I’m delighted to announce that my new website will launch soon, and I think you’ll like it, too. As I’ve plodded along through some weeks of muck, I can feel that I’ve gleaned a cleaner kind of strength and an embodied confidence for going forward. The trek is often uncomfortable, and you know how I love to remind us all that it’s getting comfortable with the uncomfortable that makes everything possible.
The Buddha is credited with saying, “Do not seek enlightenment. Seek to end cherished beliefs.”. Letting go, in this deep way, is so disagreeable, we mostly don’t even notice it as a possibility. If we can dump out the whole basket of give-aways, like a basket of our beliefs, we can see each item in its unique light, and which of these might be worth preserving.
Be empty of worrying. Think of who created thought. Why do you stay in prison. When the door is so wide open. Move outside the tangle of fear thinking.
The door is so wide open, for Rumi maybe, but it’s work for the rest of us to open up and empty ourselves of worry. How can we get started toward that door? The seventh limb of yoga: meditation.
So many people have told me over the years, “I can’t meditate.”. But we are meditating, all the time. It’s just in a random, disorganized style. We allow thoughts to flood in and don’t bother to sort them or scrutinize their value. We’re often then flooded emotionally and physiologically. We’re meditating in a full-bodied way, but without agency.
Working with the mind requires igniting some perseverance. BKS Iyengar was a very sickly child, and only through rigorous practice, with a highly skilled teacher, (Kriśnamacharya), did he heal himself and ultimately become one of the most influential yogis of our time. We each have to start where we are.
We’re all beginners. It may take some practice for you to consider yourself a novice again, so put on your perseverance pants. Rumi encourages us to become empty, at least of worry. This concept, “worry”, has many nuances – what, exactly, are we to release?
Should we start with the idea of dumping out the give-away basket, and practice feeling empty of everything? That sounds like a big step, so let’s remember we’re starting with a beginner’s mind. Let’s be gentle and pace ourselves for success.
Start with what’s likely easier – on your inhalations, let your mind attend to what’s right here. Feel your body, notice the movement of breath, allow the mind to time travel if it desires, to the future or the past. Just for the duration of the inhalations, allow your thoughts to play freely.
Next, we practice emptiness, nothingness, as we exhale. Can you also practice letting go of tension in your body? What about letting your eyes go out of focus? Let your exhalation regulate itself. Begin to observe the stream of thoughts that is continuously passing through your mind.
Imagine each thought rising up from the earth, like a geyser. “See” it come into form, then drop back down, disappearing back from whence it came. The space is empty. This is emptiness.
Each time you exhale, allow your thoughts, whatever they are, to return to their origin.
Maybe they’re like clouds that form as the air comes over the high, cold mountains, then they dissolve as the sun warms them.
Thoughts could be like waves, coming up the shore and receding back into the great, salty ocean. Feel for the imagery or subtle experience that suits you, right now.
You might notice that some thoughts are stickier than others. Attention gets stuck, and awareness is hijacked out of the present. No problem, just find the breath again. Start over again and again. Be like the kid who wants to shoot a basket, or the violinist longing to emulate Yo Yo Ma.
The good news is that practice brings humility and humor. The harder news is that we start over, every time, everyday. We may never get “good” at meditation, but we can get super skilled at letting go of any such idea. Fear and worry show up unexpectedly, maybe every day. We learn to be less surprised, and perhaps to welcome them in, as Rumi also suggests in his famous poem, the Guesthouse.
This being human is a guesthouse,
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
Some momentary awareness comes
As an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
Who violently sweep your house
Empty of its furniture,
Still treat each one honorably.
He may be cleaning you out
For some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice
Meet them at the door, laughing
And invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
Because each has been sent
As a guide from beyond.