Walking on the beach, living near a major airport, there are often planes that appear in the sky out over the ocean on their landing approach.  What’s interesting about this occurrence is that, as one gazes at the place where they seem to be coming from, there is nothing to see.  Sometimes I find myself focused on the empty spot in anticipation of the emergence of a plane, certain that one will appear, yet wondering how it makes that shift from being “unseen” to “seen.”   It seems there might be a slit in the sky – an opening that I cannot see through which the plane emerges.  With awareness of that thought comes a smile – I am reminded once again of how our minds attempt to alter reality to suit what we think it should be.  I expect to be able to see it, so why can’t I?

This situation may seem obvious in the sense of simply not respecting or appreciating the limits of our senses, however, how many times is this exactly what we do?  How would it be to take a few steps back and look at the bigger picture here, acknowledging how easy it is to slide into the practice of making up a story when we can’t see clearly – bringing our own interpretation to what may seem to be happening (or not happening).  And often, even when we are aware that we are providing our own home screen entertainment,  some or all of that story becomes real for us.  All the more so if it’s a particularly good story!

So, why do we do this?  Why do we fill in the space?  What gets in the way of allowing an opening for the unseen to become seen?  Not such a simple answer –  is it impatience, perhaps, being uncomfortable or unaccepting of not knowing?  Maybe it’s a matter of the “shoulds” – feeling that we should already know.  Or is it simply a moment of groundlessness?  How might we see them more as “leap of faith” moments – certain that the knowing will unfold?

In the practice of meditation and mindfulness there are also many opportunities for filling in the blanks.  We practice or sit expecting (or hoping for) the insight  that will help us translate our experience into the bliss of enlightenment or at least move us further along in that direction.  Perhaps it’s during our yoga practice or while taking a walk, maybe even when we awaken in the middle of the night, that we long for an answer that eludes us.

So how does a new understanding come about?  How do we really move from the unseen to the seen with regard to even the most burning questions in our lives?  I wonder if it’s not much simpler than we might consider.  It begins with a pause – taking a moment to let go of the grasping towards what we want to know.  Then a shift to trust that the answer or insight will emerge – in other words, that it’s in there somewhere.  Then there’s the issue of readiness – being open to whatever the insight might be and a willingness to go with it.  This last is important, because often the insight might come but we find ourselves digging in our heels saying, “Oh no, this isn’t the answer I was hoping for.”  I suspect that may be the point where we need to go back to the beginning and pause again…

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It seems that none of us are born loving ourselves.  It even sounds odd to talk about an infant “loving” in our most familiar sense of the word.  What’s happening for him are sensations which might be pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, what feels good or not, but hardly anything we would call love.  How does the feeling of loving oneself emerge or develop?

Suppose, just for a moment, that this is the purpose for each one of us in our lifetime, to come to feel unconditional love for ourselves.  How that happens can be a very convoluted route.  We first experience love in some way from people around us.  Mostly it would seem that what we learn is conditional – based on our behavior, how we look,  what we say or issues that have nothing even to do with us.   An infant growing up is left to interpret the signs, some of which may be subtle and some loud and obvious.  We don’t come knowing who we are, so we depend on these messages from those around us.  We internalize what is shown or said to us and, for the most part, come to believe this is who we are.

It’s true this may not be information that is new to you.  But, in the context of growing to love ourselves, how is it that we can come to learn that we are really okay and worthy of being accepted completely as we are?  Might it not be a matter of remembering a moment of wholeness – where there was no judgment, no sense of unsatisfactoriness.  All that is there is a fullness, an acceptance of however we are in that moment.  It’s a felt sensation that is independent of where we are, who we are with or what we are doing.  It’s simply a matter of being.

Mostly we consider that how we feel about ourselves depends on what’s happening, or what has happened or the possibility of what may happen.  All these considerations impinge on what we think of ourselves.  Interesting that so much effort can be spent on shoring up the bulwark around our own identity, trying to make it stronger or less impervious to outside influences.  It takes some remembering to get back to the whole and realize that nothing can touch or change the core of our being.  It’s not possible.

So, suppose you find a comfortable seat, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths in and out.  Now let yourself remember an earlier time when you experienced the sensation of loving and/or being loved.  See if you can set the story aside and focus on the feeling.  It needn’t be one of those BIG, LIFE CHANGING events; it might be a few moments when you felt ok inside, when there was the beginning of an inner smile happening for no particular reason.  After you’ve connected with that feeling, open your eyes and move to where you can see yourself in a mirror.  Look directly at the person there in front of you. Allow yourself to remember that inner smile and consider that, regardless of what may have happened since that earlier time, or what might happen in the future or even what thoughts and emotions are creeping in at this very moment, you are the same inside.  That inner smile, the feeling of loving yourself, is there, simply waiting to be remembered.

What do you see when you close your eyes?  Or is the point not to see but to allow yourself to open up to other, perhaps less dominant, senses?  Consider the common situations in which you focus with eyes closed – when preparing for sleep, when desirous of intensifying a sensation being experienced, or perhaps to avoid imprinting an image that is disturbing or frightening.  Most examples probably fit into these categories, though there may be times when you close your eyes in order to embrace a moment of stillness and quiet.  These last are the moments that invite a closer look.

When you close eyes initially, there can be a sense of  noticing the quality of the darkness.  It can show up differently – sometimes close and heavy, at other times cool and spacious, and, of course, with a range of sensations in between.  Sometimes it seems as if the dark is right in front of your face, and, at other times, it can feel as though it envelops your entire body.  This is the period of settling in, and it carries you past the first few moments.  So, if your intention is for more than a 20 second break, what is it that happens next?

Ah…  This is the place that has the potential for the real beginning of a new and potentially life changing experience.   Suppose you are closing your eyes to begin  meditation or checking in with your inner self during your yoga practice or while being supported through a yoga therapy session.  In any of these scenarios, sliding into the darkness allows you to shift focus to what’s happening from the inside out.  It’s a different perspective.  It’s one that frees you in a way from the connection to the senses; it changes the perspective from which you are taking in the world around you.  That shift allows a mindful space to simply be with yourself.

There is something about being in the dark that provides a new, in the moment,  experience.  It’s different every time, and you can never be sure who or what you will encounter.  Of course, after a moment or two, your mind will jump in to fill what it perceives as a void.  Thoughts of future and past, judgments, expectations and concerns are just some of the characters that will take up space in the dark.  What might it look like to greet them, welcome them in, invite them to sit with you a while?  Consider it like “working the room” in a social setting where you acknowledge each guest, listen a bit and move on, never getting too involved with each individual but keeping close awareness of the bigger picture.   Perhaps not a comfortable analogy but a serviceable one.  The point is not to become too attached to any one thought or emotion but not to fight against them or try to shut them out as you move from one to the next.

How would it be to enter the dark with the kind of anticipation of seeing a great movie you’ve heard about – to bring that kind of energy in but without the sense of attachment to what the movie turns out to be?  Might that draw you to want to sit in meditation or close eyes during yoga practice or a yoga therapy session and see what happens?  Think of the richness that is you and all that is waiting to be discovered.  Most of all, allow yourself to entertain the possibility of getting to know the person you are from the inside out.

Most of the time we go through our days following a schedule or routine that is more or less familiar.  Even when it’s a day without a schedule or one that contains some new adventure,  there are enough elements within it to provide us with the continuity of what’s familiar.  I wonder if we realize just how much we rely on our day to day lives to always have this kind of consistency.  We certainly experience a level of comfort in expecting that the sun will rise every morning, the earth will stay solid under our feet and other aspects of our lives will remain stable.

Consider the times you encounter a new experience – an event that’s happened to you, a situation where you are asked to do something you’ve never done before or maybe you’re involved in learning new skills.  In each case, you find yourself evaluating and categorizing what’s before you.  We all do this – checking out our experience to identify elements that are known or maybe similar to what we already know.  Of course, this process keeps us from becoming overwhelmed by having to take in so much that’s new that we cannot move forward.  We even follow this pattern every time when we meet a stranger, comparing his appearance, voice or mannerisms to others we already know.

As we go from one day to the next, the elements in our lives that are familiar become expectations for our future.  Say I meet someone who bears a strong resemblance to my sister.  It would not be unusual for me to allow my feelings about and attitude towards my sister to influence my interactions with this new person.  At some point, however, as the new relationship develops, the bearing of my familiar sense will give way to create space for the “newly” familiar.  This is the way we operate, though often it’s not as smooth a process as it might seem.

There can be clinging and aversion that get in the way of actually seeing or appreciating the new experience as it is, or, in the case above, the person as she is.   We  become attached to the way things are, to what we know, to who we are or to what we have.  The attitudes and feelings we bring can mask what we otherwise might see or hear or feel.  It requires conscious awareness to determine how open and unencumbered we can be in greeting what is new.   Even with the intention to remain open,  “new” doesn’t stay that way for long.

The drive to be comfortable, surrounded by the familiar, is very strong.  It is part of what helps us survive and negotiate our environment.  Often we sort of slide right  into reframing a new experience into one that is familiar.  But when a life changing event occurs, it’s not so easy.  Transforming upheaval into familiar or comfortable takes some effort though it can happen nonetheless.   Consider Stockholm syndrome, or attitudes/behaviors of victims of abuse or violence or natural disasters.  Not to reduce the effects of such events to a simplistic level, but certainly some element of the drive to incorporate familiarity is present.   In particular, when a situation is not an isolated occurrence but continues over  a period of time, a person habituates himself to what is happening around him.  This process itself does not  indicate an attitude of acceptance or approval; instead it carries with it the intention of supporting the individual in moving ahead with his life.  As with so many other aspects of our lives, this changing face of familiar is a process that serves us better when we can bring awareness to it.  The practice of mindfulness, which can be supported through meditation and yoga,  has been found to assist in providing clearer intention for times when we are in this process.   Being mindful in the moment can help us understand when expectations based on our familiar lives are getting in the way of clear seeing.  It can also create the potential for an opening toward newness or change or whatever is different from what we’ve known before, leading us hopefully to a more authentic, less automatic, way of living.

Perspective is the kind of tool that we don’t normally even think of as a tool, let alone attempt to understand it’s impact on our lives.  Looking toward the beginning of a new year, it makes sense to take a closer look at how our perspective affects what we do and our view of who we are.  For the most part we consider our perspective to reflect the reality of ourselves and the world around us.  We function as if our view of life is a mirror giving a clear image of everything exactly as it is.  Might there be a bit more to it than that?

There seems to be a continuum on which our perspective, on any given day or at any given moment, is poised.  Not to say that one is good or bad or better than the other, but it can be important to distinguish which is which.  How does this perspective or point of view or frame of reference serve us now?  What can we learn from viewing what’s happening from a different perspective?  How can we keep from getting stuck in one way of seeing or understanding and develop the ability to shift perspective?  The bigger question is whether we have a choice in how to view what’s happening in the moment of being in it.

I suspect we develop an affinity for some particular way of looking at ourselves and our life situations.  We may have a propensity for diving into a narrow view or a close up of what we are looking at.  It can be a matter of focus – sometimes it is more functional to focus awareness on what is right in front of us and other times it serves us better to step back and take a broader view.  But there must be a level of awareness that helps us discern which view to lean into or away from.

Sometimes the situations in which we find ourselves cause a shift in our view without our even being aware.  When life offers what feels like too much, in the midst of shock or overwhelm, it can seem that we have lost perspective.  Unable to focus on detail or take in the bigger picture, how is it possible to sort through what is in front of you?  Seems the first step is to appreciate exactly where you are right now – breathing in and out in a conscious way, feeling your body whatever way it is at the moment and simply noticing.  Being mindful of what’s happening now.

Most of what gets in the way during times like these is the drive to act or respond in the face of not knowing what to do next.  Or it may be the desire for the situation to be different.  In either case, your energy is committed to this drive or that desire.  If instead, you take a deep breath and allow yourself to be fully where you are, you open up space for a shift in perspective and a choice to be made.  Being in the present moment supports your ability to step back and take in the bigger picture and also to focus in on the detail but to do both in a less energetically attached way.

Appreciate that this way of being present to yourself is essentially a moment of freedom.  Enjoy it.  Savor it.  Acknowledge that it will change.  And smile, because you can always get it back.

You might think it easy to determine whether you are moving forward, stepping backward or captured in the stillness that lies between.  It may be, however, that your ability to do this depends directly on how you are connected to your surroundings.   The quality of the threads that attach you to the people, objects and events in your life make it more or less possible to know what kind of movement is happening for you in the moment.   A strong attachment to something or someone outside of you, by its nature, pulls you off center, and the strength of that connection affects the energy and effort required to remain centered.   Weaker sensations may not sway you one way or the other.  They may not even figure in your movement consciousness; perhaps their influence is so subtle that it bypasses awareness altogether.  In either case, we may not be as independent as we think we are.

What really determines our spatial orientation?  Isn’t movement, after all, always in relation to a central point?   You can be moving toward or away from this point or even staying in place, where movement is happening without having committed to a particular direction.  What’s most important here is that movement is relational.  And, in many respects, we truly are relational beings.

Once you acknowledge whether you are moving forward, stepping back and remaining still, do you find yourself accepting of where you are on that continuum?  Would you rather be at a different point?  This stage is often where the “shoulds” show up, sometimes masked as nagging perceptions of others who seem to be further along than you.   Have you ever picked up the energy from the people around you – finding yourself swept up in the momentum of wants or needs that are driving others?  How difficult or easy is it to step aside, let them run past and follow your own path?

It can, especially during times of great upheaval in our lives, require extraordinary  energy to hold your own ground, to tap into our own inner wisdom.  It can sometimes be impossible to hear the voice inside or even be aware that it is there behind the louder, more insistent voices outside our own.  Especially difficult is when we find ourselves in a situation that is new, for which we lack the framework of experience.  At times like these, we often feel the need to look elsewhere to find the expertise  or experience to help us find our way.  Not a bad choice, however, how might it possible to remain grounded within ourselves in the midst of looking outside ourselves?

How would it be to take a deeper breath, focus on what’s happening now in the present moment as if it’s the most important time for you?  There you are within the stillness of a mindful presence – perhaps only for the very briefest of times – but might it not be enough to notice what direction you are headed?  Maybe the surge is interrupted long enough to allow the element of choice to surface and help determine whatever movement follows.  And perhaps, in that brief experience, is the opportunity to realize the possibility of carrying the stillness with you as you move, knowing that forward and back are all part of the changing journey that we take.

How richly important it is to appreciate the ways in which we bring our stories forward into the present of our daily lives.  We carry the history of who we are in days, months and years past in the cellular memory throughout our body-mind.  These form the narrative of who we believe ourselves to be today.  Undoubtedly this ongoing story line shapes the way we negotiate life, helping us to categorize experiences and recognize similarities in new situations as we move into future moments.  It forms the basis of learning and supports the foundation of our growth into adulthood and in life.

Yet, while it is essential to our survival as a species, we are prone to add elements to the story, extra details, emotional overtones, alternate endings (or beginnings), hidden meanings or agendas.  It sometimes seems as if we judge the original screenplay too simple, begging us to embellish the bare bones to make it more of whatever we want it to be.  Another way in which we create a more fuller narrative about who we are is by surrounding ourselves with objects.  Each object carried forward becomes a repository for additional aspects of the story of who we are, who we have been, who we will be going forward or who we want to be in the eyes of others.

Object acquisition may seem like a foreign concept since the way we grasp onto things is so much a part of our routine pattern of behavior that it seems beyond normal.  It fulfills a need; it’s part of the everyday.  Maybe, if we are so inclined, we can, through the practice of mindfulness meditation or yoga, come to see how we become attached to the objects we have.  And we might even create an intention to let go of objects not needed any longer or develop a different perspective on the items we keep.  This shift requires that we interrupt the connective threads that bind us to these things, changing the way we see or understand the meaning or purpose of an object.  In this manner, we might feel that we have taken a few more steps along the path of wisdom.

Or, so it seems, until some great event befalls us where many of the possessions we have are destroyed.  Hurricane Sandy has resulted in just such a huge emptying out, all at once, in a manner that felt more like a physical wrenching and breaking apart.  And, as much as we hold the sense of what has happened as a mere letting go of objects and not a greater loss, attention must be paid to the personal stories that are woven amongst the wreckage.  In the pile of refuse  are things that had some meaning for us, and herein lie the narrative of our lives.  There may be treasures, utilitarian items, even some that were long ago forgotten in a box, others in the process of being let go, given away or thrown out.  Memories of some sort are associated with all of them.  In the moments of clearing out these remnants of destruction, we are asked to let go of these parts of our history.

It’s important to realize that we have choices about how we let these objects go.  Some carry memories that need to be loved as we release them.  Some that deserve acknowledgment of the purpose they served.  Some are simply reminders, placeholders of an earlier time – or perhaps not so simple in that they stir emotions as they lie there, tangled in the past and present.  I wonder if the biggest choice that faces us is in the understanding that these objects and the history that they represent are not who we really are.  It can be okay to let them go, coming back to what’s happening now and the fullness of who we are in this moment.