Day 21 of 30: What’s Happening Now
The invitation today is to return to a practice you did several days ago, only this time in a different context. A life-changing skill is distinguishing what’s actually happening from your thoughts about what is happening.
What may happen is an event happens in your life and it becomes a stimulus for feelings and thoughts. An appraisal of the situation generates bodily sensations. Those bodily sensations stimulate thoughts. Those subsequent thoughts fuel the trajectory & intensity of the feelings. It is a cycle.
When you notice the feelings it can be really helpful to rest your attention on the bodily sensations at first without getting hooked by the accompanying thoughts. This is helpful because it is a form of ‘accompaniment.’ Often, being with the feelings and allowing them lessens their intensity. One way to think about it is that by paying attention to them, your body does not need to ratchet up the intensity of the sensations to try to ‘get attention.’
Sticking with your sensations also has the benefit of minimizing the potential of your thoughts contributing to an overwhelming experience. When the interplay of sensations and thoughts cascades, thoughts such as “this is really bad”, “I cannot deal with this”, “why does this keep happening to me?”, et cetera, intensity the initial feelings by ‘piling on.’ They add evaluation (e.g., “not good”), readiness (e.g., “can’t handle”), blame (e.g., “who caused this?”), association (e.g., “just like the other times”), planning (e.g., “what do I do now?”), and prediction (e.g., “one outcome could be …”).
In the midst of your emotional response, your experience may be that the pace of thoughts increases and that they arise with a ‘sticky’, compelling urgency. Instead, pausing to notice, allow, and be with the sensations creates space to ‘listen to the messages’ of your body, without adding to them from explorations of what is not actually happening.
Don’t worry – there will be time enough for those thoughts. Many of them can be quite helpful when you choose that they are timely & in your service.
The invitation to you is to do a little prep before your meditation practice today. If you’re up for it, think of a recent experience in which you felt disappointment. On a scale from 1 (mild disappointment) to 10 (distraught), please choose a situation where the level of intensity was in on the lower to moderate end.
- Once you have selected one recent experience of disappointment, set your timer and then practice calm focus meditation until you notice your concentration deepens.
- When you notice a shift into a more calm focused state, please direct your awareness to remembering the recent experience in which you felt disappointment. Imagine it in as much detail as possible until the feelings of disappointment arise in you now.
- As you notice the feelings of disappointment, first say “Hello” to them. Welcome them. Silently ask the feelings, “What do you have to tell me?”
- After greeting the disappointment, rest your attention on your bodily sensations for a few minutes. Savor them. Where do you feel them in your body? What are the felt senses of these feelings? Do you notice any shift in the feelings over time as you pay attention to them?
- After sitting with these feelings for a few minutes, please turn your attention to watching your thoughts. Please don’t give any one thought energy by pursuing it. A thought arises, notice it, and then let it go. Today, the invitation is to notice any patterns in your thoughts associated with feeling disappointed. Notice if certain themes arise multiple times. For example, is there a theme of blaming yourself or another? Do you notice that specific memories from your past arise? Learning about which memories get recalled, rather than pursuing them, can be a rich source of learning about yourself and the experiences that have shaped you. Do you notice thought patterns of either being focused in the past or focused on the future?
- After a few minutes observing your thoughts, the invitation is to direct your thoughts by asking yourself a few times: “What is this disappointment trying to tell me? What is its important message?” Sit with that questions for a bit. The general message of disappointment is expectation, such as the form of “I wanted ____ .” Try filling in the blank specifically for this recent experience. “I wanted _____ .” Then one more time, only this time adding why you wanted it. “I wanted _____ because it would have contributed to my needs for _______ .” (Example: “I wanted my brother to listen to me because it would have contributed to my need for support.”).
- As time permits, once you have completed the explorations above, return to resting your awareness on the felt sensations of your belly while breathing.
As always, if today’s meditation did not unfold as outlined above, I encourage you to make time to return to it a second time once you feel more comfortable with these steps. Getting to know your specific patterns of thought associated with each emotion is a rich source of self-knowledge. Practicing in a setting in which you have complete control over the scenario and duration can be a very valuable forum for befriending your sensations. Resting attention on sensations that you may evaluate as ‘uncomfortable’ builds resilience. And it is a critical life skill and relationship skill to distinguish what is happening now versus what thoughts is my mind generating in response to what is happening now?
If you’d like, please offer what you learned about the experience of disappointment and your relationship to it in today’s practice by sharing in the comments below. Please raise awareness of this content by sharing it using the social media icons adjacent to it. Please reach out to me if I can support you.
See you tomorrow!
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The Guest House by Rumi
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still treat each guest honourably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each as been sent
as a guide from beyond.