The recent gestures of two people reminded me how simple acts of gratitude, generosity, and kindness connect us to our shared essential goodness, the inherent light within us. One gesture inspired the poem below. The other filled my palm with sea glass, followed by a heart-shaped stone. Both brought joy and helped me to remember that blessings are where we find or open to them, passing them back and forth, hand-to-hand, heart-to-heart.
sunbeams and shadows like stars cut through the dark cloth of night, all portals, parts of the universe we embody as one
“Humbly, we are asked to keep the flow real between what is taken in and what is let out. We have only to breathe to remember our place as a living inlet. Experience in, feelings out. Surprise and challenge in, heartache and joy out. In a constant tide, life rushes in, and in constant release, we must let it all run back off. For this is how the earth was made magnificent by the sea and how humankind is carved upright, again and again, by the ocean spirit that sets us free.”
This is a mindful, self-regulation practice that can support our capacities to meet the present moment with skillfulness and compassion, and in the process cultivate equanimity.
Stephen Cope (Excerpts and technique* from Yoga and The Quest for True Self) Riding the Wave Technique: Breathe: Soften the belly and bring your awareness to the breath. The body responds immediately. The wave of breath begins to flow into all parts of the body. Relax: Full breathing automatically initiates relaxation. In order to deepen this effect, it can be useful to coach yourself. “Relax.” You can consciously relax the muscles: The face. The brow. The belly. Feel: Actively begin to investigate the wave of feeling generated by this relaxation. Where in your body do you feel sensation, energy, movement? Investigate. Move toward the sensations and feelings, rather than away from them. If intensity is present, meet it with breath and attention toward the grounding energy or points in the body. Watch: As you begin to settle, you may be able to notice the capacity to witness your experience, to be the observer. Allow yourself to identify with the observing self. The Witness stands at the center of experience, and is able to be with the experience, the sensation, the feeling, and not be overwhelmed by it or practice this capacity. Allow: Coach yourself to allow the wave of feeling to wash through you. No need to block anything. It’s all safe. It will not destroy or annihilate you. It will not hurt others. Practicing staying with your true experience just as it is. Watching it begin, shift, and end.
Note: If a lot of intensity is present, you can modify this instruction to allow and invite calming, soothing breath awareness and the gentle reminder: present moment, safe moment.
“When we are judging or criticizing our experience, we cannot be fully in it. In order to witness we have to be able to interact with what is, without needing to fight against it. Nothing has to get rejected or closed down. No part of me is any more right than any other part. I am not more invested in one than in the other. I am curious. Accepting. Allowing. Interested. Watching…There is an essential corollary to the first law of the witness, however. It goes like this: Eventually, we will react, we will judge, we will censor. But this is not a problem either! When we do react, judge, or censor, we can simply take that reaction as the object of the witness’s attention.” Stephen Cope
Consider ending practice with this gift of a poem by Wendell Berry:
What We Need Is Here
Geese appear high over us, pass, and the sky closes. Abandon, as in love or sleep, holds them to their way, clear in the ancient faith: what we need is here. And we pray, not for new earth or heaven, but to be quiet in heart, and in eye, clear. What we need is here.
Stressed out? Worried? Frustrated? Feel like it’s difficult to plan ahead? You are so normal. Even five to ten minutes of mindfulness or simple breathing practices can help. Really.
Below are the links for a webinar-Zoom presentation and the related Power Point requested by and offered to the Vermont Association of Area Agencies on Aging (V4A) on May 15, 2020 to support direct service professionals coping with the heightened stress of the pandemic. The presentation offers fundamental mindfulness concepts, skills, and practices that can support individuals with daily self-regulation and self-care.
So much has changed, and is still changing, day by day. While the unpredictable is always a part of life, our regular rhythms, habits, and choices that typically support a sense of control or agency break open in moments of profound disruption. Groundlessness appears and we are seemingly dropped into a new, arising reality.
The word pandemic comes from the Greek pandemos, pan (all) demos (people). Spreading across the globe and our nation, we are acutely aware of the vulnerabilities of those disproportionately affected (e.g., the elderly, the immune compromised, the poor and/or uninsured, the newly unemployed, the college students sent home, the imprisoned, the health care workers and grocery store clerks serving on the front lines, instead of “sheltering in place,” the children without adequate adult support and/or nutrition.) That said, all people know fear and worry in a worldwide health crisis.
This morning as I was reflecting on the disruption of daily life, defined as I/we knew it pre-pandemic, I realized again that mindfulness practices, like yoga and meditation are meant for these times, especially. While everything shifts around us and within us, one can go to their familiar mat and practice moving with breath and awareness and come home to the present moment. We can meet whatever is arising with curiosity, kindness, and care. This nurtures its own form of stability and continuity, in motion or stillness. Our non-judgmental breath holds the same invitations and metaphors as before, of receiving and releasing, freshness and unburdening; our mat is a zone of safety; and the body is a container that can only live in the present moment. This helps us to ground here, where a felt sense of safety can be accessed or cultivated. These practices also allow us to observe and pull back from the ruminating “what ifs” and catastrophic cliffs of of the wandering, spooked mind. These practices of homecoming allows us to look out and remember: The sky is still spacious and the ground is still solid under our feet. A loving, aware connection to self, and in extension shared with others through loving-kindness, can help to fortify us in an unfamiliar landscape. And we can practice again and again, accessing the peace within and our ever-present essential goodness.
May we all be safe. May we all be free of suffering. May we all be healed. May we all be at peace.
Thich Nhat Hanh
artist unknown (Yes, I can’t read the signature. Apologies.)