The courage to open

opening the heartI’ve taken to asking people I meet online – friends, family, students, supervisees – the question “what are you learning about yourself in all of this?” I’m intrigued by the ‘growth’ aspects that the COVID-19 pandemic is revealing. As a relative newbie to the Vajrayana path, I am appreciative of the View – that the phenomenal world (people, situations, viruses) is our experiment, our alchemical pot if you like. And how we interact with it brings many lessons.

Conversations at the back end of last week threw a few more ingredients in to the pot. Some people were sharing with me their experience of finding contentment in solitude; others were talking about the space they are finding and a connection to hobbies, new ones as well as re-found ones. As I listened to both, I recognised an ‘envy’. On many levels, my week is very similar to that BCV*. I still have a full client load in private practice, and I still have my two-day a week teaching post at the University. And for this I am grateful: I have a sense of normalcy in that structure, and I have little financial concerns…I know many are not in such a fortunate position. Nor do I have children who need my time for home schooling and additional emotional support. Yes, a lot to be grateful for. Yet, envy arising too. So, as we might ask all of our emotions, what is the message envy brings – what is it that I need to change?

I have been reflecting on post-holiday feelings I have experienced. On journeys home from France, I often look over to my wife and ask “why can’t we maintain this holiday rhythm and attitude back home?” Why is it that ordinary life can feel so much more compressed? There is an echo of this contemplation as applied to the current scenario: “how can I feel more spacious?”

I was sitting in meditation last Thursday morning as the sun was rising. The reality of the situation was at odds with my experience of it. Having started sitting so early, I had plenty of time for my practice yet I felt squeezed. I could feel myself willing time forward, like there was an urgency to the next moment in my day. An urgency AND being at rest, quite an odd feeling to be housing those two experiences simultaneously within my body and mind.

In the book I am currently writing, I use a series of personal vignettes to detail how I came to meditation, Buddhism and to start training as a therapist. Much of what I share unravels how I retreat from ‘being’ by taking on ‘doing’. A long repeated pattern of mine, it pops up in most of the endeavours, projects, roles across my life: PhD, academic and athletic careers. I am still seeing this pattern (though more subtle) in my life today; and with my practice, I am seeing it more clearly than ever.


Thursday morning in practice, I felt in to the urgency and asked of myself what I needed. A very clear answer of “more space” emerged, and I teared up. I recognised how In every moment, I was wanting the next one to be here; and the next, and the next. I imagine some of this comes with lockdown days taking on the same texture, like “enough already” (get this over with!). To resent each moment, each plan (and wish the next was here), and then yearn for less commitments so I could simply “be”. But when I get gaps of “being”, I find myself a bit panicky…and again, this current situation ramps that up: “what, more time to be…and wait?”. A cycle: space, fearing the nothingness, filling space, resenting the compression, yearning for more space.

I rested with this for a few days, and then over the weekend I recognised the choices I have to work with this experience. In some ways, gentleness is the antidote. This situation is (and will continue to be for a while yet, no doubt) intense. And I have it within my control to reduce that intensity. Yes, I have work commitments, but I can also free myself of taking on more. Can I tell my inner ‘top dog’ to leave off if I decide to finish my working day at 3:30 not 5pm? Because, as I wrote last week, the intensity of the situation is ramping up the fires under the alchemical pot…and the way we might be able to lessen its affect is to make that cooking pot bigger, to distribute the heat somewhat. I’m recognising just how much grieving there is around; for me and those I speak to. I personally reside in moments of disbelief, still, even after 8 weeks. And there is a lot of sadness, a lot. All our emotions need more space right now.

Space: And then learning to digest and hold the fear that comes up as a result. As an existentially-based therapist, I value the vocabulary I have around this reaction: the fear of uncertainty. It is normal to feel full of fear with so many unknowns. Fear is simply the call to courage**, and I know that is my path. To feel the fear beating in my chest, urging me on to find a ‘solution’; but instead, opening up and surrendering. Making my experience larger than the fear.

I mentioned not so long ago my interest in the wisdom tradition presented through the 9-point enneagram. Again, one day I will dip further in to the enneagram teachings on this blog…but for now, I revisit my nature as an ennea-type Six. As a Six, my passion or suffering is ‘fear’; and my virtue is ‘courage’. As with the Buddhist teachings, in turning toward my suffering, I will find liberation: wisdom is IN the confusion. In this fear-provoking situation I have the opportunity to find courage and my release.

I write this a few days ahead of when the UK government are looking to release initial plans of how we exit the lockdown. Given what I am hearing in my client work and my teaching, people are just as scared of re-emerging as they were of entering lockdown. One client shared with me this morning a sense of “damned if I do, damned if I don’t”. Lonely in lockdown, yet scared to come out. The courage to (re)open, another call to courage. I imagine the coming weeks, months will see further calls.


*Before CoronaVirus as I am referring to it

**In a strangely synchronous way, which when one starts out on this path realises becomes less ‘strange’, I last wrote about a ‘call to courage’ 7th May 2020, pretty much a year to the day

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