Recognising What Is True
This is part one of a four part series on Mindfulness and Self-Compassion.
Using the acronym RAIN we can bring self-awareness and self-compassion to our lives to create healing and transformation. RAIN stands for Recognising, Allowing, Investigating with kindness and Nurturing.
This post is part one: Recognising.
For six months following on from the break up of a long-term relationship, recognising what was going on inside of me resulted in a flood of tears.
There was so much grief and sadness and also underneath all of that I acknowledged a sense of shame and unworthiness. I was previously unaware of it but sub-consciously I was believing that I was unlovable or that something was wrong with me, why else would this relationship of failed?
Although logically I could reason that this wasn't true "I have so many people in my life that love me...", or "we were just too different..." it was a belief (whether true or not) that needed healing. Believing that there was something wrong with me was creating strong feelings of shame and unworthiness that were preventing me living a life aligned with what most mattered in my heart. It was causing more suffering on top of the grief.
It took many, many months of recognising this feeling being here and also allowing it to be present without trying to push it away. Without judging it (or myself for feeling this way), but making space and bringing a very tender and kind understanding to it. Initially these feelings came up multiple times per day and it was usually a painful, raw experience that required me to bravely look at what was going on moment-by-moment.
Without first bringing this deep sense of unworthiness into my awareness by tuning in to what I was feeling in my body, I was either going to suppress it and then make decisions outside of my awareness, such as enter into a new relationship to try and prove to myself I'm lovable, or become anxious about the fact that I was believing "I am not good enough as I am now" and to go on a mission seeking approval from others. The never ending quest of self-improvement so that one day I'll be good enough. I'm sure you know what that feels like in our current world of marketing and advertising!
There are days where I still feel I'm not good enough and this old pattern gets triggered - sometimes I feel like I'm not doing enough as a friend, sibling, daughter, Physio or retreat leader... It could be a different circumstance that triggers it but the pattern is usually the same.
I still have to tune in and recognise when it happens but with increased awareness it doesn't consume my decisions and actions. I can recognise when I may be making choices from this place (I need to prove, achieve, work harder, make-up for something) rather than from my true heart aspirations - which revolve around what I choose when I'm not believing that something is wrong with me. These heart aspirations align with my highest values and what most matters to me.
We strive for perfection when we are trying to push away a sense of "not enough-ness" to avoid the vulnerability or anxiety that we may have to face if we recognise what we're truly feeling.
The more rounds of practice we do of recognising and allowing our true feelings, the quicker we can recognise the typical patterns that cause us to get caught in difficult emotions and actually make friends with them. Whether we like it or not, these "shadows" as Psychologist Carl Jung referred to them are part of us too.
With increased awareness by paying attention to our feelings we are empowered to de-condition the strong emotional reactions that are caused when we believe these type of thoughts. The brain was once thought of as a fixed structure but we now know the brain is "plastic" so we can actually change thought patterns each time we shine the light of awareness on our reactive patterns. The more we bring self-compassion and a kind curiosity to these feelings, the more we can form new pathways (thought patterns) and true transformation of our lives can occur.
We are conditioned to "be positive" and to "be strong", but why not be real? Why not acknowledge that all of our feelings - the pleasant and unpleasant, the joy and the sadness - are a part of life too. They are not wrong. They don't need to be fixed. They come and they go just like weather patterns.
This radically honest self-recognition also allows us to be our own source of compassion and care in stressful times.
Nothing can be more difficult than when we are trying to express our suffering to someone and they try to re-frame our situation in a new light without acknowledging what we're truly saying. It's not that we don't care when someone is suffering but when we see another in difficult times it can be hard for us to practice deep listening. We want to jump in with a solution or offer some words to help so that we can fix that sadness as soon as possible because it makes us feel uncomfortable.
Sometimes all we need is just compassionate listening and it is a true gift to give that to somebody else, even if it stirs up difficult emotions for the listener. No advice, no interpretations, just the presence of another acknowledging that they see our pain.
This is the power of Mindfulness. When we take the time to recognise what is really going on for us we can give compassion to ourselves. Research has shown that healing can take place whether it's ourselves or someone else giving us the compassion and care we need to break through difficult times.
It's not that we want to disconnect from others and guard our emotions - we need each other - but when we recognise and allow our situation moment-to-moment we can come home to ourselves at any given time. When we feel stressed, disconnected or emotional we can tend to our own wounds.
We can also deepen our relationships with others through Mindfulness. When we are able to recognise our imperfections and drop the quest for self-improvement we can share with others our most authentic self. We can communicate our vulnerabilities and our fears. This provides an opportunity to become closer with others rather than only sharing our "best" side or what's on the surface. Authentic and meaningful connections lead to us living more wholeheartedly and there is even research to show that this is what helps us to live longer, healthier lives! It is essential for our physical, emotional and mental well-being. For me such connections are my number one #heartaspiration.
Mindfulness also provides us with a wisdom from our own heart. It's not that we want to silence our minds or stop thoughts, but when we take the time to pause we can listen to the voice that has more insight than our usual daily thoughts. When we're busily going about our typical day we may spend so much time planning our future or remembering the past that we're not fully in the present moment... We may be on autopilot not really paying attention to the moment but just getting through our day to get to the "next thing". Tuning into our bodies is a profound way of bringing our awareness into the present moment. To feel deeper, to taste more, to really see what is going on around us.
It allows us to live with more open-heartedness, especially in times where we may make a reactive fear based decision. If for example someone makes a comment to us that triggers a deep sense of shame, out of fear we may reactively reply in an angry, hurtful way before we've had a moment to reflect what the intention behind their comment was. Or we may close off and stop communicating at all. We must first recognise how that situation made us feel and then we can share what is true for us with more wisdom.
We all have sides of ourselves that we feel vulnerable about or would prefer not to share. We all have thoughts and beliefs that can trigger patterns which lead to suffering. Wholehearted, loving connections with ourselves and others are about acknowledging what is going on for us and for others moment-to-moment, and meeting that experience with a very kind and compassionate attention. This is the basis for true healing and transformation and is the kindest gift we can give to ourselves and to others.
Recognising Practice - Guided Meditation
Recognising involves pausing for a moment and asking yourself: "What is going on inside me right now?"
Begin by taking three long breaths, inhaling for 4 seconds and exhaling for 4 seconds.
You might bring to mind a situation in your life at the moment that you know creates some turbulent feelings inside your body. As you think about this, scan through your body and feel whatever sensations are arising with a kindness and a curiosity.
Is there a tightness in your shoulders? A gripping at your throat? A burning in your chest? A nervousness in your belly?
Just see if you can allow everything to be there just as it is. Then, bring an attention to the point where you feel the emotions the most predominantly - can you name what this emotion is? Is it fear? Or shame? Or sadness? Just see if you can recognise and name what is true for you.
If your mind starts to drift off this is completely normal. Just see if you can bring yourself back to the sensations within your body, noticing whatever is arising moment-by-moment.
Can you allow sensations to come and go just like weather patterns? See how those sensations change when you say "yes" to them... Not to cover over them but simply to make space for them. Do the sensations change?
For one final minute just see if you can gently breath into the sensations.
In times of difficult emotions this means turning towards the pain.
It means being willing to feel what is uncomfortable, what hurts and what we may want to cover over - and that takes courage and vulnerability.
This process may go against what feels like the normal thing to do. We may want to push away or try to fix our lives to get rid our of our unrecognised pain. To logically reason why the stressful situation is not worth getting upset by, or we may project that fear onto someone else and blame them for our feelings.
And the truth is for many of us when we do turn towards what is going on inside our body it may be raw, emotional, physical pain. I commend anyone brave enough to take the step to recognise and honour their true feelings - no matter how painful. Namaste.
If you would like to start using meditation to help with stress management and coping with your emotions, feelings of overwhelm or anxiety but are not sure where to begin, our Summer Day Retreat on February 25th 2017 may be just the thing!
We are delighted to have Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction expert Christine Hiltner as our guest speaker for the day, joining us at the beautiful Highfield House in Stanley.
Learn how mindfulness and meditation can help enrich your life and your relationships and improve your health and well-being.