By Susanne Comitto
Recently, my friend Mary and I were sharing tea and catching each other up on our full lives. We finished going over the big stuff, and then began to make our way into the nuances of our experiences. “What was the hardest part in the hard parts?” she asked me. “The moments I was so thrust forward in the feeling that I ought to be on to the next thing, that I couldn’t feel the aliveness in the moment I was in. I felt divided,” I said. For her it was the waiting to live; the hoping if she could race to finish the list of to do’s she could steal a little time to just be. She added, “but the list never ends.” How many moments have we endured the face-off between our do-er self and our being-self? Who usually wins? We talked about the ways life can feel so revved up, and how valuable our spiritual practices were in helping us to skillfully manage the overwhelm and stress that brings.
Buddha taught that pain, plus a resistance to feeling that pain, equals suffering; and that pain, plus a willingness to be present with that pain, equals freedom. He also taught that it is for each of us to test this out personally in order to gain a felt sense of it’s truth. Reflecting on the last time I felt a lot of resistance to doing something that needed to be done; it was a deadline on a presentation I was giving. I felt a building mass of energy in my chest, that was agitated and pressured. Most of me wanted to run from that feeling, and from working on the presentation. As if the resistance had a life of it’s own, it seemed to be straddling between me and being present enough to complete my project. Another faceoff moment.
While preferring to distract myself, something deeper said, “No, just go sit and get quiet.” I paused what I’d been doing, and sat down. Closing my eyes, I brought my attention to my breath and began to follow the lengths of the breath, in and out, and gave myself a moment to dial down the stress reaction my body was locked into. Within seconds I could feel that this ball of pressure in my chest which I’d thought was something to wrestle with, something working against my productivity, was actually a very pent up loving, enthusiastic expression of what wanted to be shared in that presentation. I wasn’t giving it permission to be freed and it was creating some real discomfort in me that I was innocently misinterpreting.
The degree of freedom I felt once that was recognized was instant and complete. That barrier now lifted, it was easy for me to open to the desire of my heart and from there the words began to flow.
In every moment that we make a decision to deliberately pay attention to what is actually happening inside of ourselves, we open the door to being with it from a deeper presence. This creates a space around whatever it is, so that with practice, we don’t become it, but can look at it with clearer eyes. Along with that refreshing spaciousness, our innate compassionate understanding and awareness naturally arise, qualities necessary for deeper reflection and conscious responding. We afford ourselves a much better chance of offering an empathic, even creative response that was arrived at through a thoughtful, heart-felt process rather than an automatic habitual reaction. With more of our decisions coming from this deeper presence of awareness, our lives feel and reflect an alignment with our true Self. We feel more here, whole and alive in our moments.
If a woman looking in the mirror holds contempt towards her neck, her arms or her belly … chances are she won’t look at those parts when she looks at herself. She’ll focus on the parts she can accept, and cover over the rest with blinders. She is already whole and complete, but will she feel that if she can’t acknowledge parts of herself? How could she? Or that woman may ONLY see what she cannot accept, fixating upon it through harsh judgment and blame. Identifying herself with and believing the narrowed assessment of being incomplete, flawed and possibly unworthy of experiencing the truth of her wholeness, she gives rise to loud fears that drown out her loving awareness from the conversation. What would most nourish and enliven her personal and spiritual growth would be to invite all of her parts, as they are, into the embrace of her acceptance and thereby experience the wholeness that is already resting within her. What we won’t face stays active inside us and while underground, it is not under wraps. It harms us.
If I am unable or unwilling to face a part of myself, and I shut it out of my heart either by ignoring it altogether or by constantly shooting arrows of judgment into it, not only does that create barriers to loving myself (and others) but it perpetuates the misery of feeling separate; divided from my wholeness. Facing ourselves honestly with the intention to bring warmth and care to whatever we find, allows our awareness and compassion to touch us deeply, informing how to best relate to and respond to what it is we’re opening to. Opening to what has been cast aside, misunderstood or hidden, paves the way for an unconditional experience of acceptance and the inner confidence and trust necessary to love more deeply.
But as we know, we are NOT inclined to face ourselves!
Our strong conditioning to avoid unpleasantness and grasp for pleasure, we may not be properly trained to turn toward some of our feelings, thoughts and emotions or to know how to relate to them in healthy ways if we were to. Mindfulness is a courageous decision, in any moment, because it asks us to be fearless in the face of our fear. It is about standing before the awe and the beauty, the pain and the agony of life and asking, can I be with this? Accepting that we may have barriers and blocks to loving freely, can we dare see and work with them so that we are less likely to hold back our love and our gifts from ourselves and others? Can we celebrate the moments we are in the remembering of who we are and accept that forgetting that is part of what we do too? Can we learn to be the knowing even in the unknowing?
For many years, I have been a psychotherapist working deeply with clients in facing the places, wounds, and inner parts of us that need attention, but may not be readily accessed or revealed without the support, safety and understanding of another. In decades of clinical practice, I have seen nothing enhance the healing process and facilitate the blossoming experience of wholeness more than mindfulness meditation and practice. The study and practice of mindfulness with regularity brings an ease to centering in the loving presence we are, at our essence, and shows us how to live life from that oceanic place, no matter what waves we may ride.
Due to the pace and intensity of our lives, most of us encounter moments of feeling overwhelmed in any given day. Rather than judge or ignore that, I’d like to invite a reframing of feelings of overwhelm as a simple sign to slow down for a moment or two. It’s no one’s fault, it happens. This slowing down could be as literal as you take a seat, but it might be while you’re doing something else. It will require your full presence, so it’s best initially to get as still and focused as you can be.
Then you can try this:
S.L.O.W. (down) Process:
S – See clearly what’s happening in the moment (pause and begin to bring attention to breath; ask yourself, what am I feeling re: sensations, energy, feelings, thoughts)
L – Let it be what it is (allow the experience to simply exist without trying to alter, change or fix it; be present with it as it unfolds, moment by moment) **Often just facing it is enough, like my example of the pressure in my chest. If not, there is a tangle there that needs some understanding and more steps to help address that.
O – Open to a helping/healing conversation with the part of your being that knows what’s happening, and is aware of your moments of not-knowing (What is this showing me? What/where is the charge? What am I telling myself about this? Am I shutting some part of myself out of my heart? What needs attention now?)
W – Widen the lens (bring a willingness to see yourself as the sky and this whole focus as a cloud; feel the deepening degrees of freedom through not identifying with the experience, but facing it fully, with a quality of presence that feels nourishing, safe and loving).
As a way of completing this process, you may want to intimately acknowledge the healing power of your loving kindness and dedicate the merits of this practice to benefit all beings that suffer in similar ways. You might face your heart in every direction, toward all beings without exception, and open to the presence of love we all share.
I often wonder what our lives would be like, if as children, we were taught to care for ourselves like this as a natural reflex? What a generous gift of inspiration it would be, if every woman practiced the art of slowing down, made space to mindfully orient herself in her body, touched deeper into presence in more of her moments, remembered who and what she is, and offered any aspect of herself love from that place. When we awaken to our inner knowing, we align with the energy of life that supports us most. Imagine with me the far-reaching quality of loving presence that would bring to us all. Then ask yourself, why not be one of those women, and help to show our daughters, sisters and mothers how to love ourselves more compassionately?
Susanne Comitto, LCSW is a 13 year resident of Asheville and has a private practice in Montford. www.innerhearthealing.com