A few weeks ago, I attended a silent meditation retreat in South Portugal. Although I have been meditating more or less daily for a good ten years now, this retreat was a game changer for me and my practice. The setting, yes. The teacher, yes. The method and teachings, yes, yes. They all worked well. Yet what I found utterly powerful was the intention and willingness to set one week aside just to meditate and be with my mind… Not a walk in the park!
Yet I also received many insights and life-altering learnings from the retreat. Perhaps the most significant gift was to deepen my ability not only to watch my mind go into its various dramas, justifications, and other strategies it likes to use to keep my ego safe, but also to choose an alternative to usual mental spin that ancient yogis called “suffering”.
You know it too well. Life gets busy. We get solicited from and stimulated by many directions several times each day. We feel responsible to deal with X and Y. And, as if it was not enough, life surprises us with both global and personal crises once in a while. It is then understandable that we sometimes get thrown off balance to varying degrees of intensity and experience suffering.
What truly helps me in the face of challenges has become very clear: BE MINDFUL. It is an ongoing process which only can be improved. As they say, “the only way out is through.” I used to interpret this saying as the need to go deep into my wounds and issues and process them in in a mental way. Although processing is utterly helpful if we are to change long-held limiting patterns and bring ourselves relief in the midst of life-changing turmoil, I also noticed that I could get trapped in a sort of mental loop around it. This in turn would drift me away from the heart of the limiting issue, and really away from the point of healing and growth.
After this retreat immersion, I understood another meaning to the “way through,” which I find at least as effective and helpful in day-to-day challenges: to use mindfulness and body awareness to make room for the whole experience that is happening in me in a given moment.
Mindfulness and yoga basically teach us how to be present, first on the mat or the cushion, then in the “real life” as it unfolds. There are three main qualities that are central to be present and tend to our full experience in a given moment: (1) concentration (2) clarity, (3) equanimity.
Concentration, for example on our breath, among its many virtues trains the mind in how to calm down and start to rewire brain patterns other than the reactive “fight, flight or freeze” response to a shock. Concentration makes clarity possible, so we actually can see and get closer to the fuller experience of what is truly happening. If you have been doing yoga or another mindful practice for a while, try to think about the development of your body awareness since you started. In turn, concentration and clarity as they get stronger create another, essential quality for wellbeing and mental health: equanimity.
I like to define equanimity as a “loving neutrality” towards our experience. On a rather innocent scale, you notice an itch and you simply note the sensations associated to it without scratching immediately. On a slightly more heated scale, you notice you are angry and instead of acting out on it (shouting at someone or ruminating resentment towards them, for instance), you observe the sensations anger provokes in the body. Being mindful of the physical sensations instead of the immediate reactions or the mental justification or righteousness of anger cultivates equanimity.
We can then say that equanimity creates distancing from the intensity of whatever the currently challenging experience might be. Without dismissing the experience, because you actually get clarity about it, the distancing and neutrality of equanimity decreases the need to react, fix or remove the experience you interpret as suffering. Eventually, this process is utterly – partially or totally – liberating from the experience of suffering.
These three qualities is what I find helpful to be able to let our challenging experience move through us and eventually become less impacted by it, and thereby less affected by the tumultuous events we might be involved in. This is why the term “liberation” is also often used to talk about the result of meditation or yoga (awakening or enlightenment are similar terms).
In sum, I found that mindfulness – whether through yoga, meditation or something else – is an amazing tool to prepare us for challenges and deal with them as they show up. Not for me to say it is the one and only remedy, but I know it works well for me. When the overwhelm is too big, opening to a greater force and offering it whatever struggle, small or large, I might have is also an efficient tool I use to deal with the experience of suffering.
Mindfulness, the essence behind modern yoga, is available at all times. As we talked before (see earlier blog posts), slowing down and intentionally creating space during our day tremendously facilitates a mindful state.
However, being present is perhaps simple but not easy, and it does not come on the first try. It requires practice and support to begin with. There are tons of offerings out there, with varying quality, but some of my favorite teachers and sources of inspiration include Shinzen Young, Tara Brach, Sally Kempton (more towards Tantrik meditation), Michael Singer, and Eckart Tolle.
I am also happy to support you in anyway I can on your path towards a state of balance and liberation, privately or for a class or an event.
Calming the mind – online series (Nov 13 to Dec 4)
I am excited to offer a new online-course on mindfulness and meditation, “Calming the (monkey) mind”. starting Sunday, Nov 13th and running for 4 weeks. After the retreat I just attended, I am clear that I am going to teach more meditation moving forward, and this is my first offering. We will go in steps and work specifically with the mind, not that the heart will be excluded but so that we hopefully get a taste of freedom from our self-imposed suffering. You are welcome, whether you already meditate or not. Classes will be recorded. Read more about the online series here.
Teacher Training 2023 (starting May 2023)
As you might have seen, Nicolai Boas and I were planning a teacher training in Mexico next year. Well, navigating difficult economical times, we decided to change the format and base the training instead in Copenhagen, yet including a longer retreat in Sweden or Denmark as part of it (or just as a 100-h training, if you prefer). Hopefully, the TT will be more affordable and easier to plan if you were considering joining a yoga training in the near future. I’ll keep you posted here and in the SoMe platforms, but let me know if you want to be directly informed and I’ll make sure to keep you in the loop.
Self-care transition – New Year’s Retreat (Dec 29-Jan1)
This year again, Pernille and I are offering a New Year’s Retreat outside of Copenhagen at the peaceful and restful venue of Kirsebærgården, Dec 29th to Jan 1st. We will do yoga, meditate, spend time in nature and the outdoor spa and hot tub, and Pernille will guide us in some helpful reflections and meaningful transition rituals, so we get nourished and ready to step into 2023. It was a great success last year, and I cannot wait to transition together. Read more here.
As always, I am more than happy to hear from you, should you have any feedback or questions for me or just want to say hi: email@example.com.