Begin Again

You may be taking the turning of the year, a somewhat arbitrary annual moment during our planet’s trip around the sun, to reflect and resolve on how to be in the coming days. Every one of us has taken an occasion at some point in our lives to set a new intention. A few of these might have stuck, and likely a bunch more didn’t take. Giving yourself a tough assignment once every 365 days, within the context of the many distractions, temptations, pressures and personal habits that will come into play over that time, is surely a tall order. In choosing one achievable wish to extend to you for 2013, I offer this:

an orientation to awakeness 

This is a simple yet pervasive kind of wish for you, and really for all of us. It’s not a demand that we all get it together or smarten up. I’m not asking you to grimly, forcibly push yourself into anything. There’s no need to knock yourself on the side of the head when you suddenly notice that you slipped out of being in touch with yourself and the world. This is a simple, conscious orientation, a choice to turn toward. It’s a preference to be awake, to be present to life.

I grant you that that awakeness is easy to lose track of. You’ll have noticed this, if you’ve done any formal meditation or just informally noticed what it’s like to try and hold your attention on a given element of your world. We’ve grown ourselves a complex, swirling, driving situation here and our attentional capacity matches that. So it takes some doing first to admit to this, then to try countering that situation by choosing simplicity and practicing concentration, ultimately to see why it might be a fantastic idea to develop this as an available way of being.

It’s easy to be lost in the mix and swirl. Fortunately, awakeness is just as easily found and re-found. Unlike many resolutions people will make, there are a vast number of opportunities every day to apply your intention to be present. It’s not like exercise, for instance; you don’t need to suit up and get all sweaty to be awake. You just allow yourself to remember, to pay attention to that momentary invitation that whispers, “notice that you’re alive and having an experience.” You do this over and over. The funny thing is, you’ll see that whenever you catch yourself saying “I’m lost,” you’re not. That was a moment ago, and now you’re here, knowing something about the difference between lost and awake. Now becomes the moment you commit to begin again, persistently, with kindness and good humor, honestly knowing you’ll slip away a thousand times. Return simply to this orientation, a gentle turning with profound potential. Begin again.

Here’s to the new year, and to whatever you’re orienting to these days. Let it begin with awakeness, again and again.

This year's first sun, from a typical New Hampshire back porch

This year’s first sun, from a typical New Hampshire back porch,

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Identify, Include, Expand

One of the most dicey bits to get your arms around, mindfulness-wise, is the act of accepting what you discover. For today, let’s define mindfulness as knowing what’s happening as it’s happening, within you and around you, without making a problem of any of it. If you take that definition in for consideration, you may notice some resistance to it. It’s that last phrase that sticks in the craw. I can hear it plenty loud right between my own ears, as I sit here typing. “Not making a problem of any of it?! Lady, you must be blind, because there are all kinds of problems we’re working with here.”

Without further ado, I hereby stipulate to all the world’s problems.

Now, if we can return to today’s exercise, please. Our endeavor becomes more interesting, if perhaps more subtle. Everything we can identify, we are knowing at some level. Everything we see, hear, taste, touch, smell, we can know. Every reaction we have, every thought, emotion, sensation, we can know that we’re having them. We can identify that they are happening. With this recognition, with identification completed, we can look further with curiosity. When we identify what is here and if we immediately add “problem” to what is known, what is this about?

The best way to answer this question is to pause and find out for yourself. If you’re like most of us, it shouldn’t take long… I’ll wait right here for you.

If you did in fact step away, or even just look away, you probably found some unwelcome element, in your locale or in your own body or brain. What I’m predicting you noticed with this “problem” bit is some form of resistance.  This might include cognitive resistance, like the thought “I don’t like that.” It might include physical resistance, such as physical guarding or turning away, or a facial expression that communicates rejection. You can perceive that you separate, you draw back or pull away. As soon as you label something as “problem,” you separate from it. It’s out, whereas you are in. Problem is other, it’s a reject, it’s not okay, it’s wrong. It’s as though long ago we were given a big old-fashioned rubber stamp labeled REJECT and we’re running around whumping it on various things, often with alarming frequency, and also often with little consistency. We stamp people, ideas, nations, fads, fashions, statements, weather systems, political parties, behaviors, land features, and the pile of unanswered mail on your desk with the REJECT label.

What happens to your day if you replace the REJECT stamp with one that marks everything INCLUDE? Conditions can remain the same. You continue noticing the same people, facts, thoughts, weather patterns and piles of mail. These elements are. They simply are as they are, and you include them. Now what happens to your relationship to all that you notice? How do you meet that pile of mail? How do you respond to the world, by including the world arising around you and the world arising within you? How do you meet the very elements that previously held the label REJECT?

Spoiler alert; here’s what happens in my experience, at least: Things expand. Your mind widens. Options that were hidden become available. You bring more information into conscious awareness. Your body relaxes. You move differently, and what you meet responds differently right back at you. The world becomes more expansive, that same world in front of your eyes right now.

Try it out, over and over and over. Identify, include and expand. Remember to include your own resistance, as it arises, without making it a problem. Identify, include, expand. Rinse and repeat. And see what happens.

Red Flag reheat

So, what did you find out? What is it like to pay attention to your emotional life? Maybe, as you were paying attention, you ran into…

Or perhaps something more cheerful? The interesting thing is, it doesn’t matter what you find. Good, bad or indifferent…did you notice what happens through the process of checking in? There’s a feeling of settling, of coming home to what’s clear and true for you in the moment. It’s a great point to start from, or to start again from…

Check back on Monday, it’ll be time for the next Microwave Meditation. Keep us posted in the meantime, and let us know: what’s on your mind?  Cheers, Margaret