“Meditation can help us embrace our worries, our fear, our anger; and that is very healing. We let our own natural capacity of healing do the work.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
“Whatever has the nature of arising has the nature of ceasing.” ~The Buddha
“Meditation could be said to be the Art of Simplicity: simply sitting, simply breathing and simply being.” ~ Dilgo Khyentse Rimpoche
It’s a natural habit to compare ourselves. In yoga class, we may sneak a look at who can do the advanced posture, who is the most flexible, or who can sit the straightest and not move during meditation. We put ourselves and others in categories of achievement based on appearance. That student who can sit without moving while in full lotus: they’re a good meditator. I can only sit in a chair and I need to shift my posture; my practice isn’t as good. We all want to do things right and be accomplished, but our practice is not about looking perfect or living up to traditional ideals.
I was at a workshop last weekend on trauma-informed facilitation and it made me think about the relationship of our experience and how we practice now. Trauma-informed meditation takes into account that all of us have lived through either “small t trauma,” or “big T trauma.” For some folks, closing their eyes and exploring sensation in the body may trigger fear, discomfort, or even panic, if the experience activates memories of abuse. This workshop was helpful for me, as a facilitator, to understand that giving options and choices about how we meditate is a necessity Some of us feel panicky when we focus on the breath, or moving through the body during deep relaxation. Closing our eyes may make us feel vulnerable and unsafe and is not a prerequisite for meditation. Giving people the option to move, or leave the room, if big emotions arise can help provide a feeling of choice and control. Often for those who have survived trauma, bodily feelings are not accessible, as a learned protection. Not feeling sensation is as valid as feeling sensation. It is the quality of attention we bring to the experience and our concentration that is meditation, not the content.
Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that the past is alive in every cell of our body. When we listen to what is true for us, we will understand how we can sit, walk, and live to help us heal the past in the present. This is not to say, we do not ever do anything difficult. We challenge ourselves to grow in diligence and concentration, but always with kindness. It’s important for all of us to be aware that there are causes and conditions that create each individual. What is comfortable for me, may be unpleasant for someone else. For some of us, sound may be a good anchor for meditation, for others, the breath. We can recognize what helps us reach a state of concentration and clarity, without attaching to form. In the Tibetan tradition, meditators have a soft, lowered gaze. Some meditators prefer walking meditation to sitting, as the activity and concentration on the soles of the feet is a safe body sensation for them.
For all of us, we have certain practices that we connect with more than others. This week, please notice what helps you to feel safe during your practice. What is compassionate for you? Experiment with eyes open or closed, with using the breath as an anchor, or an exterior object, such as sound. Is it helpful to feel the shifting bodily sensations, or not? Take some time to get to know your world of practice. When we take the time to listen deeply to our own joy and difficulties, we water the seeds of healing the past with compassionare action, right now.
May we all trust our light,