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.