We all know that we should eat a healthy diet and take care of our physical well-being, and yet we frequently don't really commit to this until we become unwell or hit a physical crisis. Somehow we need something to shake us up... some kind of wake-up call.
For many people the same principle applies to meditation. Even though we know that meditation offers us a significant number of benefits, we only begin meditating in response to an overload of stress, and I have to admit that I was one of those people. Meditation was something that I had always known about but never fully committed too... until now...
As can sometimes happen in life, events can take place that cause us to very abruptly re-evaluate and reconsider all aspects of our lives. This is my story.
Following the breakup of my marriage, I had entered into what turned out to be a particularly challenging relationship and as a consequence I had sold my home and moved. Having established myself in a new community with a new group of friends, I then had a car accident and suffered a spinal injury. Simultaneously my father developed the rapid onset of dementia and due to my injuries, I was unable to travel to see him. My finances spiraled out of control and to top it all, as I couldn't afford to go out, much to my surprise, rather than be supported through such difficult times, my absence from my new social circle was viewed as some kind of abandonment and people I had considered to be friends set about behaving in a manner that I can only describe as out and out bullying. I found myself outcast and ignored, and confronted with animosity on a daily basis.
I was hurting... I felt angry... my world felt out of my control... The accident felt out of my control, my father's health felt out of my control, my finances felt out of my control and the behavior of people that I had invited into my world also felt out of my control...
And so I began to meditate... And my experience took me by surprise.
As I started to still my mind and allow myself to become aware of any tension that I was carrying in my body I found that waves of very powerful emotions were rising to the surface. Now I am not afraid of my emotions, indeed I have come to truly value and appreciate every emotion that I have. I knew that the hurt I was experiencing was valid... It was good information. I knew that the anger I was experiencing was valid... My emotions were giving me good information. There was nothing inappropriate about the way that I was feeling. It was good information and I needed to take action, I needed to take charge of my life; however the reality was that I was starting to experience emotional overload. Too many things were happening that were out of my control.
Although I was a complete novice at meditation, I knew enough to know that my mind needed to be still. I also knew enough to know that if I was carrying huge amounts of emotional tension in my body, my mind would struggle to settle; if emotions were trying to surface, they needed to be heard. So I decided to just go with it... I switched off any kind of self-inquiry and any need to know and simply allowed any emotions that surfaced to arrive, with complete acceptance.
I allowed my emotions to arrive... to be heard... and to be released.
In the course of my work I have met many people who are frightened of any intense emotional experiences, lacking an emotional language, they struggle to process their more challenging and difficult emotional experiences. I realized that my emotional understanding enabled me to embrace the arrival of my emotions without fear and that the combination of emotional understanding combined with a space of emotional release within a meditation created the opportunity for both my mind and my body to be still. As I released emotions daily, sometimes many and sometimes just a few, the volume control of my ongoing stress rapidly reduced and within an incredibly short space of time, I found my emotional resilience and durability returning.
High levels of stress often create emotionally re-active behavior rather than a reflective, considered response. As I welcomed all of my emotions, understood their validity, and allowed their emotional expression, and as I calmed both my mind and my body, although my more challenging emotions were fully present in my life, I had stopped being stressed... about being stressed. Through creating emotional space within, as well as space within my mind, I was able to listen to the information that my emotions were giving me and in doing so, recognize and reflect upon the choices that were available to me and however tough they were, begin to actively take charge of my life.
When we listen to life through our emotions we are living through the intelligence of our heart. When we listen to life through our logical thinking, we are living through the intelligence of our mind. We need both, not one at the expense of the other, and it's the relationship between them that creates space for reflective, mindful consideration.
As we develop a flourishing relationship between our mind and our emotions, particularly the emotions that we tend to find more challenging, and as we develop our capacity to release emotional tension from our physical body, our deepening awareness opens doorways of opportunity and we can move from a place of emotional re-action to a place of emotional re-sponse.
This has been my experience.
So I created emotional meditation. Emotional meditations are specifically designed to deepen emotional awareness, expand emotional vocabulary and strengthen the relationship between our mind and our emotions, combined with emotional release through meditation.
Each day I talk about a different aspect of emotional understanding in a language that is straightforward and accessible, without jargon, before we then move into a meditation together. In the first part of the meditation we create a space for a more immediate relationship with ourselves, a time of gentle holding where emotions can be mindfully released without any form of judgement or criticism, and with thoughtful awareness of any emotional tension held in our physical body, literally clearing and creating space within ourselves so that we can move into a place of calm, a place of stillness, a place of simply being, with connection and relationship to a deeper and greater experience.
Even when our emotions are challenging or uncomfortable, when we listen to our emotions and give ourselves an emotional voice, we open doorways of opportunity and possibility, and even in the darkest of situations, through emotional expression and release, we can move through challenging life experiences and hope can find its place once again on our horizon.