Category Archives: Meditation

Settling the Mind in Savasana: A Body Scan Technique

Recently I took a look at some different Savasana variations to help your body feel comfortable and relaxed for rest. When our bodies are supported and at ease, we give our minds a better opportunity to be calm and peaceful. Sometimes, even with the body in its most optimal position, our mind is still racing and we’re not able to truly relax. What’s a yogi to do?

This week, I’ll offer you a technique to work with the breath, body and mind to cultivate greater relaxation in Savasana (or any time you’d like to encourage the mind to settle). This is a variation on a body scan adapted from Reginald Ray’s excellent book on somatic meditation, The Awakening Body. “My” version of his technique is by no means intended to replace or replicate what he teaches (which is a much more nuanced and intricate process), but may work to help soothe body and mind.

  • Lie down in your comfortable Savasana. Begin by bringing your awareness to all of the places where your body is supported, resting on the earth. Imagine that gravity is rising to meet your body as your body sinks downward.  Feel those points of connection where the back body rests into the earth.
  • Now, bring your awareness to your feet and notice any places in your body where you feel tension, tightness or pain. As you inhale, recognize the tension, as though the breath could move into or occupy the tension itself. On the exhale, invite the tension to drain away into the earth through the heels (or whichever part of the body is supported on the earth, closest to the feet). You could stay with the feet for a little while, or move up to the ankles and calves.
  • Continue on in this way, gently noticing tension as you inhale and inviting it to drain away into the earth with an exhale. Move up the body bilaterally, so that you are working with both legs, hands, etc., at the same time.
  • In each body part, feel that the stress drains directly through the back of the body at whichever place is closest and supported on the earth. For example, at the chest, the tension moves through the shoulder blades and rinses away.
  • Be sensitive and kind, especially with areas where you know that you may hold tension, or that feel emotionally difficult. If you find tension that does not “want” to let go, it’s important to simply allow it to be as it is for now, and feel that you are resting with the tension. When it’s ready to leave, it will.
  • You may find that as you release tension in one area, you get a release in another part!
  • When reach the face and head, allowing tension to drain into the earth through the back of the head, you can continue the exercise by now allowing the whole body to breathe. Continue to lightly scan through the body, noticing where tension may be present and inviting the exhale to drain it away.
  • Before rising, take several full-body breaths to invigorate and enliven the body and mind. Trust that you did good work and that you can return to this practice at any time to continue to invite your tension to wash away.

 

Louis in Savasana.jpg

 

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Who the heck do I think I am, anyway?

Dear Whomever,

The other night I dreamt of an orchestra. It was an odd dream (aren’t they all?)- it had nothing to 10857830_10153961465707729_1143988602728086179_ndo with how the music sounded. Instead it was sort of a broad overview of an orchestra as a unit. I saw my dream-orchestra clearly as a collection of people, musicians with instruments, a conductor, the players who created the whole. I noted how, over time, individuals joined, lived out their careers, retired, and were replaced by new individuals. In my dream, I thought, ‘The orchestra changes over time as people come and go. It’s made up of many different fluid parts, and yet we refer to it as one solid unit- a thing- as though it were permanent, individual, and unchanging. That’s how you see yourself, too. But it’s not true.’

This thought woke me, and I opened my eyes in the dark to look toward the ceiling. I felt myself breathing and absorbed this thought. This wasn’t a new concept to me- my teacher, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, and many other Buddhist writers speak of this frequently. But I felt I wanted to share this with you, to try to explain how it’s unfolding for me.

“A river flows with fresh water, always changing, and we still call it a river. If we visit that place a year later, we think it is the same river. But how is it the same? If we isolate one aspect or characteristic, this sameness falls apart. The water is different… ‘Appearance’ is quite an unstable basis for ‘truth.'” –Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, What Makes You Not A Buddhist

In my experience, it has taken some time, coupled with meditation and contemplation to begin to have a felt sense for how this might be true. After all, isn’t there some continuity to our experience? Aren’t I the same person I was when I was a baby, a child, a teen? Upon examination, the facts don’t really support this assertion: cells in our bodies die and are replaced. Studies show that through meditation we can alter the structure and function of our brain.  And I certainly don’t look the way I did 10, 20, or 30 years ago. We can accept that some things will change. In another part of the same passage listed above,  Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche notes,”of course, we say that some things change. A bud blooms into a flower, and we still think of it as a truly existing flower as it changes. That growth and change is part of our fixed idea about the nature of the flower. We would be much more surprised if it became permanent.” Still, I think, it feels more comfortable and familiar to feel that we are essentially the same person, with a quality of identity, self, or me-ness that we reinforce through habits and labels.

Initially, I experienced some discomfort with the idea of not being the same me. I began to unravel some of the stories that reinforced my idea of a continuous, ongoing, more-or-less-unchanging Laura experience, and found that I had some nostalgia, an attachment, to those labels- even when they were negative. I remember seriously asking myself- “Who am I if I’m not depressed?”- Yuck! There was a sense of fear, emptiness, and an immediate need to fill that gap with a new label. “I’m a yogi- or a recovering depressed person- or something-!”

Returning gently to this inquiry again and again- who am I?- or, even better, letting go of the “I” and asking, “‘Who is it that is experiencing this/breathing/eating this piece of chocolate cake*”- I began to feel that I could loosen up and relax into the ambiguity of moment-to-moment experience.

“In a book I read recently, the author talked about humans as transitional beings- beings who are neither fully caught nor fully free but are in the process of awakening. I’m in the process of becoming, in the process of evolving. I’m neither doomed nor completely free, but I’m creating my future with every word, every action, every thought. I find myself in a very dynamic situation with unimaginable potential. I have all the support I need to simply relax and be with the transitional, in-process quality of my life.” -Pema Chodron, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change

What does it feel like to ‘relax’ with this quality? Like most humans I know, there are things I’ve said and done that have caused others and myself great pain or even harm. You know: moments that used to make me cringe; things I’d tucked away into dark corners of my memory as too painful to recall. The time I threw a plate at my ex-boyfriend. The hurtful, mean things I said to a friend. The way I ran out on friendships or relationships rather than dealing honestly with the challenges. If I experience myself as a fluid, changing, “transitional being,” I am able review these past actions with a quality of genuine kindness and understanding while still feeling remorse. Because I can now look honestly and critically at these events, I’m able to resolve to handle myself differently in the future.

Yet habits are strong, and the more we repeat them, the stronger they grow (remember this blog entry?). So, in many cases, I’ve found myself repeating many of the same “mistakes.” I forget that I am fluid, in-process. Sometimes I even feel trapped, as though I have to do something simply because I’ve done it so frequently before!

A few months ago, I experienced this when I visited a friend for a weekend. He’s an incredibly kind person, and when he asked me how I was, I crumpled like a Kleenex- I was sad about the end of a relationship and his warmth just triggered my tears. After I pulled myself together, I felt the pull of my past habits. “Now,” I thought to myself, “I’ll be depressed for the next two days. I’ll skulk around and avoid everyone because they saw me cry and be sad.” (Hey, I’m not saying this makes any sense, I’m just saying this is how I had handled this in the past. Maybe you have your own neurotic tendencies. I bet you do.)

So here’s the “aha” moment- I felt an almost physical shift-lightness- in my body as I realized- “I don’t need to do that at all. In fact, that would be really kind of silly, and a huge waste of time.” I remembered this passage from Mingyur Rinpoche’s The Joy of Living (yes, i do have it memorized):

“At any given moment, you can choose to follow the chain of thoughts, emotions and sensations that reinforce a perception of yourself as vulnerable and limited, or to remember that your true nature is pure, unconditioned, and incapable of being harmed… If you’re determined to think of yourself as limited, fearful, vulnerable, or scarred by past experience, know only that you have chosen to do so, and that the opportunity to experience yourself differently is always available.”

That’s it, guys- the opportunity to experience yourself differently is always available. You’re not the same person you were yesterday. You’ll be different tomorrow. The orchestra seems like a continuous, solid entity- and for convenience, we refer to it that way- but it’s constantly changing, and so are you. So is your partner, your best friend, the guy in front of you at the grocery store who’s maybe a little bit smelly or rude or whatever offends us.

Again, I am speaking here to my experience- for me, one of the dangerous things about the earliest steps on the spiritual path has been my tendency to feel like “I’ve got it!” So, in reading a piece like this, for example, someone may be feeling like, “Yeah yeah, I’ve got this, I’m changing, I’ve changed, I quit smoking, I do yoga, things are great now! High-five, soul sister!” One of my meditation instructors- a compassionate, kind, brilliant man- frequently says, “Every insight is a false summit.” I return to this again and again. Every time I think I know something- every time I think I understand a concept or really “get” impermanence, for example, I find that I really don’t know anything at all. It’s humbling: the more I learn, the less I know. So right now in my life, I’m asking myself, again and again, Who Am I? Who Is This?- and hoping that maybe I’m continuing to loosen up. Flow on, fluid friends. You’re not trapped. You’re not stuck. You’re in process. And that’s really good news.

Love,

Laura

 

*This is Pema Chodron’s idea- in fact, I believe she says she might ask herself, “Who is eating this third piece of chocolate cake?” More reasons to love her!

Creating New Karmic Patterns, & Some Crazy Good Ginger Chocolate Chip Cookies

In last week’s post, I talked about the self-sustaining karmic energy of recurring habitual patterns. I mentioned that meditation has been helpful in creating the space to identify the pattern and then to create a new pattern.

How exactly, though, does the new pattern get created? In the past year, I was lucky* enough to find myself facing similar situations again and again. In fact, sometimes it was really almost the identically same situation, with the identically same person. Thanks to my meditation practice, I was able to see this happening (okay, after a while. Not so much right away) and I gained some time between stimulus and response.

Then I’d ask myself: 1) How did I handle this last time? 2) Was I happy with that outcome? and 3) If not, what had I not yet tried that might have a different, better outcome?

This was a pretty painful process at times. It caused me to look back at the many previous times I’d been in the same situation, and how my actions had caused suffering to others, as well as to myself. There were days where I felt like a total scumbag and thought it might be best to stop interacting with other people. But seeing how I’d hurt others was powerful enough to enact change where the fear of simply hurting myself wasn’t enough. As I mentioned in last week’s post- I just had to try something different.

No doubt I’m still wreaking havoc with my life, but I’m certainly trying to do better. Being able to ask myself those three questions feels a bit like standing at the entrance to a labyrinth- which way to go?- knowing that even if I screw up, I’m still moving forward. In Richard Buckminster’s words, after all, “there is no such thing as a failed experiment, only experiments with unexpected outcomes.”

In the spirit of trying something totally different, I offer you this delicious recipe for vegan ginger chocolate chip cookies. If you’re a fan of soft molasses ginger cookies, and love a dark chocolate fix, I think you’ll enjoy this mash-up. This recipe started with this delicious recipe from Oh She Glows. Thanks, Angela!

(Oh, and to illustrate my point? The next time I think, “I’d like a cookie, why don’t I bake two dozen,” I’ll stop and ask myself those three questions. Because really, I don’t need to be unsupervised with two dozen cookies. 🙂 )

Try Something Different: Vegan Ginger Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup molasses (I like sorghum)
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 tsp ground chia seeds (I ground them in my coffee grinder, but you could leave them whole if you had to. They add crunch that way)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
  • a sprinkle of cardamom, or get creative with any spices you like!
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 2.5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup dark (vegan) chocolate chips (if you leave these out, it’s still a fantastic recipe)

Making It Happen: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine coconut oil, sugar, molasses, vanilla, and chia seeds until well-mixed (I throw it in my Kitchen-Aid and let it run while I mix the dry stuff). Separately, mix the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the wet until combined, but don’t over-mix. Add chocolate chips. Wet hands lightly, and roll into small balls. Flatten lightly with your hand and bake 10-12 minutes or until done. Rest on baking sheet for a few minutes before moving to cooling rack. Enjoy! photo

 

*Not being facetious. Until I was challenged in this way, I was likely to keep creating the same karma again and again. I was forced into growth!  

Getting off the Ride- The Karmic Energy of Habitual Patterns

Summer at the amusement park: unrelenting, humid, hot, hot heat. You find yourself in a line of sweaty bodies, too close for comfort, snaking half a mile through a hot indoor maze. Fans drone from the corners, their sad, smelly breeze offering a brief moment of sparse relief. You feel ripe, over-damp from sweat and over-stimulated by the crowds and poor nutritional choices you made earlier in the day. Maybe you don’t really want to be in this line. How can a 10 minute ride be worth this 30 minute wait? Your eyes are on the crumpled plastic Coke bottle in the corner, which has become a symbol for how slowly you are moving, and a metaphor for everything about this experience that you despise. In another five minutes, you think, I’ll be past the Coke bottle. Perhaps you plan to pick it up and recycle it, in a quiet show of self-righteous dignity. Before you is a family that you have come to know too well during your time there. You think critical thoughts about hygiene, discipline, and the poor manners of other people’s children. Your judgment turns inward: Stop being so mean. Why did you do this to yourself? There’s NO WAY this is worth it. 

But- great joy!- finally, you’re a few steps from the gate. The family in front of you- minutes before, downtrodden and miserable- is transformed as they squeeze through the turnstile into a bouncing, joyful photo opportunity. “I’m in the front!” one shouts with glee.  A benevolent fondness toward them warms your heart, knowing you will never, ever have to see them again. And it’s almost your turn!  In a few minutes, you’ll be on the ride. You feel lighter, excited, the previous hour’s suffering forgotten. A bored teenager waves you into your seat and you strap in for the exhilarating rush of emotions.

In ten minutes- probably more like five- it’s over. As you disembark, heart still pounding, dejection has set in, and you’re already planning the next ride. How many times have you done this? How many times will you do it again? As many times as you can. Even when the pain of the line no longer outweighs the joy of the ride, maybe you will keep going- it’s the thing that you’ve always done.

A friend’s recent assertion that karma is all “bullshit” felt like a challenge to me, and I’ve been thinking about how I can share some of my (really limited) understanding with you to de-mystify the concept a bit. This week, I want to look at one aspect of karma: the cyclical energy that drives us to repeat the same actions again and again.

While I have not been to an amusement park this summer, I have been doing a lot of meditation and working with my understanding of karma- and the roller-coaster metaphor really worked for me.

Let’s say you have a bad habit. Okay, let’s say I do (cause I do). When I am feeling stressed, depressed, anxious, or otherwise emotional, I eat. Actually, I binge. The formula is simple:

Stress Occurs -> I Eat Too Much -> I Feel Awful Cause I Ate Too Much

Every time that this happens, I am creating more karma that makes it likely that I will do the same thing again in the future. This makes sense, right? From a neuroscience point of view, every time I repeat an action, I strengthen the connection between the neurons in my brain so that it becomes easier and easier to do it again in the future. And because I’ve always done it, it feels “good”- even when it feels super awful.

Pema Chodron, in No Time to Lose: A Timely Guide to the Way of the Bodhisattvaspeaks directly to this: 

“The…fault of the kleshas (afflictive emotions)  is that we welcome them. They’re familiar. They give us something to hold on to, and they set off a predictable chain reaction that we find irresistible…. Each of us has our own personal ways of welcoming and encouraging the kleshas. Being attentive to this is the first and crucial step. We can’t be naive. If we like our kleshas, we will never be motivated to interrupt their seductiveness; we’ll always be too complacent and accommodating… It is just as difficult to detox from emotions as it is to recover from heavy drugs or alcohol. However, when we see that this addiction is clearly ruining our life, we become highly motivated.”

As I look back at my life, at my sense of who I am, I can see that I am a collection of habits: given certain situations, I am likely to react in a certain way. As in the ride at the amusement park, the habitual rush of emotions is familiar, comfortable, even stimulating. But there’s suffering afterward, and suffering again leading up to the next “ride.”

Pema Chodron is often quoted as saying, “Nothing goes away until it teaches us what we need to know.” This is true, in my experience: we will be presented with similar situations again and again. Each time, we can make a choice to react in the same way we’ve done before (because that’s our brain’s pattern, or, if you will, the karma you’ve created for yourself)- or, you we can try to make a different choice, creating a new habit. Better karma.

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When I encountered this Sharon Gannon quote earlier this week, it really clicked for me. Of course! I’ve had a lifetime of being Laura, of reacting in predictable ways, but there’s no reason that I can’t be a different collection of habits.  There’s no reason I can’t create good karma for myself. Get out of line for the roller-coaster.

Here’s why it’s not so simple: it is hard work creating new habits. It’s hard work even noticing the old ones. But, through meditation, some space has opened around my habitual reactions so that I can see more clearly.

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s Turning Confusion Into Clarity puts it this way:

“With shamatha practice, we learn to detect impulses in their early stages. We can check an impulse toward anger before exploding like a volcano. If we do not recognize that impulse, then the repetition of angry outbursts strengthens the tendency toward anger and creates its own karmic energy, its own propensity for reoccurrence. Recognition allows us to disrupt the habitual identification that we have with the impulse, and therefore to separate from it.”

I’m going to go ahead and give a testimonial here. Meditation has helped me to handle some of the biggest challenges of my life in a way I didn’t know was possible. The type of meditation practice my teacher mentions above- shamatha- is a simple technique that is easy to practice and completely forgiving. I cannot recommend it enough. You can learn more about this style of meditation at the Tergar website (this is Mingyur Rinpoche’s online community). You can even participate in a free Introduction to Meditation course that is really fantastic.

Yes, it’s work. Hard work! It’s not always easy to make the time to meditate, and it’s really, really uncomfortable to clearly see your own negative patterns. It takes time and patience and a big amount of kindness. So you can start small, with a few minutes a day, and gradually build up.

The alternative? Well, I could keep doing the same things, I guess, couldn’t I? I could spend the next half of my life repeating the choices I made earlier. But I’d rather not suffer in those particular ways anymore, and a lot of the choices I made caused suffering for other people, too. Once I saw that, I couldn’t consciously go on without at least trying to change my patterns.

Happy Labor Day Weekend, and good luck with your habitual patterns (and wish me luck with mine- I need it)! I’ll leave you with a picture of Stanley, me, and one of my favorite karma shirts.

 

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Much love,

Laura

Staccato is a Rhythm- Confessions of a Color-Coded Calendar

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“I used to be so consistent with my (yoga practice, meditation, eating plan), and then (my job changed, the kids were off school for the summer, I broke my toe)…”

“I can’t seem to get into the swing of things.”

“I wish I could just get into a good rhythm.” 

“I lost my groove.”

Does this sound familiar? I know I’m not alone in the feeling that things are easier when there’s a sense of consistency, or rhythm, in our lives. Habits of meditation, yoga, communication, self-care are easier to plug into a schedule when we have an actual schedule. Maybe we even feel that we can’t move forward, make important life decisions until we’ve arrived at a more consistent stage in our lives.

Physiologically speaking, I’m guessing that this is sort of hard-wired in. We need to eat every few hours, sleep once a day, rest after we’ve been working- and we feel safest and at our most secure when our lives are predictable.

When I became self-employed a few years ago, I sorely missed the comfort of my 9-5 schedule. When would I get it all done? How many hours should I work? How would it all get done? Would I burn myself out? Was I crazy to think I could make any money at this*? In an attempt to alleviate my anxiety, I created elaborate systems of scheduling using my Google Calendar. It was a thing of beauty, color-coded so that at a glance I could see exactly how much time I would spend doing each type of  activity. Green was free time, yellow was for classes I taught… sometimes, if I were feeling unsettled, I would open it up and look at the time slots to reassure myself that there was some kind of order in my life. I liked to show other people. “Look at this! See, there’s PLENTY of time for rest!”

You can guess how well that worked out, people. Somehow, my life neglected to fall into its appointed color-coded time slots, and at the end of the week, I still had to-do list and somehow I felt that I hadn’t found time to actually really live. I had that nagging feeling that if I could just find the right rhythm, somehow it would all fall into place; that there was some formula I was missing that would bring it all together for me. Stuff getting done, but I really missed the imagined comfort of a simpler schedule in which, I thought, there would be an ease of fitting things in.

Sometime later, I had a fantastic revelation that shifted my mindset. I was walking the dogs (While texting. I was still working on not multi-tasking) when a (musician, and yogi) friend of mine texted me: “I can’t seem to get back into my yoga routine. I was practicing every day, but now it’s like I’ve lost the rhythm and can’t seem to find it.” “I know what you mean,” I wrote back. “I feel like my life is too staccato to even try any more.”

“Yeah… but even staccato is a rhythm,” he responded.

This was a beautiful moment of revelation for me. I’m sure the heavens parted and a shaft of sunlight fell upon my little iPhone. Staccato is a rhythm. 

Life does have its own rhythm, I thought. It appears chaotic, but the chaos is its consistency. The tune is so big we can’t even see the rhythm. Maybe there are notes we don’t hear.

While we all may long for the security of a life that offers certain predictability- like a melody or rhythm that you know by heart- well, that’s not even an option.

Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing. -Helen Keller

Accepting this was a big relief. I began to release the illusion of my color-coded security blanket  to fall into this chaotic, mysterious, deeper rhythm.

Practically speaking, how do I work with uncertainty, fear, and a “schedule” that is likely to fall apart at any moment? Well, meditation, mostly. Basically, I practice being uncomfortable and living through it. This can start in your yoga practice on the mat, where many of us first encounter this principle. As we enter an asana that we don’t like, we are confronted with all of our habitual reactions. If we can truly witness these (with kindness, allowing ourselves to see them without criticizing) we will have the first glimmers of understanding of how we react to discomfort off our mat.

In meditation, I can observe my need to try to control my life. I don’t have time to sit today, I might think. Okay, I know I need to sit, but I really need to write down these five things I just thought of so I don’t forget to do them. If I continue to sit, to be massively uncomfortable (ARGH, I am going to forget to do those five things!), I am practicing for those moments in my life where life’s rhythm is out of my control**. This isn’t to say that there aren’t times where I feel crazed about making everything happen, but overall, I can look at my schedule (no longer color-coded, but a general collection of things that I’d like to get done and places I need to be) and feel like I’m effectively functioning as a balanced human being.

I can also see that in years past, I’ve used life’s unpredictability as an excuse to avoid some activities- even those that would have been really beneficial. I’m also learning to be attentive to the gripping energy of things that seem like they MUST get done and to ask myself if that’s real or not. Sometimes “urgent” tasks are really just me trying to control something. Yep, old habits die hard.

I’ve found so far that the truth is that everything always gets done, and if it doesn’t, then somehow everything’s still okay. I’m learning to listen to the own tidal rhythm of my body and feel that it needs a nap, or a massage, or exercise- and somehow I can find time to fit it in to the staccato beat of life’s unpredictability.

I guess I could say I’m in the groove now. Forgive me if my dancing is awkward- I think I’ll be learning this rhythm for the rest of my life.

*Yes, kind of. 

**Wait, that’s all of life. 

A Self-Love Valentine

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It’s Valentine’s Day.

Some of us are happy- we have someone who loves us, someone we love, maybe children or family that we like to put at the center of our emotions on this day. If that’s you, I am very happy for you! You might want to read this post anyway, just in case.

Some of us have someone, and aren’t as happy about it as we’d like to be. Keep reading.

Some of us are unhappy, perhaps because we don’t have a romantic love right now. I get it. Read on.

Some of us might feel unloveable. I understand, and I love you. Please do keep reading.

I have experienced the pleasure and the pain of each of these situations. I have felt that there is a hole at my center, something missing, something empty. At times I thought the hole was like a cookie-cutter shape, and I could put another person right in it. What happens when the person no longer fits in that hole- or something changes, and that person is no longer in your life? You’re back to feeling empty again.

It sounds cliched. You might not want to believe it- I didn’t, at one point- but until you love yourself, until you accept that you deserve love, that your nature itself is love, until you turn the powerful beam of your heart back on yourself, you will not feel secure in the shifting sands of romantic love. There will always be an emptiness at the center.

Ravi Shankar suggests:

“Find the love you seek, by first finding the love within yourself. Learn to rest in that place within you that is your true home.”

It was at a meditation weekend retreat that I first really understood this concept. When I first looked, I mean really looked and SAW the emptiness within myself, the heart-shaped hole where my own love should dwell, I cried. Torrential, gulping tears.

I thought:  I can’t love myself.  I’m not perfect enough- I’m not always as kind as I should be. I don’t work as hard as I ought. I make mistakes. I hurt people’s feelings. I don’t look the way I think I’m supposed to. I do not deserve love. 

Although we don’t always SEE this cavernous pain within ourselves in such a clear way, the outward symptoms are more evident. I hear it daily. Almost everyone I know has a to-do list of items to be fixed, things they don’t like about themselves, reasons why they don’t give themselves love. Reasons to be limited, in every area of our lives, from our yoga mat to our relationships. To say, this is as good as it gets. I don’t deserve more than this.

How then do we get from this self-shame to self-love? How can we begin to accept that we may already be perfect, lovable, just as we are? Once you’ve noticed these feelings, it just takes a little work to begin to shift your perspective.

Take a few minutes today to cultivate your own self-love with a brief meditation. 

  • Close your eyes and get comfortable, sitting with an upright spine.
  • Take a few moments to notice the sensations of your breath coming and going- perhaps the air in your nostrils, or the lift and swell of your ribcage.
  • Now, begin to call to mind one thing that you have done recently that is an act of kindness or compassion. Perhaps you fed your dog. Smiled at a stranger. Or maybe it was an act of kindness to yourself- had a cup of coffee when you were tired. Ate at your favorite restaurant. If nothing else, acknowledge that you loved yourself enough to sit down and do this exercise! 
  • Allow yourself to acknowledge this act, no matter how small, and smile at yourself. Inhaling, breathe in your own love. You might even say silently, or out loud, Breathing in, I know that I am love. 
  • As you exhale, imagine that you are releasing the limitations you’ve placed around your heart, your love. You might see this as wispy dark clouds loosening and drifting away, or perhaps as an opening, chinks of light shining into the center of your heart. You might even say, silently or out loud, Breathing out, I release the limitations on my own love. 
  • Repeat the process as many times as you like, first remembering something kind or loving that you have done, and then acknowledging your own worthiness, and finally releasing the bind around your heart.

When you are done, spend a few moments listening to and feeling the sensations of your breath before opening your eyes and returning to your day.

Romantic love is wonderful in all of its stages- from exhilarating and breathless to comfortable as an old sock. However, its very nature is unstable as it relies on another person. When we practice lovingkindness and compassion for ourselves, we are learning a love and happiness that will be the most stable thing in our lives.

Learning to love yourself- coming home, as Ravi says- does not take away from the fairytale and firework elements of romantic love, but adds an underlying stability that is the foundation for the most enduring of relationships. Who wouldn’t want that?

Happy Valentines’ Day, my Loves.

Laura

Photo credit: Nastassia Davis [www.nastassiadavis.com] / Foter.com / CC BY-NC