Welcome to Part 3 of the 5 part mini-training series "The Art of Transformation: Using Meditation to Heal your Mind and Change Your Life".
So once you go through the second step, "looking deeply" (if you haven't read part 2 yet, do it here now) , and begin to cultivate more mindfulness in your life, you'll start to notice things that feel off or down-right painful. These uncomfortable "things" could be thoughts, emotions, feelings, actions, or general life circumstances.
Normal human nature is to avoid pain or feelings of discomfort by seeking out pleasurable things to take their place. But, as we discussed last week, the stage of "looking deeply" and practicing mindfulness will help you learn to acknowledge and be with those uncomfortable or painful things, in a compassionate and kind way (without judgement).
So as we courageously sit with those painful things, the next step is to get really curious and begin to "understand" them. This is done in two stages.
The first stage is to 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.
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 and understand how you've created your suffering, you gain the power to uncreate, and recreate, your ideal life.
So the second stage of "understanding" is beginning to understand the role you've played at creating your suffering. What have you been doing (or not doing) that has led to your unhappiness? The Buddha talked about this in his teachings on the "Four Noble Truths". During the Second Noble Truth (and during this stage of "understanding"), in the words of Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh,
"we 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?"
He also says,
"Until we begin to practice the Second Noble Truth, we tend to blame others for our unhappiness."
So once you're ready to move to this stage of "understanding"- you've begun to see and sit with some difficult emotions and circumstances; you're open to take responsibility for your unhappiness; you're ready to understand its causes- there are meditation tools to help you.
Reflection and Self-Inquiry
"Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful."
-Margaret J. Wheatley (writer)
The main purpose of the meditation tools in this stage, are to help you communicate with your intuition so you can understand what's kept you stuck and struggling.
Whether you realize it yet or not, you are infinitely resourceful, wise, and powerful.
Fear and doubt often block you from tapping into that inner wise woman, but she is always there ready to guide you. Another big block from tapping into your inner wisdom is not allowing yourself the space to do so.
Just as you schedule time to talk to a therapist, friend, or psychic about your problems, you must also schedule time regularly to talk to your inner wise woman- your soul.
It's important when you sit down to practice reflection, you have a clear and focused mind, which can be achieved through concentration practices (see part 1). It's also helpful to have a relatively clear intention or question, which arises from looking deeply and acknowledging your struggles with mindfulness (see part 2).
"Your journal can serve as a magic mirror into which you can gaze, and see reflected back to you, the various parts of yourself."
Kathleen Adams (psychotherapist & journal therapy expert)
Journaling is one of the most powerful practices I know of! And since deeply understanding the causes of our unhappiness and struggles tends to unfold over time, it's very helpful to write down the insights you get from your reflection and self-inquiry practice. I've also found the very act of writing to be very meditative in itself and have had many realizations by just spending some time free writing.
Here are two ways I utilize reflection and journaling to help me better understand my struggles before I begin to transform them.
Morning Pages: In her book "The Artist's Way", Julia Cameron talks about a writing process she's coined "morning pages". I've had many deep insights through this process. Basically, you free write for a set amount of time each day. She recommends morning, but really anytime you can set aside 10-20 minutes would be fine. And if you don't have time daily, a weekly practice could be beneficial too.
- Grab a journal (and some tea if you'd like).
- Set a timer for 10-20 minutes (or her suggestion: write 3 full pages)
- Take a few minutes to ground and arrive in the present moment (concentration meditation).
- Free write for 15 minutes or so. That means no censoring or judging yourself. Just put your hand to the paper and write. Even if you start with "I don't know what to write....". Just. Keep. Writing.
- Once you allow yourself to surrender and relax into the process, you'll be amazed at what insights come up.
Self-Inquiry: This is slightly different in that you have a specific question or place you want clarity, going into your meditation session.
- Grab a journal (light a candle, sip some tea, whatever gets you in the mood).
- Set your timer.
- Do your concentration breathing practice for 5 minutes to help get you in a calm and grounded meditative state.
- Once you're calm and grounded, with your eyes still closed, silently pose a question to your inner wisdom.
- Three simple, yet powerful, questions that I learned from my meditation teacher are:
- Where did I experience suffering today ( or this week if you practice this weekly)?
- What were its specific causes?
- How can I work skillfully with it?
- Sit with the questions for a bit, and then open your eyes and start writing.
Take Action >> Set aside at least 10-20 minutes to reflect and journal. Choose either the "morning pages" or "self-inquiry" practice and dive in!
***I'd love to hear what insights you get! Post it in the comments below or shoot me an email :)
"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 you life is through talking it out with a friend or teacher. I have a few friends I can successfully talk through my struggles with. The key to these conversations is that:
- I'm clear with myself and them that I would like to understand the roots of my problem, 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 feel 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 joining a local yoga or meditation class. You may also consider a womens circle. I've been part of online and live ones, and have met some amazing spiritual sisters that way.