Recently, a friend asked if I ever went rogue from all the tools I teach about pausing, breathing and mindfulness practice during a difficult time in my life. She continued to probe further….. “And during this time were you cognizant as to whether or not you were experiencing greater distress and suffered as a result of not engaging in your practices?”
I contemplated for a bit, rifling through which occasion to share -- there have been a “few” over the decades. Inviting a long deep breath, my stomach began to rumble as I churned up a memory. I began recalling a time, not terribly long ago when I felt as if the light within me dimmed. It was a tumultuous time, I was traveling unchartered territory with my inner navigation tools at bay. I was agitated, disoriented and putting an inordinate amount of time trying to control my thoughts and control the situation so as to deal with the emotional distress I was experiencing. I couldn’t discriminate between my intuition and that of other outside influences interfering and steering me further away from myself.
It was a chaotic time. My mom started to decline dramatically on several levels, which in turn put tremendous strain in many areas of my life. The fallout of the upheaval even more evident after my mother passed. The Center required more of me than I could deliver, mostly based on the expectations I put upon myself. If my body was a vehicle, the dashboard would have been flashing alerts, “system down, maintenance required, refuel soon.”
I was basically telling myself a pack of lies as to how well I was managing. In truth it was as if the needle on my compass was spinning aimlessly in circles. My heart ached and I no longer recognized the face in the mirror staring back at me. All the ingredients were present for the perfect storm to lose the essence of my true self, while simultaneously losing contact with my intuition, my sense of knowing something was terribly wrong on multiple levels.
I avoided stillness for fear of being overwhelmed with more pain than I imagined I could possibly manage despite knowing better. The ground beneath my feet felt a tad wobbly, it was best to keep moving.
It wasn’t a complete train wreck. I had created some space for moments in stillness, in meditation and in prayer. When I did pause, I thought I heard something, an inner voice pleading for me to listen. I didn’t heed to this request. After all, I was in control, things were getting done. I thought as long as I could power through this “storm” I could right all that was wrong. All I needed was time and hard work.
Everything was going to be okay. And it was. And it wasn’t. Life had some interesting twist and turns in the road that shook me to my core.
I am not unique. And I knew I was more fortunate than many I walk with on the cancer journey. I diminished my own plight since it wasn’t life threatening. The threat was to my spirit, my connection to my own truth and myself. I mistakenly believed this particular storm couldn’t possibly topple the life I thought I knew. Just retelling this story stirred the “tank.”
With eyes rimmed with tears, I looked at my friend and said yes, of course there was suffering. Suffering was inevitable, I was clinging to disturbing thoughts and clinging to an outcome in which I had no control. Avoiding stillness exacerbated the pain. At the hub of my anguish was the energy I exerted in trying to get rid of and silence the noise, trying to outthink it and resist what “it” was trying to teach me.
In time, I fell to my knees and stared into the muddy water that comprised my life. I was a student again. I was receptive, aware and I made space to experience all the unpleasant emotions as the mud began to settle to the bottom. Little by little there was clarity…..a renewed strength. There was a reflection looking back at me, I recognized it now. There was a sense of a return of light, a desire to dance. I recall T.S. Eliot words, “So the darkness shall be the light and the stillness the dancing.”
I believe mindfulness meditation practice gives you and me the tools to be with the fear of that which we cannot control, to trust in, reside in whatever comes to us -- both the unpleasant and unwanted. A trust in that whatever feelings or thoughts arise whether pleasant or unpleasant, unwanted or neutral, they are impermanent. No matter the storms we encounter in life, mindfulness meditation throws you and I a buoy, a place to center ourselves without drowning. When we ignore, fight or diminish our struggles we become more agitated. When we do not cling to all the various thoughts and feelings running wild in our mind there is no agitation. When we are not agitated we personally experience liberation, acceptance and grace.
Pause, Breathe, Be Well Within, Patti