Whoosh! What a couple of weeks it’s been! The holidays, the brand New Year, followed closely by a power-full moon in Cancer. I had some big feelings movin’ on through and I know I wasn’t alone in that.
I was eating some ice cream the other night just before a session with my coach and as I was putting the pint back in the freezer, I had a little miracle moment. I was having some big feelings, yes. And I had eaten some ice cream, yes. And the two had nothing to do with each other. There I was, putting the ice cream back into the freezer and moving on with my night. Getting support.
This is an everyday moment now that food is about nourishment and pleasure. But that night, time opened up, as it sometimes does, and I remembered clearly the torture and obsession that weighted my life. I felt acutely the freedom I’ve dared to claim and the commitment that freedom has required.
In the spirit of freedom, I want to circle back this week to the practice of compassionate abiding, as taught by Pema Chodron and many other wise souls.
Other names for this practice could be:
a) Making friends with what you are pretty sure is going to kill you.
b) Holding your seat when every cell in your body is screaming RUN!
c) Responding with kindness and sanity rather than reacting in ways that make the situation worse.
But compassionate abiding is much more graceful and succinct, so let’s go with that.
The foundation of the practice is maitri, or loving kindness. Maitri refers to consciously choosing a friendly attitude toward ourselves. It includes acceptance and tenderness for the whole of who we are-all the magnanimous, glowy parts and the greedy, desperate parts. Maitri is admitting to ourselves that we contain the whole gestalt and staying open, not turning away.
As we practice maitri for ourselves, we have lots more room to extend genuine kindness and care to others.
Maitri allows us to acknowledge and lean into feelings we think we shouldn’t be having–rage, jealousy, phobias, disgust, failure, prejudice. We acknowledge and we breathe in, we lean into the energy of the experience.
Pema says it much more clearly than I can:
“In the process of doing this, we are transmuting hard, reactive, rejecting energy into basic warmth and openness. It sounds dramatic, but really it is very simple and direct. All we are doing is breathing in and experiencing what’s happening, then breathing out as we continue to experience what’s happening. It’s a way of working with our negativity that appreciates that the negative energy per se is not the problem. Confusion only begins when we can’t abide with the intensity of the energy and therefore spin off. Staying present with our own energy allows it to keep flowing and move on. Abiding with our own energy is the ultimate non-aggression, the ultimate maitri.”
Emotions, divorced of storyline, are just ENERGY. When we relate to that energy in its raw form, without trying to make it go away or understand it, we find a certain dignity and grace in the eye of the storm.
We can take a break from what’s right and what’s wrong and all the mental energy of figuring and blaming and self loathing and just relax into the energy that is here.
We remain by our own side and get curious about this experience we’ve been telling ourselves is intolerable.
What does it feel like? And what is underneath that? Is it asking for something? What does it want?
I was in such an inquiry recently with a client who was experiencing what she recognized as anxiety. She settled into her body, breathing and practicing kindness. She let the story fall away.
And she found peace. This deep sea of peace right underneath the ripples of anxious energy on the surface. She was stunned.
It’s not always like that, of course. You never know what you’re going to find. It is always different from the story we are telling ourselves about it.
As my fabulous yoga teacher sometimes reminds the class:
It’s not so much that the hard stuff becomes easy, we just get better at staying with the hard stuff.
The reality is that we cannot selectively numb emotions. If we deny our anger or our fear, we damp down joy and intimacy. Likewise, we can’t be shamed into being better people. Shame begets shame, period. Kindness is the flame that illumines those moldy corners of our consciousness, allowing us to see what we’ve been running from.
Kindness is the most radical, most courageous choice.
Try it on yourself; there is not a soul alive more deserving.
P.S.: Your clarity, your insight, your big shift, is right underneath the stuff you don’t want to be with. This is one of the many reasons I have a coach, myself-to hold that space of maitri as I bridge the gap between my conditioned responses and who I want to be in the world.
If you want to break a habit, change a relationship, or embody a new way of being in the world, check out how to work with me here.