Saturday, September 24, 2011

Driving Lessons from the Backseat

To me the benefit of meditation is the practice it provides for real life.  Through mediation practice I have learned to recognize when I am not present and then to return gently to consciousness – the ability to simply drop down into the reality of the present moment and to be there for whatever it has to offer.  It gives me greater skill in navigating through the emotional rapids of day-to-day life instead of being hijacked by thoughts, feelings, or other sensations.  Because of my meditation practice, I am more able to be open to what’s going on around me as well as inside me as it happens throughout the day.  I am less likely to be swept away by judgements, or taken over by expectations.  It allows me to be present to my own experience.
A few weeks ago I had a perfect opportunity to practice this link between meditation and in the moment awareness of my life.  I was on my way north – a 12 hour road trip out of Vancouver.  This in itself was a challenging prospect for me as I am still healing from a fractured sacroiliac joint.  But I knew the vehicle would be comfortable even in the backseat.  From past experience I knew that this backseat fit and supported me well.

And so I settled in.  I began with some focused attention on my breath and then gradually let it shift into a sense of my whole body breathing and present moment awareness.  I wasn’t trying to get anywhere, or feel anything special, I was simply allowing myself to be where I was and to feel whatever was there to be felt.  Observing and accepting whatever was – because it was already there.  I was just being with my thoughts, sensations, and emotions – whether pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, because they were part of my experience in that moment.

One of the first things I noticed occurred as we stopped at a gas station on our way out of Vancouver.  Maybe it was because my vision was limited in the back seat, or maybe not, but my sense of smell (not my strongest sense) started communicating with me.  As I experienced the smell of the raw gasoline some of my fondest childhood memories stirred.  My dad had a service station and that smell was the smell of family, and family outings.  Part of me also recognized that the fumes from the gasoline were not too healthy and I also felt some aversion.  So, being present for what was, I enjoyed my childhood memories and took care of myself by getting out of the vehicle to take an early bathroom break.

As we drove on, I noticed other smells –the two dogs behind the backseat, the market gardens, and agriculture.   Then, as we got out on the open highway I became conscious of the sensory impact of traffic – the smell of rubber and exhaust, the feeling of heat, and the constant hum.  Sometime later, the distinct impression of a drier climate – heat and dry grass filled my awareness.  As we continued north, this was displaced by a rain shower which added an element of moisture to the air.  Many memories were triggered as we drove through this smorgasbord of sensory experiences and I just let that be – neither attaching to the memories nor resisting them.  It was a novel and relaxing way to enjoy the trip from the backseat.

Of course other sensations and experiences were also part of the journey.  I had brought a set of CDs along, “The Seven Wonders that will Change Your Life” by Pat Gray and Brian Sack, so we slipped that into the player.  As I listened to the audio book I attended to my personal experience of it – the parts that resonated with me, the parts I wanted to reflect on later, as well as the parts that awakened strong emotions.  One section of the 3rd CD for instance seemed to me to be preachy and dogmatic and I felt myself experiencing resistance and anger.  So, I moved towards these emotions in a meditative manner.  By reflecting on the part of me who felt these emotions and the times I had felt this way before, I gained important clarity.  I learned more about my uncomfortable feeling and how I might honour this new understanding.  Given that there were others in the vehicle, I was also aware that they might have other reactions.  But I owned my personal response and needs and shared them with the others.  A rewarding dialogue ensued.  What a relief to find that they had experienced similar reactions!  We decided we would not listen to the rest of the audio book if it continued in that vein.  Fortunately it didn’t!

Perhaps the most rewarding part of the trip however was my experience of my painful areas.  Travelling has been difficult for me and part of me feared what this trip might mean for my body.  Knowing this, I had decided to go anyway and to attend to my body’s response in as open manner as possible.  So, when I noticed a pain in my back or hips I allowed myself to move toward it – to be there with it and to experience what it was really like.  Did it tingle?  Ache?  Or burn?  I found when I did that and simply breathed into the painful area, I uncovered places where I was holding tightness, anticipating the pain and resisting it.  As I continued to breathe into the area and allowed the tension to move, shift, or release, my pain decreased.  Of course I also took every opportunity I had to get out of the car to stretch my legs and flex my muscles as well.  But still, I was pleasantly surprised to arrive at our destination feeling much, much better than I ever thought I could after an all-day drive!

And so, by being where I was and feeling what I was feeling without judgement or resistance I learned a great deal.  I even learned to enjoy driving from the backseat. 

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Making the Best

The other day a friend said to me it’s good to make the best of a bad situation.  My first instinct was simply to say “for sure”.  But, while on one level I agreed something in me said – wait a minute.

I know we sort of promote this idea of making the best – grinning and bearing it, making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, and so on – even when (perhaps especially) we don’t like a situation.  And certainly whatever the situation is – it’s already here.  So why not make the best of it?

Why not simply agree?  If the unpleasant circumstance is already here – there is no way of getting around it.  But, a part of me knew that this was not all that was here.  My feeling uncomfortable with the situation – that was also real.  Could I go along with what was happening and still be authentic?  And what about other realities: my respect for the other people involved, prior agreements, and so on?  A multitude of realities – all present in that one moment.  So what to do?

To be honest with myself (and others) I have to wrestle with these realities; I need a response that reflects the situation from all of my perspectives. I can no longer go along with a situation that makes me feel uncomfortable – simply put a smile on my face and make the best of things.

So what are my options?  Well, in this situation, where I was simply having a conversation with a friend, I just had to speak up.  I needed to express my reservations to be authentic.  Speaking up lead to a new understanding of what I was struggling with.  

Yes, at times all I can do in the moment is to make the best of it.  But an authentic relationship needs an honest foundation.  I need to let others know when I am not totally comfortable with what is happening.  Being aware of my response and being willing to communicate that in the moment is, for me, a more authentic way of being.  When such a message comes from my heart I know it will be respectful of others and trust it will strengthen our relationships.

Another response is to consider how I came to be in this uncomfortable place.  Reflecting on this may enlighten me about how to avoid similar situations in the future.  What thoughts, emotions or feelings lead me to agree?  How can I be more aware in the future?  Is this something that I need to say “No” to?  If so, what will alert me to this?

Or, is there a way that the experience can be changed?  What might that change look like?  Can I be the source of this positive shift?

Lots to reflect on!  And yet, I realize that it is much like the familiar serenity prayer.  It’s the courage and wisdom I’m working on.

“Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”

I’d be delighted to hear your response to this!