(including free meditation guide, see below)
Hope you’re doing well and that the current events have not destabilized you too much. I am sure they have, somehow; and that’s quite understandable. But yoga and other eastern traditions teach us one thing that I find particularly helpful at this time: Our state of suffering is dependent on our own mind. That might be hard to swallow. The good news is that our mind is also what can pull us through and beyond suffering and bring us back to our true nature: peace and joy.
I hear you. There are facts, and quite worrying facts. And the current facts bring up a bunch of different feelings up in us, whether we know someone in Ukraine or Russia directly or not. Talking to friends, family, and students that last couple of weeks, and checking in with myself too obviously, I know that the feelings can range from anger, anxiety, helplessness, stress, rage, sadness, indifference, and more.
These feelings are real, we experience them and cannot do anything but feel them in our bodies. Yet the stories that trigger them and the impulsive reactions to our feelings (e.g. over-checking the news) are not exactly real nor necessary. Yoga teaches us that the mind likes to create drama to pull us out of our present experience. Another thing the mind does is to keep us believing that we are separated and constantly creates stories of “us vs. them”, the bad and the good, the right and the wrong… Yoga then is about freeing ourselves from the limitations of the mind and thereby bringing ourselves back to a state of deep contentment, peace, and “Okay-ness”.
How to move passed stories and reach inner peace?
No need to go spend half of our lives in a mountain cave in Tibet (although it might help! 😊). We can start right here, right now. Close your eyes, take a deep breath. Exhale with a sigh. Inhale as you count 4, exhale as you count 4. Notice the movement of your body, and gradually the shift in your nervous system. My former teacher used to say: “Breath and anxiety cannot co-exist.” That is so true. If we breathe, we calm down automatically.
Now, breathing is nice, but does not make our issues go away. Then what does?
Short answer: Space.
Last weekend, I attended an inspiring mindfulness workshop. I got introduced to a particular type of meditation which I hadn’t met before and something major shifted for me: It became clear that space is necessary to find inner peace, and eventually wake up.
Similar and yet different from most other techniques I had practiced and taught (i.e. one-focus methods mainly), this technique known as Mahasi Vipassana is all about mentally noting what is going on. Instead of keeping our focus on, let’s say, the breath or a mantra, we were told to label what we noticed. For example, “breathing”. Then a thought comes up, and instead of going back to our breath, we labeled it silently: “thinking,” and see what is next. Maybe an unpleasant sensation comes up to our awareness, which we then name “unpleasant sensation.” Anger might come, “anger.” We judge ourselves for being unfocused, then naming it, “judging.” Eventually, the mind calms down and what is left is only what is here and now, aka our breath. So we note “breathing”…. until the next thought, feeling or sensation comes up. And so on.
If you know meditation a little, you can see how the Mahasi method trains the meditator to stay open to what shows up in her awareness and, by labeling it, creates the distance that is necessary to free ourselves from the stories of our mind.
Breaking free from our stories
The problem is not that our mind produces thoughts; that is what minds do. The “problem” is rather that we take the thought literally, identify ourselves with it or the sensation and interpret it as reality. No wonder that absorbing the news without any distance, then, keeps us stuck in an experience of threat and stress, which pull us away from what is actually true in this moment: our breath, our feet on the ground, the space around and inside us.
Such a practice helps us disidentify ourselves with the content of our thoughts, i.e. our problems, our stories, the current world situation, our relational drama, etc., which eventually will bring a feeling of freedom and peace in a more sustained way. What clicked for me that Sunday was that without distance, freedom is not possible. Space is what allows us to see what is truly going on, and eventually discover our true nature: peace and joy.
Because it is better to experience it than simply talk about it, I recorded this meditation for you (13 min). Hope you enjoy it.
Space to feel
I am not suggesting that we avoid what is going on in the world around us or the feelings that are moving through us – on the contrary. We become aware of the feelings and the impact from the external world, and let them move though us in mindfulness (and sometimes with the help of a skillful guide, therapist or healer).
For example, after and just before my mom’s death in October last year, an immense grief was present in me. Frustration and anger about “her leaving too soon” were here too. Yet rather than my story that it was not supposed to happen, I tried to make space for my feelings. I took time and space for them, share them with you and other people, wrote about it, moved with them, etc. My pain is still present, and my connection with her is still strong, but I do not feel put down by any resistance stories that it should be different.
Space, or distance, for instance in a relationship (friend or romantic) can also bring a lot of healing and enable us to see more clearly what is going on, what is not working, and what needs to change (and even how it needs to change). Space works well with emotional and physical pain; focusing on the sensation rather than the unpleasant feeling, one bite at a time so it is feasible, works well too.
I could go on and on with more examples, but I think you get my point: Space is the healer. Space brings acceptance, which is at the base of peace and deep joy.
How to create space?
To my experience space is to be allowed, not forced.
Because space is what we are made of – in the smallest of the atom in our body, there is actually space – it is already here, and what we simply need is to pause and allow it to be felt. Just take a moment and upright your spine. Take a deep inhale, exhale and lean back as if there were a wall to support you. Notice the space in your back and just behind your back. This is how space feels like in your body, and you can bring this experience into your life wherever (partnership, work, self-care, etc.) you need it at the moment.
Making space in our calendar, to go for a walk or go to a yoga class for example, is also one thing we can do. Similar to the “stay practice” from last month, try to bring space in-between two activities in your everyday life. I invite you to allow space into your life and your body, heart and mind more regularly. Even if it is one minute at a time, this is a beginning. As long as you create space mindfully and intentionally, you are on the right path.
Going for a massage or therapy to heal a wound, go for a walk when you hit a creative block at work or take a sabbatical for a year on a tropical island, you will allow the space necessary to bring a new perspective on what is blocked and eventually bring transformation that is aligned with your deepest truth.
Here is the meditation I recorded for you based on my own interpretation of the Mahasi practice. Hope it can help, feel free to share and let me know as it works for you.
A retreat for Space
Creating space is also an intention behind going on retreat. A retreat is not an escape, rather it is a nourishing, gentle and healing “training” into establishing a more sustained experience of space into our life. A retreat is an opportunity to bring more awareness to what needs attention into our lives and let space become a lasting quality we can carry on into our life post-retreat.
May 10th to 15th, I am planning a retreat in Slovenia amongst beautiful and spacious landscapes with plenty of room to create and allow space. Early bird ends March 25th, so if you are interested make sure to check the retreat description and send me a note to sign up.
Also, on April 2nd, I am offering a 3-hour workshop on Earth, the friend of Space, to bring more stability and review alignment and balancing techniques for your asana practice, along with some grounding meditation practices to “earth” and balance our minds. Check more and sign up: “Grounding Earth” at Pakhus Yoga on April 2nd.
I look forward to seeing you soon and be spacious together.
Take good care