandering mind. I pointed out that hundreds of people through the years had told me that was the thing that made them believe they couldn’t meditate. And I related how one meditation teacher had said the only way to not have thoughts was to be dead. We all laughed.
Next I described how the extended practice of noticing thoughts and letting them go, while returning to a simple focus of attention like the breath, had been like filling my inner reservoir with a sense of healing, wholeness, and completeness. It sounds easy, which it is not, but the tool of “release and return” with persistent thoughts has been a help to me for decades now.
I also shared how the critical voice that arises from our thoughts can make sitting in stillness downright painful. We briefly explored how normal it seems to be for all humans to have times when that negative voice in our heads persistently tells us the ways we are failures. The solution? Keep releasing such judgments, return the attention to the breath, and sustain an attitude of loving awareness. The critical voice is another aspect of our common humanity. So sharing about that in a meditation group can actually draw us together and help us feel connected, even if we walked in as strangers.
Finally, a career aspiration of mine has always been to relieve suffering. That mission gives me a sense of purpose, and the meditation teaching offers a sense of competency in sharing tools which can help build people’s resilience. I feel so blessed every time I get to accompany others in their journey through suffering into the place of innate healing. That work seems like a good way to spend the rest of my life.
I love meditation teaching for many reasons, and I look forward to many more years of sharing my calling with individuals and groups as we create contemplative communities who practice the presence of God for personal transformation and radical engagement with the world. If you are in the neighborhood, come join us for one of our gatherings, like the workshop on “Cultivating Self-Compassion” this weekend, (details at http://www.thescl.net). Or if you want some individual guidance, contact me and let’s take a journey together.
May we all be blessed to find our own best way of “coming home.”