June 14, 2013

Why People Get Stuck at the Threshold (& How Not To).


We live a few minutes walk from the Pacific Ocean.

Every evening, people gather on the bluff overlooking the beach to witness the sunset. As the sky changes colors and the sun nudges the horizon, everyone gets very quiet.

It’s a threshold moment.

The crossing point from day to night—and it focuses our attention. People stop moving and talking in order to be present as the sun melts into the sea.

Sometimes, the beauty is so intense that someone will feel compelled to speak. They’ll say, “Wow” or “That is just so beautiful” or sometimes, “It’s like a movie.”

To simply be present without commentary takes practice.

The wordless intensity of threshold moments can be more than the mind can bear; so, we buffer the intensity by overlaying it with words. Talking about the experience makes it more bearable as it distances the speaker from the experience itself.

Saying that the sunset is “Like a movie,” overlays the glory of the moment with memories, associations and concepts.

The mind feeds on and is sustained by memories, associations and concepts.

There’s beauty and wonder in these mental patterns—who doesn’t enjoy the occasional stroll down a loving stretch of memory lane?

Memory can function as a deep repository of wisdom and experience. But, it can also be a trap. Because when perceptions of the present moment are obscured by memories, associations and concepts, you’re missing out on what’s actually occurring—now.

When you want flip the light switch, memory is the perfect ally. But, if you want to renew your life, deepen your relationship, create, lead, or innovate, memory will hamper your progress.

When you want to cross the threshold from your current way of being into a new, more authentic expression of your true self, memory gets in the way.

The mental models of the past won’t take you across the threshold.

The vehicle that carries you across the threshold is made of stillness and silence—but, the untrained mind can only take so much stillness, so much silence.

When I began learning about public speaking and group facilitation, I was taught to ask an open question and then simply allow for seven seconds of silence.

“It may feel like an eternity,” my coach told me, “but just keep breathing. Someone will break the silence and answer your question. They won’t be able to withstand the silence.”

The same thing happens to you when you’re at the threshold.

More accurately, it happens to your mind. The mind that is unaccustomed to silence and stillness gets antsy. It scurries around looking for an idea, a memory, a belief—a familiar pattern—to bring certainty to the uncertainty of the threshold.

This presents a dilemma if you’re longing for a deeper, more creative life.

If you’ve heard the call to live more fully, to create more freely, and to take your place in the world more boldly, the mind’s tendency to pull back from the threshold is a real dilemma. The mind’s need for familiarity, certainty, and control prevent you from entering the vehicle of stillness—the only form of transportation that can carry you across.

The solution is to develop a taste for stillness and the capacity to sustain self-awareness in the absence of thought.

This takes practice. Spiritual practice, to be precise. By which I mean any intentional practice that cultivates your capacity to sustain self-awareness without the support of thought, memory, ideas, emotions and concepts.

There are two forms of spiritual practice.

One is formal the other informal—both are needed to develop the capacity to cross the threshold.

Formal practice is the daily discipline of sitting, meditating, praying, chanting…whatever form of spiritual practice you enjoy.

Notice the word…dailyAs in, every day. That’s part of what makes it a practice, not a hobby.

In other words, you establish a consistent pattern that trains your mind and body to enjoy, to savor, and to look forward to the experience of stillness.

It doesn’t take long.

You don’t really have to sit for long periods of time in formal practice. The most important factor is daily consistency. Through daily practice, the time you spend in each sitting will organically extend and deepen on its own. Particularly if your formal practice is support by your informal practice.

What is informal practice?

It’s the way you live. If you’re days are spent running, ranting, raving and…how to put this delicately…multi-tasking—then your informal practice will undermine the benefits of your formal practice.

The idea is to live—eat, work, love, play—in such a way that by the time you’re ready to sit down for formal practice, you’re really ready.

How to do this? Be mindful as you move through your day.

Notice all the mini-thresholds that present themselves. These thresholds are the in-the-moment opportunities to let go of your fixed agenda, personal history, and well-honed expectations.

All the thresholds of daily life, that give you the opportunity to practice letting go and entering into a more undefended way of living.

Every moment is a threshold moment; every moment is an invitation to experience the exquisite beauty, stunning fragility and boundary-less power of what is arising as your life.

It only takes a breath to open to the sunset and to cross the threshold into the new life that is dawning.



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Ed: Bryonie Wise

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