Wednesday, July 15, 2009

MPOW #25 - Pain

"If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment." - Marcus Aurelius Antoninus
As I sank deeply into a long held pose in yoga, I felt an intensity in my hips that pointed to muscle blockage, often a flag of an emotional blockage or unresolved pain. Through this, it is so obvious to know the relationship of who we are. It's beautiful that rather than a body with a mind, or a mind with a body, or a spirit with both, we are more complete than that. Several aspects compose into the whole that is us, though none of it is "us" in itself, and anything can change and still be us. I witness four aspects: the physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual. Developing these aspects together is vital for an existence of Balance and Moderation.
Often we have a difficult time balancing these, and instead focus on the one with which we identify. Depending on the nature of your identification, you may find focusing on it as easy or fun, or you may find it as a futile uphill battle to plug an insecurity in that area. For instance on the latter, my friend recently told me about a personal growth seminar where there was a multi-PhD Nobel laureate who just realized that he spent his life trying to prove his intelligence after being told he was stupid at a young age. Realizing this and freeing himself from it allows him to be joyful with his achievements and step down off the treadmill of frustration. Either way, there's nothing wrong with such identification, which provides an opportunity for mindfulness and personal growth.

We all know about physical pain, and we've begun to understand pain as a metaphor for our emotional states. These two types of pain are often what hold us back from spiritual transcendence. I see the four dimension shapes as more of a tetrahedron (3-sided pyramid) with the physical, emotional, and intellectual forming the base that the spiritual rests above. When we are unbalanced in the base, when there are acute issues (pains) in the base, it pulls us away from the spirituality in the top.
Eckhart Tolle defines the painbody concept as "an accumulation of old emotional pain...that part of us that is addicted to negativity and unhappiness." Such an addiction is an important aspect to note. In Tender is the Night, F. Scott Fitzgerald notes on the alluring power of pain: "Sometimes it is harder to deprive oneself of a pain than of a pleasure."
Mindfulness Practice of the Week
As this week's mindfulness practice, please take some time to explore your pains gently and curiously. It will not always be joyful, though I hope you will find it sublime in other ways. Find a physical sensation that is tight and stretch into that (perhaps with a yoga position). A hip stretch or a hamstring stretch is often ripe for this exercise.
My Experience
In MPOW #19 - Exploring Your Edge, I wrote about downward-facing pigeon pose (Adho Mukha Kapotasana). I write about this a lot because it is extremely powerful for me. My hips are probably the least flexible part of my body. A lifetime of overusing my legs has led to very tight legs and hips, and all of my dancing doesn't help! I remember my first yin yoga class primarily because of the pigeon pose. I did not get very deep, and we held this for a long time. I couldn't wait to get out of it, there was so much pain in my hips (but not in my knees, danger danger). Yogini Saiko was gentle and affirming, reminding the room that we didn't need to get to a particular place, we were already there. This moment on the yoga mat, in this pose was our gift to ourselves. As long as we were in this pose, we would gain benefit especially if we could breath normally and stop fidgetting. This was only going to be a short time, so opening up to it was only temporary, but the benefit would be forever. I felt so much pain in my tight hips trying to open that I'm surprised that I heard. Likely this was because I was listening intently for the signal to leave this crazy pose. It felt like forever. It was really 7 minutes. Then, when I thought that we were there, she had us thread the needle to one side. oh my gosh! It went even deeper! I started to meditate on the pain. My entire universe was filled with pain. Eventually, I because the pain itself. This was when it stopped hurting. It's hard to feel pain when that's what you are. You are the pain being inflicted on another body. Eventually, and this was one of the most transcendental experiences that I've ever had, I became pure awareness that was watching the pain and the body from a removed place off to the side. I was witness to pain and stretching, to opening.

When we eventually transitioned to the other leg, I spent a moment experiencing pain again. As I breathed into the pain in the hips, it just deepened and deepened. The pain washed over me. Though, the pilot light was already lit, and my awareness became free of pain and body. I find that the more I experience these states, my mind and body remember how to return to them.

The hips are said to store a lot of emotional pain and stress, and that the process of stretching the hips brings this to the surface. When all of the pains release as one, we may raise to our spiritual existence. Once I became happy with my progress, I returned to my body and the pain returned to it. Ahh, that was conceit, a trapping of the ego. That isn't the goal. Rewarding and loving yourself and others is the goal. The transcendence and complete opening can only come when you don't want it, though have prepared yourself for it.

Monday, July 06, 2009

MPOW #24 - Witnessing Self-Judgment

“Our opinions of ourselves actually get in the way of being ourselves.” -Jon Kabat-Zinn, 2007

My friend and fellow salsa and tango dancer recently shared this. It's such a simple and powerful notion to reflect on. For fun, I'll look at it in the context of a dance class. A dance class can often function as a individual or couples therapy, and like any really effective therapy session often involves a meditative state.

Early in a dance class series, you may already be judging yourself: "I'm too fat." "I'm too weak." "I'm not attractive enough to be here." "I'm wearing the wrong clothes and look sloppy." "I'm the best looking person here." "I'm already a better dancer than these other people; I shouldn't be here." "I'm really good at this already."

Dancing is just an idea here, and you may feel this in any class or any gathering. You quickly catch yourself judging yourself or others. Over time, you may begin to be down on yourself for where you are or over-inflate your internal image and miss opportunities. Remember that Stories Define Reality, so tread cautiously where you enter story-ground.

Sometimes, in a dance class though, if you're eager and comfortable being there, you're often in a wide-open state of learning, receptive to teaching and improvements without judging yourself. This is often referred to as "beginner's mind" or shoshin in the Zen tradition. This is an important state to cultivate at all times, no matter your skill level: "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few."

The less that you know about yourself, the less that you box yourself in to a particular definition. Our authentic selves are all limitless and expansive, the more that we form opinions or place definitions on ourselves, the tighter the box that we have created. We begin to limit our infinite nature to something that we can understand or explain. Even if we are being positive, this actually does us a disservice by both making us narrow and also less likely to learn.

The Mindfulness Practice of the Week - Witnessing Self-Judgment

For this week, take some time to explore how you define yourself. You can do this while doing something of any skill level. Likely, it is easier to notice when we beat ourselves up. So, throughout the week, take some time to do something which which you're uncomfortable, such as stripping down in front of a full length mirror, and deeply examine yourself. Are you judging? Are you noticing flaws? See if you can recognize the judgments that you can make about yourself, and let them go. What do you notice as you do this? What are the concepts that you repeat.

Be gentle with yourself as you notice these things. In From Self-Judgment to Being Ourselves Dianna Winston reminds us how normal it is to engage in this comparison:
The Buddha had a word for comparison, the word màna, which means pride or ego or thinking too much about ourselves. A lot of our judgments say “I’m greater than, I’m lesser than, or I’m equal to this or that,” and this is just màna— pride or ego coming up in the mind. The thing that I find so interesting about màna is that 2500 years ago, when the Buddha was alive, people were judging themselves just as much as we do now. They were judging others, and comparing everything. When I remember this I think, “Oh, actually ‘comparing mind’ is normal. Everybody does it.”

See if you can let them evaporate and just be Comfortable with What Is.

This post is dedicated to my friend and dancing psychologist Solomon Kurz.

Saturday, July 04, 2009

On Twitter @edgessey

I'm definitely not bleeding edge nor even an early adopter on this tide. However, I've finally joined Twitter, over two months after Oprah. I'm not really sure what I'll get out of it, and that's actually the largest motivation. I've been reading (e.g. Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody), talking with friends, and watching from the sidelines to try to figure out the benefits and what this is all about. The most compelling argument so far has been: "you need to try it to really get it."

Some people have expressed interest in following me, including an anonymous commenter on this blog. Being that my primary goal is to contribute to my sangha (sanskrit, basically meaning community, the community to which one shares), and Twitter is a good way to reach people in short bursts, I suspect and hope that this may be a great stream for it. Many of the same goals from Why I Blog apply here, too.

My Twitter Profile Follow me @edgessey

What I'll Tweet

Between blog posts, I write lots of notes about what to post, collect lots of quotations, start on lots of ideas that either never make it to the blog or are sitting as drafts to later be published. Some of these are short bites that strike me in some way. These will likely be the types of things that I post. The sparks that move me, but I don't quite have enough meat for a blog post.

Looking around Twitter, I see that people talk about themselves, what they're doing, bits of news, restaurant micro-reviews, etc. Just like there are so many things to cover in a blog, there are also infiinite things to cover on Twitter. My tweets will likely be morsels that I find wise, profound, inspiring, inspired, , moving, beautiful, heartfelt, sublime, earnest, or pognantly hilarious.

I look forward to seeing where this goes. I hope that you choose to follow me and steer me in directions that are interesting to you, too.

This post is dedicated to Josh Phillips, bleeding edge maestro, who finally convinced me to join Twitter.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Haiku #6 - On the Bus

Rush hour herds workers
Throught knots. Crossing a bridge, we
Look from screens--serene.