This unpredictable journey began with a seed that was planted almost three years ago. It was an e-mail received, a newsletter designed to develop motivations for the upcoming New Year. The simple yet powerful questions prompted responses that within moments, pointed to the truth — my life choices were not congruent with who it was I wanted to be. The decision became clear and so I took a deep breath and a running leap, in hopes that the Universe would throw out a net to catch me.
The difficulty in discerning whether or not this gilded net has been tossed, is due to the innate holes in the question. As I continue following breadcrumb trails through India and Nepal, instead of transpiring as a graceful skip down a golden path, the experience has often unrolled with clumsy trips through potholes of garish sludge. On the flip side, shining through the clouds, beam brilliant rays of clarity, placing self-doubt where it belongs, leaving nowhere on the planet I should rather be. However, it is the stillness that balances where these two dichotomies meet, that the true lessons are discovered.
Traveling no further than the human experience, evidence of these psychological extremes is found within every new frame [of mind] we enter. Through observation of our moods, we can witness this morphing between the roles we play, the people we interact with and locations we occupy, each with a defining structure and corresponding behavior. From devoted spouse, to loyal employee, sympathetic friend and engaged parent, the thousands of characters we portray in the theater of our lives become the medium through which we experience the world.
Referred to throughout Buddhist texts, the term suffering is often misunderstood. From the rich languages of Pali and Sanskrit, we’ve inherited a translation that in English suggests hardship, misery or physical anguish. Because of this misinterpretation, suffering is often dismissed as a condition applicable to someone not me.
Within the Western culture, the foundations for suffering begin forming before we even have the ability to speak. Our early training includes learning to evaluate situations and ascertaining whether we like or dislike what is happening. Our first words include good and bad and soon after, to the degree to which they may be applied. As we get older this pattern is reinforced and the physical responses associated with our preferences strengthens. Our emotions become intertwined within this process. By the time we’ve reached adulthood the majority of events entering our periphery are tied to this YoYo string of likes and dislikes, which in turn pulls in tandem, their corresponding sensation.
This is however not what suffering refers to.
The essence of suffering lies within the conditioned desire to experience only the pleasant sensations. Clarity on the Temple Steps, examines the difficult aspects of sitting with these painful emotions. Pushing away uncomfortable feelings is a culturally accepted norm and avoiding or masking our discomfort is endorsed, encouraged and supported by the billion dollar industries selling the cure.
Simply being with ourselves when we feel less than perky, is not what we are conditioned to do, and have even been led to believe that not only is our primary goal to feel good but we are entitled to it. This unrealistic expectation places us into a chair of self-diagnosis in attempts to either reason ourselves into feeling better or write personal prescriptions for external remedies (food, alcohol, retail therapy etc.).
We are not our thoughts.
There is, in reality a separation between mind and senses. The senses merely transmit data, which the brain receives and the mind evaluates. Because our waking moments involve a consistent stream of sensory input and our tendencies link our thoughts to these bodily sensations, we identify with them. Our emotions in turn trigger our responses.
Like slowing down the frames in a movie, identifying the precise moments of perception, or thought, allows us to distinguish it from the subsequent sensations. It takes a little practice and over time the break between the two becomes clear. Not only this, but the emotional reaction to the sensation becomes evident. We begin to understand the relationship between thoughts and emotions — the link being our physical reaction. If we can identify the reaction we can better manage the response.
The chain looks something like this:
Stimuli —> Perception —> Physical Reaction —> Emotive Response
Have you ever sat down with the objective of listening to your mind? Neither did I. Until I did. Prior to this, there was never any reason to consider what suffering wasor whether or not I was afflicted. However, that first experience of eavesdropping on my thoughts changed the course of my life. It was seven years ago and for the fist time, I simply sat quietly and listened.
Our mind is with us throughout the extent of our entire lives. Yet, the majority of us will live an entire lifetime without developing an understanding of it. And unless you are both subject and author, the true nature of yourmind cannot be discovered in between the lines of a book. It involves learning to practice.
The most fascinating aspects of self-discovery involve developing a relationship with ourselves at the deepest levels of our being. The moment we begin to quiet the space around us and examine what cannot be seen with our own eyes it becomes clear; we have the power to change. Peace is attainable.
The benefits of meditation are as far reaching as the energy we put forth — and the potential, infinite. The time commitment can be as minimal as ten minutes a day; the most important piece being the commitment. It’s like learning a new language, the language of self-exploration, and in order for progress to be made, regular practice is vital.
At the onset of this trip the methods for achieving my own objectives were not yet clear — because my objectives weren’t clear. I wanted to be a better person. I wanted to live my values. I wanted to make a difference.
I wanted to be a better me.
Each and every day I am faced with a choice and it is only because each and every day I (mostly) choose wisely that I have discovered the truth. The perseverance however, of developing a regular mediation practice has not shown me who this better version of me is. It has stripped away the illusion of who she is not.
The process of liberating the purest expression of myself began the very first day I sat down on a meditation pillow. But this journey is no longer about me. You are the hero of this story. Behind a door of silence awaits a box of secrets only you can open. I may be pointing at the lock. But it is you who holds the key.
~ by Christine Fowle
~ Photo Credit: Rebecca Ioannou