I have just finished my longest ever retreat; about two and half months of being mostly on my own, speaking infrequently, without media, and mostly trying to immerse deeply in my practice.
Without the usual distractions, the mind and body naturally slow down and begin to turn inward. Consequently any emotional, physical, or mental issue that we might be trying unconsciously or consciously to bury under our customary busy-ness will surface.
During one of my meditations, I was interrupted by a memory of an incident from 10 years ago. At first, I tried pushing it away because it seemed like a nuisance, old history, and not relevant to my practise. But it kept surfacing over several sessions. The emotional intensity was strong, and it felt like it almost demanded my attention.
When I decided to look at it, I was quite amazed at what I discovered.
It is easy to think that because I was in a meditation retreat, I could ignore or overlook feelings and emotions as irrelevant. But actually in retreat is the most powerful time to be creative and open in a non-judgmental way for all our experiences to reveal themselves.
So when I first faced this wave of resentment and anger, I floundered. My habit would have been to speak about it, which would only have inflamed me. Undoubtedly a rant would have been a justification for why I was right and the other people wrong. But as I was in retreat, I couldn’t voice my feelings like normal!
So I simply sat on my meditation cushion and allowed the sadness, anger, disappointment, and feelings of abandonment to wash over me. Gradually the tightness in my chest, the burning in my throat, and the heavy sadness in my heart began to ease. As my tightly wound mind and emotions unwound, I felt lighter and cleaner.
But I was curious about the level of anger I had felt; I decided to explore my attitude and role in the episode. Before delving into it I did a few minutes of calming breath meditation.
Almost clinically, I began to scrutinize what had happened that day 10 years ago. In this analytical meditation of the situation, I asked myself questions like, ”What about this situation made me so resentful and upset?” “How could I look at it differently?” “What would be the view of the other people involved?” “Is it beneficial to keep feeling resentment?” “Who’s being most injured by holding onto it?” After each question I would hold the space for an answer to surface.
Slowly it began dawning on me that I was deeply attached to things and especially people being the way I thought they should be. So essentially attachment was making me feel abandoned, and aversion to how things unfolded was making me angry. Suddenly it was as if the sun broke through the fog of intense emotions and I could see clearly.
It hit me that the other people have probably completely forgotten the incident, and almost certainly don’t share my perspective of it, so I've been the only person who’s been stewing all this time. When I put myself in their shoes, I could clearly see how and where things had gone awry that day. I even found myself smiling about it and realising we had all learnt from it because it had never happened again. And as I chose to look at it as an adventure and not a disaster, this reframing brought the greatest release.
It was a powerful experience. By simply allowing, accepting, and then adapting, I was able to even feel some gratitude for the incident and the people. This courageous foray into creating space for emotions showed me my blind spots, expectations, and the other places I trip myself up in my relationships, interactions, and life.
Probably the most profound change was discovering the powerful role perspective and attitude play in life experience.
The willingness to work with our own minds is profound. Aside from the benefits of growing calm, stopping agitated thoughts, feeling alert and attentive, being kind and loving, being more flexible and open, it empowers us to become courageous enough to face our inner world.
You can do this by taking a casual and interested approach to an issue you want to deal with. This will ease anxiety. If it’s a traumatic issue, then give yourself permission to face it for small chunks of time; revisit it as often as you feel strong enough to do so. Practise friendliness towards yourself by being kind and giving yourself a break. Speak to friend or therapist to help you grow and move on to living a happier life.
May you create space for all your life experiences.