I’m currently studying an online course with the Buddhist teacher Reggie Ray - the course is “the somatic practice of pure awareness”. Over the 10 weeks, we (there are some 200 participants) are being offered meditation practices, teachings and reading that deepen the awareness of the body as the prime gateway for “awakening”. I am four weeks in now, and already I am experiencing my body in a very different way. I have written recently about finding ground in the groundlessness as an example - in noticing where I hold in my body, I am able to let go. This is pervading my life and my work - and it’s all very exciting.
Exciting AND anxiety provoking: not the crippling form of anxiety that I have once known, but one that I can and want to have a relationship. My anxiety no longer blocks me from life, but rather draws me deeper in to it; the kind of anxiety that feels an invitation to open up, to go deeper, to be more vulnerable, to stretch myself. It is almost like the more anxiety I feel, the more it is good news - feedback I am moving in the right direction.
An example of this came in the teaching unit of the course we have just completed. Reggie invites us to consider how we spend our time - specifically, how we might orientate our life to offer up more ‘unstructured time’. He views this as critical to all - not just meditators who already “just sit” for 30 minutes a day for their meditation practice. He explains how today’s world bombards us more than ever with information and experiences - we can easily become overloaded. AND, as a whole we make less time to simply be - and “being” is is essential to absorb, digest, assimilate what life brings our way. So alongside having a meditation practice, how else in our life can we have more time where time and space just unfolds; no plans, no outcomes, no expectations?
You might notice I do this a lot - looking back to what I was doing at a certain time. I imagine this process helps me evaluate the journey so far; a way to see how far I have come, from where I have come. In part its a recognition and a gratitude for how life has unfolded for me. Last week, I shared thoughts from my cycling career; this week it is reflection on my meditation path. Because, it was a year ago to the day I was travelling to central France for a 4 week retreat, a ‘dathun’ as it is called in the buddhist tradition in which I practice.
What a year it has been since! I have got married. The Buddhist tradition in which I have been practicing, my spiritual home for nearly 9 years, has come to the edge of distinction / destruction. And, I have come to know a different Helen, and needed to mourn the person I thought I was and / or the person who has been locked behind the old identity - that sense of “if only I knew what I know now”
The latter two are undoubtedly related or at least feed in to one another: but I would say that, I’m existential psychotherapist after all, someone who will bring uncertainty and our relationship to it to the fore whenever they get the chance!
The way the sun cut through the twilight blue, the way the bird song had a tilt of optimism…little reminders; today I’ve been thinking back to years gone by when I would be spending time in warmer climes on training camps. For about 7 years, the first couple of weeks in February would be spent in Mallorca preparing for another season. First as an athlete, and then as a coach accompanying te cyclists I trained. For all of us, annual cycles give us chance to look back, reflect on how life has changed, how we have changed.
The first memories of Mallorca that came to mind were the people; people I don’t see anymore - I often wonder if their lives have continued in the same community and with the same annual pattern. I remember the fun of it all: the camaraderie, the thrill of the physical challenge, the early spring sunshine allowing us to strip back to shorts and short sleeved tops knowing those still at home would be faced with snow and ice! And then, I remembered the fear. The big training sessions, the long rides where you limp home in to a headwind, the mountainous rides that inevitably had as many downhill miles as uphill (I loved climbing, hated descending the switchbacks). I would lie in bed aching to be going home…yet I chose to go on camp every year. What was I doing to my self…note “I” to “self”: two characters - the master, the slave. Of course now I know what was going on; I know myself better. My training as a psychotherapist has given me theories and understanding; and my training as a Buddhist on the meditation cushion helps me feel what could never be felt back then.
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