Thich Nhat Hahn, a well- known author and Buddhist monk says we are reluctant to visit the home of our self because we are loath to face the pain, sadness and fear we might encounter there. It’s true those emotions are often present. He also says that if we become mindful, and approach our self in the spirit of loving kindness, we will experience a depth of joy, peace and freedom that can’t be found anywhere else.
In my own life, I practice “being in the presence” of and with myself. The method I use is to simply pause, breathe and check in with my body to see what I am experiencing physically. The goal is NOT to analyze, solve or even move myself to a new state of being. Rather, it’s to be in loving support with myself. Here’s a recent example of “being in the presence” with myself that I wrote down.
There is a fear of being abandoned that has shown up. I can feel my body tensed to run. I feel the stress of trying to be present and not run. Love feels absent in the face of fear, anger and defeatist feelings. They grow larger and louder, like a mob of warmongers. My ego feels like it is winning some battle in which I am powerless. My body trembles. Despair and hopeless feelings are here. Determination to stay withheld and closed are here. Campaigners who hurl evidence and facts of how I am unwanted are here. They are loud and have movie screens with them to convince me of things. I invite them all in. It feels as if no one nice or loving or hopeful is here in the House of Me. Who is here feels loud and controlling, like guards who will not let me out, or anything new and good in. Inadequacy and paralyzed will are sitting next to me. Defeat is here. I feel a small and constant willingness to know myself as the child of God who is here, too. He is quiet and calm. I hope it is enough.
I didn’t identify myself with the feelings. I didn’t focus on the precipitating event. I was simply in the presence of myself and what happened for me afterwards was a tremendous release and movement into peace and clarity. I was able to re-group and face life with new positive energy. As a mother who sees the value in this practice, I teach it to my 11-year old daughter, Leah. Here’s a recent conversation we shared.
Leah: My teacher is so mean. She expects us to do an assignment without enough time.
Me: Your voice sounds angry. When I’m angry, there are usually other feelings there. Sometimes if I slow down, get still and concentrate on breathing, I feel sensations in my body. What are you feeling?
Leah: I feel stressed.
Me: Ok…take a few breaths. Where do you feel that stress in your body?
Leah: (after pausing) Funny, I feel it in my hands.
Me: Good. If your hands could talk to you, what would they say?
Leah: They would say, “if you want us to help you with this assignment, you have to slow down.” Mom, I think I know what that means. When I get really stressed and I’m rushing, afraid of failing, I hold my pencil really tight and it hurts my hand.
Me: Wow…what are you feeling now?
Leah: Now I feel afraid. I know you and my dad are not going to stop loving me if I fail this assignment, but I’m afraid of disgracing myself; of letting you and myself down.
Me: Now, slow down, breathe into that and then let me know what you feel in your body.
Leah: I feel my body calming down. Now I just feel like me.
That is the simplicity of this practice. Most of us equate being aware and present to ourselves with analysis, identifying root causes and coming up with solutions. These are often side effects, but the main event is approaching our selves with loving-kindness in the same way a caring mother would soothe an anxious or upset child. Doing this builds our capacity to do the same for others, enabling us to bring joy and freedom and release them from pain, as I was able to do with Leah. So…pause, breathe and check in with your body!
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As published nationally in Women’s Journals, June 2008