Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Truest Thing

It’s Wednesday. On Wednesdays I post a blog, a note, a longer status update. I’ve been doing this weekly for over two years. This week I wrote a few things, but now- in this moment- they don’t feel true enough to warrant time and attention. They’re not untrue. . . . they’re just not close enough to the bone. . . .which is where I like to live and write.

Frustrated, I flip open The Dance to a meditation I put at the conclusion of the chapter titled "The Dance of Shared Solitudes." I want to share it here, because it's about finding, knowing and expressing what is most true for us in the moment. When I am beginning work with a new client I sometimes ask them to tell me in one sentence the most important or truest thing they feel I need to know about them right now.

Of course, what comes when we consider a question like this will change from day to day, moment to moment- which is part of its purpose- to remind us that there is no static solid self that remains unchanging.
While some days the truest or most important thing about you may be about how you are feeling emotionally, another day a physcial condition may take precedence over all else, or a part of your history may offer some essential insight. It would be a revealing daily practise to write such a sentence first thing in each morning or last thing each night- to see the ever-changing flow of our experience and identity unfold before us.

So here is the exercise. I would love to hear what comes for you if you decide to try it and are drawn to share in comments.

Meditation on the Truth of Who You Are

On the last day of a writing retreat I led a meditation asking each person to sit in silence and then write the truest statement possible about themselves. I sat for a moment, expecting to write and rewrite statements that would take me deeper and deeper into the essence of the truth about myself. But instead, after only a minute or two, I picked up my pen and wrote,” I am blessed.” I knew immediately that it was the truest statement I could write about myself in that moment.

Sit comfortably with a pen and paper nearby. Close your eyes and take three deep breaths in through your nose, exhaling out through your mouth. Let the muscles of your back relax with each exhale, feeling your shoulders drop and your weight settle into your hips and legs. With each exhale let go of any tiredness and tension in your body. Spend a few minutes just focusing your attention on your breath, following the exhale and the inhale, the rising and falling of your body. If thoughts come simply acknowledge them and let them go, bringing your attention back to your breath.

Now ask yourself, “What is the truest statement I could write about myself right now?” When you are ready, without judgement, pick up your paper and pen and write the statement that comes. Then, just sit with it. What feelings does it elicit? What thoughts? Be with any thoughts or feelings that come without getting caught in them- just watching them come and go. Ask yourself if there is a statement you could write that would be truer than the one you have written. If so, what is it? Write it. If not, simply stay with the statement you have written. Repeat this process with any new statements that come, simply sitting with the truth you know about yourself in this moment, without judgement. Bring your attention back to your breath and sit with the statements that come and any feelings they raise.

("Meditation" from The Dance by Oriah (c) 2001)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Changing Self-Talk

Some days, if we overheard someone speaking to another the way we sometimes semi-consciously speak to ourselves, we’d feel compelled to intervene, unable to bear the cruelty and shaming we’d overhear. Lately I’ve had two small revelations about negative self-talk.

At Christmas I received a small monetary gift from a relative and decided to treat myself to some face cream I like that does not fit my current budget. I bought the cream and went to see an afternoon movie. I was half way down the block after the movie before I realized I’d left the bag with the face cream in it in the theatre. And yes, when I ran back, the cream was gone.

Disappointed I started to walk home, and that’s when my inner critic began berating me. “How stupid was that! May as well have just burned the money!”

My impulse was to tell the voice to shut up. But, something- some moment of grace- made me try something different. Instead of telling the critic to be quiet (which I was suddenly aware was just going to drive it into my unconscious where the self-shaming could continue covertly) I listened without taking it personally, with a kind of detached curiosity. What really surprised me was the tone of the voice- the vehemence, the rage. What was that about?

I felt like I was eaves-dropping. And I got that the self-talk I was hearing was not really about the current situation. It had been formed and was being unconsciously fuelled by my childhood terror of the consequences of not doing everything perfectly. Understanding this I wanted to sooth the fear, remind myself that perfection is not a possibility (and feel the relief in that) and that the consequences of most of our mistakes (like forgetting a bag in the theatre) are not dire, are just part of life.

Mostly, what I learned that day was that it is possible to hear the inner critic with compassion and in so doing disarm any destruction this voice could do. When I tuned into and softened to the fear behind the shaming, the voice of inner critic just lost its steam, faltered in its conviction and stopped pretty quickly. We don't have to ward off negative self-talk, we just have to hear the pain and fear behind it so we can bring real tenderness and mercy to even this aspect of ourselves.

Which brings me to my second revelation about negative self-talk: we can change the destructive element of the inner critic with small vocabulary adjustments.

Yesterday, after filling my water pitcher, I poured a glass before all the water had gone through the filter, flooding the counter, floor and my lovely woolly socks with cold water. “Well,” I thought, “that was. . . . .” I could hear my inner voice winding up to say “stupid,” but I paused for just a nanosecond and chose differently, completing the sentence with “silly” instead.

And what a difference a word makes! It made me laugh out loud. It was silly. I was distracted and the consequence was a wet counter, floor and socks. No big deal! But calling ourselves “stupid” can become a “big deal,” can be indicative of a semi-conscious self-shaming that does real harm and robs life of its joy.

Sometimes something we’ve done has more serious consequences than lost face cream or wet socks. Real mistakes- choices that cause suffering for us or others- are inevitable in a human life. But if we can soften our negative self-talk and bring some compassion to the fear that drives it when the consequences are small, perhaps we will be more capable of not putting ourselves or others out of our hearts when the consequences are more serious.

And, seeing lost face cream and wet socks as opportunities to practise softer self-talk, I am grateful for the silly mistakes I sometimes make.

Oriah (c) 2012

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wanting To Be Understood

I’m always curious about where I (or others) take action unconsciously. As many of you know I’ve decided to slow down a little because of recent health challenges. Amongst other things this has involved posting on Facebook only when the impulse to do so comes in the moment, and (more importantly) not responding to comments. Although I’ve enjoyed the interactive threads on FB, I realized that responding can distract me from my own inner rhythm and really speed me up. So I am (mostly) practising not responding for the moment.

What’s interesting is to notice when it’s hard not to respond. Sometimes, when someone has shared something difficult about their own life, I want to reach out and let them know their struggle has been heard, and prayers and love are being sent. But I’m doing okay with just taking a moment to send the prayers and love, trusting that is enough.

Interestingly, what’s more challenging, is not responding when I feel I’ve been misunderstood. Recently someone posted a brief quote from one of my books on their page and a conversation ensued. Several comments took issue with what they thought the quote had or had not said- and my fingers itched for the keyboard.

Let me be clear: I didn’t want to respond because someone was disagreeing with me (I’m actually okay with letting disagreements be) but because I felt what I’d written was being misunderstood.

And this got me thinking about attachment to being understood, to having our words or actions comprehended as meaning what we intended them to mean. It’s understandable really, and I’m not arguing against clear communication, (particularly in intimate relationships where misunderstanding can lead to serious difficulties and unnecessary suffering.) The challenge is consciously and wisely discerning where and when and how we expend energy to make sure we are understood.

The meaning taken from something said or done reflects, at least in part, the recipient’s frame of mind and heart. A “misunderstood” meaning may be what’s needed at this moment, and may even be wiser and more insightful than anything intended. (Many folks have told me that something I said or wrote was a catalyst for desired change in their lives- and sometimes, when they tell me what it was, I have absolutely no memory of ever having thought, let alone said or written such a thing. And sometimes it’s not even something with which I am in alignment! But that’s what they heard, and for them it seemed true and useful in that moment- and thank goodness for that.)

Attempting to make sure we are never misunderstood, wanting and trying to be understood everywhere with everyone is impossible and exhausting. Being aware of the impulse to correct what we perceive as being misunderstood gives us a choice, the chance to ask: Is this a place where I need to make sure I am understood as I intended or want to be? Perhaps not surprisingly, there are in fact very few places where the answer to that question is an unequivocal, “Yes!” Sometimes, just letting others have their own responses, reactions and understandings- even if they don't reflect the meaning we intended- is simply wiser.

Oriah (c) 2012

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

The Subtle Seduction of Speeding Up

Last week I had a “cardiac incident.” I want to write “little” or “minor” as qualifier and reassurance but one doctor called it “major,” and I admit the pain, duration and lack of any discernable warning did not feel minor. In the last few years it’s been determined that my heart has intermittent “electrical” problems. It’s as if too much current is moving through too small a wire. The risk is that these energy surges could harm the heart muscle- ie.- burn out my motor.

Apologies for the mechanical metaphor- we are not machines- but energetically this is at least an approximation. Physical factors are being investigated, holistic solutions sought, and sound advice will be followed. I am feeling good, just very tired since the "incident."

But my question is: What is my heart telling me?

The obvious answer would be to slow down- but, in part because I have a chronic illness (CFS/ME,) I lead one of the slowest-paced lives I know. Really! I have not travelled in years, I rarely go out after 6 pm, I begin my days with my practise of prayer, meditation and gentle yoga. I have slowed down!

Or have I?

How am I seduced into speediness? I speed up when I become over-stimulated by input, over-engaged in often enjoyable interactions, external or internal. (Yes, monkey mind can interact with itself endlessly!) I know this- it’s why I do not have television, socialize infrequently and avoid shopping malls and large convention centres. But I underestimate how little it sometimes takes to speed me up. This week, having announced I may not be on Facebook as frequently, I’ve posted small in-the-moment observations. I’ve discovered I can follow my own slow rhythm IF I do not read and respond (immediately) to all the comments, do not follow the newsfeed or visit other pages.

Something in this points to why I allow/create overstimulation- I have an overblown sense of responsibility (if not, at times, an outright compulsion) to engage with and respond to everything/ everyone that crosses my path. Sometimes it doesn’t feel like a choice. But it is. And right now I choose to offer what I can, minimize what I take in and where I will respond, defaulting to less-is-more.

The second and not unrelated thing I notice is how often I feel compelled to hand over hand my way up out of a pit of weariness to meet (mostly my own) expectations of how and when something needs to be done. And guess what I use to pull myself away from the desire to simply sit or follow the impulse of the moment? Yep- external stimuli- reading blogs or perusing posts on FB, listening to the news, or talking with a friend on the phone. . . .

My heart is not happy about this, not happy with the over-stimulation, not happy about my semi-conscious reaching and racing and pushing and prodding riding roughshod over conscious decisions to slow down.

This isn’t the whole story- there are deeper narratives my heart is telling, but I’ll allow those to unfold over time. For now I surrender to slowing down on a deeper level- consciously limiting input and engagement; cultivating awareness of using stimuli to mask uncomfortable weariness; enjoying slow walks, classical music, the scent of lavender. . . .

So, that’s how my new year is unfolding. . . . . slowly. And for this, I am grateful.

Oriah (c) 2012