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“How does one stop thinking about the one we love?”
A client in crisis sends me that message. I remind her of our conversation about meditation.
“I tried, but it does not work for me.”
I often get that response. I understand the resistance: it used to be mine, too. Allocating time to sit in silence seems counterintuitive for most of us.
From early childhood, we depend on feedback from outside of ourselves: a parent’s smile or approval, grades, diplomas, job titles, money in the bank, love from another, and everything else we use as a measure of self-value.
Meditation is the opposite of that. Turning within brings us face-to-face with our own appraisal of how we are doing. How our experience of life actually feels.
We may have built a perfectly Instagramable life, but when we go within, all of that falls away. In meditative stillness we confront ourselves in all of our nakedness, with every self-doubt painfully apparent.
And that is where a lot of us get uncomfortable.
When we come face-to-face with our thoughts, anxieties, and fears our instinct is to run. Most of us have no skills to regulate these emotions, that is why so many of us escape in addictions. An addiction is an attempt to numb the uncomfortable emotions.
Some come to meditation seeking a “more enlightened” form of escape, a trick to chase all the troubling thoughts away. We expect to arrive at some Buddha-like state of non-thinking and complete insouciance, and get frustrated when that does not happen.
The fact is, even with regular practice I do not often get to that place of perfect thoughtlessness. But I have become an observer: an observer of my thoughts, triggers, and reactions. And that is one of the most important reasons for meditation—to learn that we are not our thoughts. Becoming an observer, rather than a participant, permits us to break the grip of invasive or destructive thoughts, as well as the consequent physiological reaction, and damage they may produce in our bodies.
Meditation allows us to develop a new relationship with our thinking mind.
Next time we think we are in love and feel stuck in the pain of separation, our skill of being a detached observer can offer a welcomed relief. When we can look at our thought without judgment, we can try to investigate its source: what does this feeling remind me of? And then: I am not that helpless little girl/boy any more. If I feel incomplete on my own: where am I giving my power away? If the pain of rejection stings: where have I rejected myself? If I fear losing the love of another: what can I do to show myself more love?
To do inner work is difficult; it is easier to continue complaining, and demand that life and other people change according to our wishes. The problem with that strategy is that we end up living at the mercy of things we cannot control. That is where a lot of our suffering comes from: the unbearable impermanence of life and our lack of control over it.
In a world where an urge to escape may be fulfilled through the click of a button, and love is sought from a catalog online, the long-term practice of meditation is definitely not a popular quick-fix solution to quench a craving. Rewiring our habitual responses to life is hard work. It takes practice, discipline, dedication. We have to set up new habits. We need to practice observing our patterns and behaviors.
Escaping or suppressing feelings is a behavior we adopted in childhood when the present moment was too painful or scary to sit through. It served us well in childhood because it allowed us to survive. However, when we hold on to this mechanism into adulthood, it becomes maladaptive and prevents us from fully engaging with our lives or developing the skills to self-soothe.
When we practice stillness, we learn to comfort ourselves. Mindful awareness and breathwork are powerful tools for processing difficult emotions: they allow us to remain in the present moment even through discomfort. The ability to detach from the vortex of negative thoughts allows us to redirect our attention where it is more constructive: in the present moment. Deep breath is a way to override the automatic stress response, break the circuit of anxiety, and bring the body and mind into balance.
This state of relaxation is where healing occurs. So, the more time we spend in that state, the more we allow our body and mind to heal and regenerate. Once the mind is at peace, we can develop a more flexible and realistic attitude toward everything. With time, we stop taking our problems, feelings of injustice, and our insecurities as seriously as when we began.
The art of detachment also helps us shift our relationship with change. When we start paying attention, we notice how highly variable and impermanent our own emotions are. We realize that change is an intrinsic part of who we are, not something that only happens on the outside. This awareness of our own processes permits a natural compassion to arise: toward ourselves and our pain, and toward others, caught in their own pain.
The biggest breakthrough for me in my practice of meditation is accessing what psychoanalyst Michael Eigen calls the “boundless, unknown support.” Eigen writes, “(this) sense of a boundless unknown is part of the background sense of existence. It provides a basis for a sense of emergent trust and faith.” It allows us to learn to trust the environment to uphold our being.
This sense of boundless unknown support allows me to rely on my inner stability in the face of inevitable changes in life. Together with journaling, it provides me a sense of inner home where I can go to observe my reactions and process my feelings in safety.
The model for this process comes from the study of infants and their caregivers. To develop in a healthy way, a baby needs the parent to be present, but not overly interfering. Knowing that the caregiver is around, the child can relax. The ability to relax permits the child to develop an internal life and be at ease with the sense of its own primary aloneness. For most of us, something went wrong with the caregivers’ support in childhood, affecting the growing personality, and arresting our emotional development. This also explains our fear of change.
The practice of meditation reconnects us to that lost sense of background support through the calming and stilling of the mind. This then allows our tendency to cling and the need for control to be released. Our ability to connect with this boundless unknown support is the key to psychological balance. In times of crisis we can return to this connection with the source of inner peace.
This essential aloneness is what we are born with. It is intrinsic to our mind. It is our true essence. Trusting it was not modeled to us when we were children because most of our caretakers were disconnected from their essence. Instead we learned to rely on layers of ego-personas which validate us and give us a false sense of security, safety, and trust. Deconditioning from all the masks gets us to our essence. When we learn to listen to, and take action from alignment with our true nature, we can finally stop living on autopilot, tethered to the comfort of the familiar, and step into a life that honors our evolving needs.
As we become more adaptable to change within and without, we become more successful at navigating life in healthy, more sustainable way.
Small but consistent daily steps transform lives. In our rapidly changing world with its ensuing stresses and chaos, a daily meditation practice can provide the anchor we all need.
~ Contact me for a free introductory session to begin reconnecting to the security and comfort of your true self.