Practice Diary: What a feeling

cooldownI taught an open meditation class this past weekend in Chelsea and it gave me a real opportunity to share a lot of the deeper work I do in my own practice. I gave an instruction that has become absolutely fundamental to my personal work of not being a total neurotic mess but brought up some questions at the end.

After some basic instruction I said, “If there is a thought that does not want to go, do not label it or judge it, but relax with it, breathe with it, and feel the actual sensation of this thought, this feeling in your body.” So often we lose total control of our sense organs and have an interaction with reality that is wholly constructed in the mind. We forget what it’s like to see, feel, hear, touch, taste what is actually happening in the moment. It becomes coloured by our perception of it based on past events or anxieties about the future. We label it good or bad and layer on all sorts of commentary casting ourselves as hero or villain.  We try to deal with the thought, which is a sneaky little bugger, hiding away, changing form, growing as we give it more attention and mind-space. Really, we need to drop down a level and feel in our body.

To bring this out of the abstract, for years I’ve suffered with pretty persistent low-level generalised anxiety. When the right conditions come together, that can mean heart-pounding everything else must stop anxiety. Triggers are big and small, sometimes what should rightfully cause an emotional and bodily response, and more often than not pretty silly. But most of what I feel is in the body. The heart pounding. The change of breath. The exhaustion and depression after it has rocked its way through me. But for years I would get totally hooked into the storyline on top.  I would assign blame to someone else, or usually myself. I would punish myself or fall into despair about it. But learning to work with the bodily sensation, and manage it through asana, meditation, exercise, and diet has been a total life shift.yotlmeditation2

What I’m trying to teach and share is that we can meditate or get lost in our thoughts and get totally hooked into some story and grievance in our head. Something that pisses us off or makes us ache with sad feeling. Or whatever it may be. But when we stay with the labels and the story, or, even worse, try to suppress them, we’re missing the transformative and healing potential of just learning to relax and sit with the underlying sensations and energies of the the pain or anxiety. Of feeling it, maybe in its most honest form, for perhaps the first time. Maybe it will go. Maybe it will be transformed. Maybe it will require hours of sitting with. But it will be living in reality and finding peace with it. It is a brave and essential act for living fully in this moment and this life.

Of course, asana practice in this is an absolute requirement for fine tuning my nervous system and bodily perception enough to be able to work with deep feeling in my body. Additionally, it can be an exhaust valve for whatever gets built up. Try this approach for yourself and see what happens.