‘There are goblins in the centre of the woods. They’ll get you if you go close.’ This terrified my five year old self. The centre of the woods was dark and frightening enough without goblins too. So I only ever nervously skirted round the edge of the woods in a group – avoiding the middle at all costs.
When mindfulness came into my life as an adult, I realised that I was treating some of my difficult feelings in the same way as the dark woods with the supposed goblins – skirting round them, never getting close, terrified of being with them. I saw how much energy this took from me. How much I organised my life around skirting round the edges. It felt quite shocking. Whilst this was not pleasant at the time, it was a big wake up call. It motivated me to find a saner way to live my life. And so I set off on a path of healing and transformation with Thich Nhat Hanh and the teachings as my guide and the sangha as my support.
Thich Nhat Hanh offers that a good place to start is to nourish ourselves with daily mindfulness practice. I found this enjoyable and helpful but not always easy. Practicing with a sangha was essential. A sangha is community of people who practice mindfulness together. Just as my energy was flagging, attending a sangha injected new life and inspiration into my practice. There are many simple practices that can help us on a daily basis to be more present and calm in our lives from washing up meditation to mindful eating, from mindful walking to taking three breaths when we hear a bell ring and more. Introducing one or two to our day can help us to experience more wellbeing as part of our daily life.
On our path of transformation and healing we don’t ignore our difficult feelings when they arise. We embrace them! We use the energy of mindfulness to hold our difficult feelings. Instead of repressing or expressing our difficult feelings we simply embrace them with mindfulness. We use our love and understanding to hold these feelings in an accepting and compassionate way. We don’t need to judge, criticise or blame ourselves in any way.
Breathing in, I’m aware of the painful feeling in me. Breathing out, I’m aware of the painful feeling in me.” This is an art. We have to learn it, because most of us don’t like to be with our pain.
Thich Nhat Hanh
When I practice like this I see the energy of my difficult feelings – anger, anxiety, resentment, attachment – for what it is. Just an automatic type of energetic reaction, that comes from my perceptions of the situation. I see that I have given the situation an emotional charge. And I also know that when I embrace my difficult feelings with mindfulness I can release the emotional charge through the simplicity of breathing steadily and looking kindly at myself.
When we have experience of embracing difficult feelings and looking after them, we are then able to look into the roots of our difficult feelings. We can do this when we feel steady, calm and solid. We can meditate on the roots of our difficult feelings – what is the origin of our difficult feelings? Maybe we see that someone close to us acted in similar ways and we may have picked up this way of reacting. Maybe we see that there were difficult circumstances in our early life that has shaped the way we respond as adults.
Taking the time to look into the roots of our difficulties enables us to love and understand ourselves better. It can also help us to understand and love those close to us. For example, with mindfulness practice I realised that there was a lot of resentment in me. I would feel resentful very quickly in certain situations in family life. When I looked deeply I realised that my mother had also acted in this way and I began to try to understand the reasons why. Looking deeply in this way, I touched a lot of compassion for my mother and myself and developed the intention to live mindfully rather than resentfully.
The path of transformation and healing has led me to the centre of the dark woods with the clear light of mindfulness illuminating the way. I can enjoy the stillness and coolness there. The goblins have turned out to be the shadows of my own mental formations.
True Action of Loving Kindness
Vari is part of the teaching team on the Living Sangha: Transformation and Healing Retreat October 24-28th. Vari is joined by fellow dharma teacher Teri West and will be supported by experienced Order members Gary Greenberg and Rehena Harilall. The retreat offers us the chance to practice together as a sangha and to take time to transform and heal ourselves.