Part 4: Create Transformation

Part 4: Create Transformation

While it's possible to have a random experience that transforms you overnight, in most cases, change and transformation happens over time as you change your "bad" habits.

You can either passively allow your life to be shaped by the circumstances and people around you (which often leads to unhappiness), or you can actively and consciously shape your life with the method I'll describe below. The choice is yours. 

The transformation process I'm about to describe becomes much easier and more smooth when you get into the habit of also consistently practicing the three steps we covered earlier in the training series. They are:

Read More

Part 3: Gain Understanding

Welcome to the 4 Part blog series "Meditation for Transformation" where I'll teach you my 4 step process to take your meditation practice beyond simple relaxation (and use it to get unstuck in any aspect of your life and create deep, lasting change). 

If you follow these 4 steps (and do the 4 types of meditation), you'll have a simple process and the tools to calm your mind, uncover why you're feeling stuck in repetitive patterns, heal those patterns, and actively create the life circumstances you desire.

If you missed them, you can get caught up with Part 1: Calm Your Mind and Emotions or Part 2: Befriend Your Obstacles.

Now let's dive into Part 3 (or step 3) on the Meditation for Transformation journey!

Step 3: Gain Understanding

So to quickly recap, in Part 1 you learned how to calm your mind and emotions, because the insight, clarity, or good decisions necessary for change don't happen from a mentally or emotionally chaotic state. Part 2 taught you how to sit with your obstacles and discomfort (rather than running away from them), because your discomfort holds vital clues as to how to get unstuck and ultimately change your life for good.

Knowledge is Power.

There's the saying that knowledge is power, and that's exactly what this next step in the "Meditation for Transformation" process is all about. Now that you've cultivated the capacity to be with your painful emotions or sensations, you can finally gain knowledge and start understanding what caused them to arise in the first place.

And once you understand the roots of your pain, stuckness, and discontent, you have the power to transform it!

This step of "Gain Understanding" unfolds in two stages.

  1. You take responsibility for your own suffering
  2. You begin to understand your role and the causes of your suffering (pain, discontent, stuckness)

Taking Responsibility For Your own Suffering

Before you can understand what's causing your pain and discontent, you must take responsibility (versus feeling victimized) for the painful things you're experiencing. We often feel like our suffering and crappy circumstances are caused by others or a stroke of bad luck. But the truth is, in most cases we've played a hand at creating them. I absolutely love how Chiara Mazzucco of BoldSelf.com articulates this.

Each metal bar, carefully built to enclose us in these little cages we create, is placed there by us...This world we create in our own minds, made of limitations and excuses. We place blame on others and on the circumstances we’re in, when really, we’re still the ones responsible for its creation.
— Chiara Mazzucco @ BoldSelf.com

 

This isn't about turning the blame from universe or others onto ourselves. But rather, it's about taking back POWER in our lives.  

You see, once you take responsibility for your role in creating your own undesired life circumstances and suffering, you gain the power to uncreate those crappy circumstances, and recreate them however you'd like!

POWER MANTRA

MANTRA >> I release being a powerless victim to others and my circumstances, and I take full responsibility for my own suffering. And with that, I take back my power to create the life and circumstances I choose. 

Understanding Your Role and the Causes of Your Suffering

Ok so you've taken responsibility for your own life and suffering. Now it's time to understand your role and the roots of your suffering. What have you been doing (or neglecting) that has led to your feelings of stuckness or unhappiness? What thoughts have you been thinking? What actions have you been taking (or not taking)? What beliefs are hidden in your subconscious mind? These are all things that can keep you stuck if they aren't aligned with your true-self or the circumstances you want to create in your life.

We [must] look deeply into the nature of our suffering to see what kinds of nutriments we have been feeding it. How have we lived in the last few years...months...that have contributed to our suffering?
— Thich Nhat Hanh

And understanding is best achieved through REFLECTION PRACTICES

Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.
— Margaret J. Wheatley

Here are 4 powerful (yet simple) reflection practices you can start doing right now to gain understanding into why you're feeling stuck or unhappy in love, work, or some other aspect of your life. 

1. Self-Inquiry Meditation

Do a few minutes of the concentration breathing practice you learned in Part 1 to focus and calm your mind. Then simply ask yourself,

  • "How have I created my own suffering and kept myself stuck today (this week, etc)?" 
  • "What actions, thoughts, or beliefs am I repeating that are unaligned with my true-self and my ideal circumstances? 
  • Or if you want clarity around a specific painful or stuck situation, "How am I creating my own suffering and keeping myself stuck feeling jealous and emotionally reactive in my relationship?" (for example).

Sit with these questions, and see what insights come up. Don't underestimate the power of simply taking time to ask yourself some good questions and listening openly for the answers.

And since deeply understanding the causes of your unhappiness and struggles tends to happen over time, it's very helpful to write down the insights you get from your reflection practice, so you can watch how your clarity unfolds in layers.

2. Stream of Consciousness Journaling

Grab a journal, focus and quiet your mind, and just write. Don't sensor or judge what comes out. Simply write anything that wants to be expressed. This is a very simple and powerful practice that can feel quite difficult when starting out, because of our tendency to overcomplicate things. But the more you can just surrender into and trust the simple process and power of writing in this way, the more insight that will bubble up from it.

In her famous book, The Artist's Way, Julia Cameron talks about a writing process she's coined "morning pages" where you free-write three full notebook pages daily. She too swears by the power of simply taking time daily to write from your stream of consciousness. Whether you just grab your journal and write until you feel complete, set a timer and write until it goes off, or write a set number of pages daily, you'll get some great clarity from this writing process. 

3. Conscious Conversations

If you sit with a friend and speak openly, determined to discover the roots of your suffering, eventually you will see them clearly. But if you keep your suffering to yourself, it might grow bigger every day.
— Thich Nhat Hanh

Another powerful tool to cultivating deep understanding of issues or stuck areas in your life is through talking it out with a friend or mentor. I have a few friends I can successfully talk through my struggles with. Here's the key to successful conscious conversations.

  • You're clear with yourself and them that you want to understand the roots of your issue, not wallow in it (sometimes venting is helpful too, but be clear that's what you're doing and eventually shift to seeking solutions).
  • Make sure you have these chats with friends that are also on a spiritual path, so they can help add wisdom and insight- or at least hold the space for it. Some friends tend to feed into the drama rather than help hold space for answers- they may not be the best candidates for these conversations. 

TAKE ACTION >> Make a list of friends who you can reach out to for these conversations. It's ok if it's just 1 or 2 people.

If you can't think of anyone, it may be time to cultivate more spiritual community in your life. A good place to start is by finding a local place that has spiritual or wellness type classes. You can try a local yoga or meditation studio, or even a new-age type shop. You may also consider a women's circle. I've been part of online and live ones, and have met some amazing spiritual sisters that way! My Facebook community is the perfect place to start to reach out to and connect with me and others on a spiritual path. 

4. Using Oracles 

And lastly, my absolute favorite way to gain understanding and clarity when I'm feeling totally stuck in victim mode, or if I can't uncover the roots of a painful pattern or obstacle, is through playing with an oracle system. You may have heard of tarot cards, angel cards (or another oracle card deck), or the I Ching. 

Using oracles is sort of a clarity hack when you're so blocked that the other reflection practices aren't helping you gain understanding.

I was introduced to a powerful oracle system called the "I Ching" many years ago and loved it so much I now do private I Ching Clarity Sessions. Tarot and the I Ching are very powerful systems but can have a bit of a learning curve when using them yourself for the first time. But you can easily use the power of oracles on your own, right now, by using a simple oracle card deck or phone app!

TAKE ACTION >> Begin to gain insight and understanding into an obstacle or painful pattern you uncovered during your mindfulness practice from Part 2. Try one (or all) of the reflection practices above to discover the thoughts, beliefs, or actions that are keeping you stuck.

Since understanding is the gateway to transformation, once you start to gain some clarity here, you're well on your way to shifting those stuck patterns and circumstances. And in Part 4, you'll learn a powerful meditation technique and process to take these insights (you've gotten through reflection) and use them to finally start transforming your life! 

If you haven't already, be sure to sign up below so you don't miss the final Part of this training series.

Part 2: Befriend your Obstacles

Welcome to the 4 Part blog series "Meditation for Transformation" where I'll teach you my 4 step process to take your meditation practice beyond simple relaxation (and into the realm of deep, lasting life transformation). 

If you follow these 4 steps (and do the 4 types of meditation), you'll have a simple process and the tools to calm your mind, uncover why you're feeling stuck in repetitive patterns, heal those patterns, and actively create the life circumstances you desire.

If you missed Part 1, you can get caught up here. 

Now let's dive into Part 2 (or step 2) on the Meditation for Transformation journey!

Step 2: Befriend and Lean into Your Obstacles

In Part 1 you learned the importance of (and a tool for) cultivating a calm and focused mind (and emotions) when it comes to doing any change work. Today's theme, the power of cultivating AWARENESS, builds on part 1.

Now that you've learned concentration to focus and heal your mind to not get swept away by every little distraction around you, you're ready to further strengthen your power of awareness. While Part 1's concentration method had you laser focus your attention on an anchor (ie. your breath) and keep it there as best as you could, this week is all about using MINDFULNESS to expand that awareness from your anchor (ie. the breath), to all things in your present experience. 

So why is AWARENESS so crucial for transformation and happiness?

We often mistakenly define happiness as the absence of discomfort or pain.

But happiness is not the absence of discomfort, but rather a byproduct of living in alignment with your soul.

The more you see and live from your truth, the happier and more fulfilled your life will be. And the quickest path back to your truth when you veer off, are your obstacles.

Mindset shift> Your obstacles are actually opportunities to see where you're out of alignment with your true-self, and they hold clues as to how to get back.

So how do you stop feeling hindered by your obstacles and start to get guidance from them?

The key is to stop treating them like malevolent attacks against you, and start treating them like a friend whispering guidance in your ear. That means you've got to start acknowledging obstacles and discomfort as helpful clues. AND you must be willing to sit with and lean into those difficult feelings, for as long as it takes, to uncover the opportunity (or clues) for transformation hidden within. 

This isn't easy and takes compassioncourage, skill, and practice. Obstacles stir up uncomfortable and unpleasant feelings. And it's a natural human instinct to avoid discomfort (with distractions and addictions), and to seek out pleasurable feelings. Just think about any time you experienced a uncomfortable emotion or physical sensation. Your instinct was likely to quickly do something that brought more pleasurable sensations (like netflix, a beer, shopping, or even just the peace brought on by meditation! ).

But in order to shift your stuck, undesirable circumstances, you must be willing to go against your natural inclination of avoiding discomfort, and begin to lean into it (to eventually uncover what it's trying to tell you).

To transform your suffering, you must first have the courage to face it; to touch it; to get to know it.
— Thich Nhat Hanh

And this can be done through MINDFULNESS MEDITATION

Mindfulness can play a big role in transforming our experience with pain and other difficulties; it allows us to recognize the authenticity of the distress and yet not be overwhelmed by it.
— Sharon Salzberg

Taking time to practice mindfulness meditation (on the cushion), will increase your ability to be mindful off the cushion (in your everyday life) as well. There are many different mindfulness practices, and I'll give you a few of my favorites in a moment. 

Before I give you a practice to try, let me first explain the key intentions to keep in mind when you start practicing mindfulness (on or off the cushion):

  1. Stay present with your current experience as it unfolds. Notice sensations, thoughts, and emotions as they arise in the present moment.
  2. Refrain from judging your experience. Refrain from clinging to pleasant experiences. Refrain from avoiding unpleasant ones. Just observe everything with curiosity and equanimity.
  3. Refrain from adding meaning to your present experience. When you have a thought or emotion, don't create a story or make an assumption about what it means.
  4. And when you do any of the above things (which you will), practice forgiveness, self-love, and compassion.

Remember, these are simply intentions to hold, not strict rules that can't be broken. You'll be swaying from these intentions a lot, especially when you first start out, because judging experiences, avoiding pain, and clinging to pleasure is all in our nature. When that happens, don't beat yourself up. Just come back to your intentions, and begin again with gentleness and compassion.

And in fact, this step is not about changing anything just yet. Your only job this week is start to become more aware.

Mindfulness Practice (on the cushion): "Body Scan" 

This practice will help you notice your inclination to cling to pleasant experiences and push away unpleasant ones. 

In this practice, which asks you to mindfully scan your body from head to toe (or toe to head) and pay attention to sensations, you'll often get distracted with thoughts, emotions, or even physical discomfort. This is a great opportunity to play with just acknowledging and being with your experience, without judging, clinging, or trying to get rid of it. Once you cultivate that skill, you'll be ready to move onto step 3 of the Meditation for Transformation process. But let's not get ahead of ourselves :)

Take Action: (quick basic instruction if you want it; otherwise skip to the guided link below)

  • Sit or lie down comfortably. (this is often done lying down, but if you're sleepy sit up so you don't doze off)
  • Take a moment to calm and ground in the present moment by bringing your attention to your breath for a few full inhales and exhales.
  • When you feel present and focused, bring your attention to the soles of your feet. Notice any sensations you feel there. Perhaps pressure or warmth where they rest on the ground. Take some time to feel any sensations as you scan the area.
  • Then scan your way slowly up the entire front of your body, noticing any sensations you feel inch by inch. Temperature, pressure, tingling, pain, etc.
  • Once you get to the top of your head, begin to scan down the entire back of your body in the same way.
  • Some areas may have sensation while others may not. That's ok. Scan the entire body either way. The more you practice, the better you'll get at noticing sensations.
  • At the end, you can close your practice by thanking yourself for taking the time for self-care and meditation.

Noting/ Naming Technique

In addition to observing sensations during the body scan above, it can be helpful to also identify and (silently) name your experience as it unfolds. The "noting or naming technique" simply asks you to note anything that takes you away from the practice of body scanning. For instance if a thought pops up, you can simply note "thinking". If that thought then leads to an emotional response, simply note "sadness", "anger", "boredom", etc. Do this quickly (without overthinking or judging the thought or emotion). Once it's noted, bring your attention back to the body scan wherever you left off.

This noting technique will further help you cultivate the ability to be with your experience honestly and with deep awareness. Again, learning to do this in your formal practice, will help you start to automatically do it in your life. And this ability is the an important step in the transformation process.

Take Action >> Do the guided body scan meditation above. Be sure to keep the key intentions in mind, and begin noting your experiences if you'd like.

Mindfulness Practice (off the cushion)

Once you try the above "mindfulness meditation" and "noting exercise" on the cushion, you can begin to play with this in your everyday life. Here are some things you can start to notice in your everyday life:

  • Notice when you're not focused on the present moment throughout the day.
  • Notice where you're adding stories or meanings to your experiences. For example, if your partner says something and you get upset, what meaning are you adding to his/her words? What are you making them mean about you, your worth, etc.?
  • Notice your tendencies to distract or numb yourself from painful sensations or emotions. 
  • Remember, no judgment, just start to become more aware.

This lesson, Part 2: "Befriend Your Obstacles", was all about having the courage to observe, identify, and lean into your difficult experiences. This is a critical step on the path to transformation. In the next lesson, we'll dig deeper so we can begin to understand the roots and causes of these obstacles and finally begin to transform them!

Awareness is the first step towards gaining understanding and insight into your obstacles. And with understanding comes healing and transformation.

 

 

 

Part 1: Calm your Mind and Emotions

Welcome to the 4 Part blog series "Meditation for Transformation" where I'll teach you my 4 step process to take your meditation practice beyond simple relaxation (and into the realm of deep, lasting life transformation). 

So many of us discover meditation to reduce stress, calm an anxious or overactive mind, and experience a deeper sense of relaxation. And there's nothing wrong with that. That's how I found meditation too, and it worked brilliantly! And for years I was content simply using meditation as a tool to help me feel more calm and relaxed.

But eventually I began to feel my practice was more like a band-aid I used to hide difficult emotions, rather than a tool to bring me long-term healing and transformation.

I started noticing the same patterns repeating in my love life, with my work, and in other aspects of my life causing the (emotional) shit to hit the fan often. And while meditation would make me feel better temporarily, it wasn't helping me feel any less stuck or more fulfilled overall. And I realize now, it was because I wasn't tapping into the full potential of meditation to get to the root of my issues, understand them, and heal them. I was falling into a pattern of what psychologist, John Welwood, called "spiritual bypassing".

spiritual bypassing

"Spiritual bypassing" is a tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to avoid dealing with painful feelings, avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, and neglect developmental needs.....all for the goal of "awakening" or "liberation". Welwood saw this tendency occurring in Buddhist communities as well as in everyday people who used meditation and other spiritual practices. Sometimes people were (unconsciously) trying to rise above the raw and messy side of their humanness before they fully faced and made peace with it. And like me, they continued to find themselves feeling varying levels of stuck, unhappy, and unfulfilled.

Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.
— Pema Chodron

So this 4 week series is going to teach you the simple, but powerful 4 step process I discovered (and have been using for years) to use meditation to calm your mind AND create the type of deep transformation in your life that leads to lasting peace, fulfillment, and happiness. If you follow these 4 steps, you'll have a simple process and the tools to calm your mind, uncover why you're feeling stuck in repetitive patterns, heal those patterns, and actively create the life circumstances you desire.

Ready to dive in??

Step 1: Calm your Mind and Emotions

There are many types of meditations and some are better than others at each stage of the transformation process. And throughout this 4 part series you'll learn a new meditation technique for each step in the process. Today you're going to learn the root skill for any type of meditation (and a simple practice to cultivate it).

We live in a noisy society which contributes to feelings of constant overwhelm, stress, and overstimulation....like we have to be on all. the. time! So no matter how far along your meditation journey you are, it's important to get back to the basics and continuously work to keep your mind calm, clear, and able to focus in order to balance out the constant chaos going on around you 24/7. 

Your mind is your greatest asset for creating your ideal life, simply because it's responsible for your decision making ability.

So keeping your mind strong, healthy, and clear is super important to consciously making the choices that will lead you to the circumstances and life you desire (and to stop making the choices that are keeping you stuck). And since we often take action based on our emotions, being able to manage your turbulent emotions (and not react unconsciously from them) is equally important. 

Great things can not be accomplished until we have achieved inner stability not disturbed by ambiguous situations.
— A Guide to the I Ching, Carol K. Anthony

Remember, healing your mind is not about stopping thoughts or avoiding undesirable emotions. It's simply about using your mind more efficiently and intentionally, to create more joy and fulfillment in your life.

A healthy mind focuses on the present task or moment so you can approach it skillfully, with all your resources. It reflects on the past to search for clues around what habits you need to shift, so you can be more aligned with your desired circumstances. And it projects into the future when you need to plan, set goals, or visualize your dreams.

A healthy mind is powerful! And now I'm going to teach you a simple meditation technique (also known as the root skill to all meditation) to cultivate a clear and healthy mind. 

The Concentration Meditation Technique (Part 1: Calm your Mind)

First we need to stop the invasion of feelings and thoughts, which deplete our strength in meditation, and cultivate the capacity, the power, of concentration. Concentration is the first practice of meditation.
— -Thich Nhat Hanh

Many people think that they're great multi-taskers, but the truth is, the mind actually works most efficiently when it's focused on one task at a time. The concentration technique is a very basic meditation technique that will help your mind maintain focus on the task or moment at hand, and allow distractions to pass by, without pulling you in. This is an important skill both on the cushion (during any meditation), and off the cushion (in life).

Concentration is a skill that you should have some level of proficiency with, before you move on to other meditation techniques, especially if you find your mind is always very restless during meditation. I usually start all my other meditation practices with a few moments of concentration to help calm and focus my mind and enhance my practice. If you don't cultivate concentration and try to jump right into other types of meditation, you may feel frustrated with your lack of focus and perhaps even feel that meditation isn't for you.

But the truth is, meditation is a natural ability that everyone is capable of.

So just to reiterate, if it feels especially hard to calm your mind and focus and you're constantly distracted by thoughts or feelings that take you out of the present moment, (or if you feel meditation isn't for you because of this) this technique is especially important for you. Please don't underestimate the power of concentration!

This excerpt from one of my e-books outlines a simple concentration practice. And there's also a link to a guided practice below.

  ***Note that the intention of this meditation is NOT to avoid distracting thoughts, emotions, etc. In fact, step 5 and 6 which ask you to notice when your mind has wandered and then gently bring it back to the breath, are the key pieces to strengthening your mind. Each time you bring your wandering mind back to the breath, you are strengthening your ability to focus and concentrate your mind (ie. healing your mind), bringing you 1 step closer to transforming your life!

 

***Note that the intention of this meditation is NOT to avoid distracting thoughts, emotions, etc. In fact, step 5 and 6 which ask you to notice when your mind has wandered and then gently bring it back to the breath, are the key pieces to strengthening your mind. Each time you bring your wandering mind back to the breath, you are strengthening your ability to focus and concentrate your mind (ie. healing your mind), bringing you 1 step closer to transforming your life!

Once you develop even a little concentration- which happens after a relatively short period of meditation- you find it enhances all other methods of spiritual practice.
— Ram Dass

As your concentration and focus grow on the cushion, you'll also notice yourself naturally becoming more mindful (or focused on the present moment) off the cushion, in your everyday life. As you continue your practice, you'll experience more peace and many things in your life may start to shift naturally. 

The Concentration Meditation Technique (Part 2: Calm your Emotions)

In order to break old patterns that are keeping you stuck and create new more ideal circumstances in your life, the first thing you've gotta do is stop making decisions and taking action from a reactive, emotionally charged state.

It's not your turbulent thoughts and emotions that create your life, but the actions you take from that ungrounded and reactive space that do.

The same breathing practice we discussed above can also be used to calm your emotions, except rather than allowing your breath to be how it is naturally, you can actively slow and deepen your breathing in this practice. Your breathing can affect your parasympathetic nervous system, which means it has the physiological power to shift your body from a stressed state to a more relaxed state.

So when you find yourself in an anxious or emotionally turbulent state, rather than reacting, just pause and bring your attention to your breath. If it's shallow, work on deepening it (into the belly area) until you feel your heart rate start to slow, and your emotions begin to calm down. If they don't calm down right away, don't panic, just have patience.

Difficult emotions are sometimes unavoidable but will always pass given time and when you stop fueling them with chaotic thoughts. The key is to avoid making important decisions or taking actions during these emotional times. 

When you own your breath, nobody can steal your peace.
— unkown

Creating more mental and emotional calm can often naturally allow things to shift in your life. Stress can start to melt, you'll start to make better decisions, and you'll likely experience some desired changes. But there will also likely be things that don't start to shift naturally. And this is exactly what you'll learn during the next 3 steps (and practices) of the "Meditation for Transformation" process. But for now, here's your homework.

Take Action:  

  1. Do the above concentration practice for 5-10 minutes 1-2x a day, to start to cultivate a more focused and calm mind.

  2. Practice pausing (vs reacting) anytime you experience turbulent emotions. And then do a few minutes of the concentration practice to calm your emotions down.


Disclaimer: The practices and tips in this training series are based on my own experience with anxiousness and difficult emotions- not necessarily panic attacks or more severe or debilitating mental/emotional conditions. They can still help, but I recommend consulting with a doctor if you experience any debilitating emotional conditions.