Have you ever experienced something that you disliked more than anything? Something that you've expended great amounts of effort and energy to avoid? Perhaps the dentist, or airplanes, dining alone or your in-laws? Conversely, is there something that was so lovely and wonderful that you just couldn't quite let go of the memory of it, so much so that nothing else quite measures up? The truth is we all have had these experiences to one degree or another. We all have emotions (joy, anger, sorrow) or possibly ideas (insecurity, judgement, expectation) that we cling to, or things that we push away.
This morning, just prior to class, I had an appointment that I had been avoiding for several weeks. To an observer it probably would have looked like something that was simple enough and really shouldn't have demanded the energy that I put into resisting it. I could see that I was fighting it, so I sat with the resistance for a while and then made the call to set up the appointment. Let me tell you, I was cranky about it up until I got there - it wasn't a pretty sight! After the appointment was set up, I thought of how very indicative it is of us as humans to have a tendency to push away what we don't wish to see or feel, or to clog ourselves with things that we just can't let go of. The wise ol' yogis of yore called this "attachment" and "aversion", and believed that these two actions are what cause the bulk of our suffering. For the past few weeks I had been feeling aversion to the appointment and it was causing me to suffer.
The yoga sutras say that attachment is "that which dwells upon pleasure" and aversion is "that which dwells upon pain". We can hold on to memories of the past, or knowledge, beliefs, or expectations of how things should or should not be, thinking that this will bring us happiness. We can beat ourselves up for dark or mean-spirited thoughts that we've had or an unkind word that was spoken.
So we practice to honestly observe when and where we are holding on or pushing away. We practice to physically, mentally and spiritually create space to welcome all the things that arrive at our door with compassion, acceptance and equanimity. To clean house so to speak, we seek to accept that there are things within our day-to-day experience that we have aversion to. It's a fact of life. But rather than push them away (aversion!), or cling onto them for dear life (attachment!), we allow them to pass through as friends, joyfully greeting them with open arms as they arrive and wishing them well as they leave.
After sitting with my aversion, the reason behind it started to become clear to me. With this clarity, I was ready to accept my fears about the appointment and invite them in with compassion and even a sense of gratitude.
What are you currently pushing away or holding on to? What are the things that you have been pushing away or clinging to for many months or even years?
The idea is not to stop the resisting or the clinging. Rather, the idea is to make room for them, invite them in and then let them be.
"Do not try stopping or pushing thoughts away. Make room for them, observing them as thoughts and letting them be." -Jon Kabat-Zinn
What's clogging your inner guest house? What are you spending time and energy pushing away? What are you unwilling to let go of? What are you stubbornly resisting?
Whatever the cause of your resistance open to receiving these guests. Welcome whatever arrives at your door.
Until next time...
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
To help accept new guests, try this:
From Posture to Breath Awareness
by Rolf Sovik
Space is around you and within you. The entire universe is pervaded by space. Normally we pay attention to the objects that rest in space, but you can also sense the space in which things rest. But to do this you will need to tune yourself to it. The sense of space is apparent when you are quiet, breathing, and paying attention.
With your eyes closed, the most self-evident space is the one you are occupying in your sitting posture. As you relax, your body becomes like a space within a space. You perceive it as almost void—as space-like—resting in the vaster space around you.
Now let your breath flow into this space as you inhale. Let the inhalation seem to expand within you until the entire space is filled. As you exhale, your breath shrinks within you as if it were disappearing into your heart center, at the top of the diaphragm. Regularly pulsing in this way, the breath expands, filling the space in which your body rests, and then emptying it. You breathe as if your whole body breathes.
Continue watching the flow of the breath. Don’t imagine that you are reaching enlightenment, dissolving your ego, awakening kundalini, or undergoing any other radical transformation. There are many, many miles to go before any such profound experience will take place. Simply watch the flow of breath with a sense of contentment.
As you continue you may notice that you develop a less forceful and more serene breath. One of the effects of the practice is that the flow of breath becomes very fine. As it does, your awareness is freed to turn even further inward.