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Seize This Moment

I leave for retreat today. One month in silence at Insight Meditation Society, in the snowy woods of central Massachusetts. This will be the longest retreat I have done, and a deep dive into my personal exploration.

I'm continually humbled by the courage it takes to thoroughly explore, to see things through, to go all-in. But as the fleeting-ness of life becomes more apparent, so too does my commitment to engaging fully.

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“For Us, There Is Only The Trying”

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the different ways people relate to the explorations of their lives. Certain underlying views can significantly inhibit a person’s sense of skill, capacity and security in exploring (in careers, partnerships, etc.). These views tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies, leading to timid, incomplete ventures and unreliability.

But they are not objective truth. (Is there such a thing?) They are merely colored lenses we were long ago conditioned to wear. We can treat these views as meditation objects, watching the distortions arise and pass instead of assuming that we are seeing things the way they are.

As I’ve worked with my own distortions, I’ve realized: more than keeping me from succeeding, they keep me from trying. When self-doubt and fear prevent me from being both-feet-in, I never get to know if I would have succeeded or not. In other words, giving in to fear of failure ensures failure.

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There Is Nothing Wrong With You

There is nothing wrong with the part of you that feels sad, scared, or alone. There is nothing wrong with the part of you that doesn’t understand. There is nothing wrong with the part of you that desires things or people. There is nothing wrong with the part of you that wants to run from others, even when what you need most is to connect.

There is nothing wrong with the overachiever, the inner critic, the unworthy one. The overwhelmed, the humorless, or the numb. There is nothing wrong with the jealous one, the selfish one, the one who is ashamed. There is nothing wrong with the part of you that thinks there is something wrong.

All these orphaned parts, they don’t need to be fixed. They need to be allowed in. They need to be lovingly led back from exile, or gently coaxed down from the soapbox, and brought to their seats at the table. With acceptance and understanding, we earn their trust. With trust, they settle into balance, no longer distorted in their influence.

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Memory & Forgiveness

I was doing forgiveness practice this morning, and an old, important memory from childhood arose.  It was an uncomfortable exchange in which I felt scared and sad—one of tens of thousands of early experiences (good and bad) which mix together to form the overall sense of self and world that underlies an adult personality.

We often fondly remember the good moments of our early years, but we file away the painful ones like unwanted boxes in the attic. It seems as though we can rid ourselves of these experiences, but as long as we hold resentment and blame about what has happened, we are influenced by those holdings. They consistently, subtly affect our views and our behavior (check out this article for more info).

So let’s take the blame out of what happened, however insignificant: Is it your fault that you adapted to the imperfect conditions of your childhood in the way you needed to at 1, 2, 3 years old? Is it your parents fault that they operated with the conditioning they were given—even with the best of intentions, falling back to sometimes misguided habits in the overwhelm of child-rearing?  Is it your grandparents fault for giving that conditioning to your parents?  Is it your great grandparents fault?

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Spatial and Temporal Freedom

Mauritius_beachTwo handy ways to look at “freedom” from a mindfulness perspective…

Spatial Freedom
We feel something unpleasant in a given moment (e.g. a stubbed toe or a wave of anger). It’s the habit of the human nervous system to zoom in on the point of discomfort, excluding all else. As a result, we are quickly overwhelmed and seek external distractions (e.g. Facebook). A great deal of freedom can be gained over time by retraining the body-mind to zoom out, feeling into the space around the discomfort (whether emotional or physical). We begin to notice all the parts of the body which aren’t in pain. Generally, this diminishes the intensity of the discomfort, allowing us to stay in the present moment (and off of Facebook).

Temporal Freedom
Another thing we might notice, in staying with discomfort, is that it doesn’t just get worse and worse forever. We tend to run for the hills at the first sign of unpleasantness, but all sensations come in waves; they arise, crest, and pass away. We can retrain ourselves to stay with unpleasant sensations long enough to watch them recede and disappear. This applies to addictive cravings as well.

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