SUPPORT FOR WHEN "STUFF" HAPPENS
"The root cause of our suffering is our identification with our thoughts..."
During meditation, as well as during our daily living, thoughts, mental images, emotions and physical sensations are always appearing and disappearing in This Awareness. However, if we don't take the time to investigate into the nature of What we really Are, we identify with these temporary appearances and we think we are them.
Sometimes during meditation there can be subtle, but very powerful, thoughts (often accompanied by strong emotions or even physical sensations) which may show up that, seemingly, take us away from resting in This Peace or Spacious Awareness.
We have found, from working with hundreds of people over the years, that there are particular recurring ways in which we can strongly and unconsciously identify with the subtle thoughts about these thoughts, mental images, emotions and sensations. As we become more aware of these subtle thoughts, we realize that we don't have to follow them. We become Free of not just the thoughts, but the feelings they can generate - not just during meditation but anytime!
There is an appreciable lessening of suffering when we learn to distinguish between identifying with these thoughts, images, emotions and sensations, and simply being conscious of them as impermanent appearances in What is always Here - What we really Are.
In addition to subtle thoughts, there are other ways we may get caught in the"stuff" that shows up during our meditations, and also in our daily lives. Fear is one that shows up so frequently that we have included it as its own section. We have also included a section on other distractions that can pull us away from noticing What we really Are, such problematic mind-states, body discomforts, bothersome sounds and visual distractions.
TRYING ~ In EM&B meditation, "trying" is a very common subtle efforting that we may do without even realizing it. This efforting is based on some equally subtle thought like "I'm trying to get to the Peace" or "I'm trying to get rid of my thoughts so that I can get back to the Peace"(or Spaciousness or Boundlessness or whatever experience we think we should be having). So we "try" and we find that we can't get back to it, and so we feel that our meditation was not very good or very satisfying.
In this case the ego has taken over with the thought that "I need to try to get to the Peace, Presence, Love, etc." rather than purely surrendering to what is happening now. Just the act of becoming aware of our particular "trying" thought patterns can be very useful in allowing us to stop "trying" and truly surrender.
By surrendering we mean to use no efforting whatsoever. We do this by consciously telling ourselves to "allow thoughts"; to "let them be there"; or we "give permission" for the mind to be busy, frustrated, upset or however it is appearing. It doesn't matter what the thought is that we use for surrendering as long as it resonates and works for us, and we are no longer attempting to make our experience appear in a certain way. This surrendering may seem paradoxical, as we can be afraid that if we allow something unpleasant we will be stuck with it. However, surrendering ultimately shows us that Peace (or Awareness, Spaciousness, Presence...) is already here no matter what is appearing.
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HIGH EXPECTATIONS ~ Sometimes we will sit down to do an EM&B meditation and we'll have some great expectation of what it should be like. We very subtly say to ourselves something like "If I meditate now, I want to have this extraordinary experience", perhaps like one we've had in the past. Most likely, though, we will be disappointed. Again, the resolution is to purely surrender and not try to control our expectations, to simply notice them...
We can also have high expectations about what Enlightenment is. We can think that Enlightenment is going to be like having a continuous, thought-free, sexual orgasm and negative emotions will never appear. However, that's not true! Spacious Awareness is not flashy or ecstatic. Such experiences come and go. However, This Spacious Awareness is always present, along with the subtle essences of Peace, Happiness, Freedom and Love. These are absolutely fulfilling and tranquil and there is a sense of being Home, even as thoughts and emotions continue pass through.
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WANTING TO "LET IT GO" ~ Sometimes rather intense negative stories (thoughts and emotions) may show up in a meditation. The subtle tendency is to either continue to indulge in, dwell on, or try to get rid of the story. Continuing to indulge, or dwell on, the story leads to deeper and deeper suffering. At some point we may realize this and then want to get rid of the story in order to release our suffering.
If we resist or want to get rid of the story, then we may try to want to "let it go" (which is really just another thought), but we find that we can't because the mind is intensely caught in the story. In trying to push away the story, the mind is back in control and letting go often doesn't work. However, in these particular circumstances, we find that we can at least "let it be". Letting the story be here, just as it is without indulging in it, is a thought that allows a form of surrender where no efforting is needed. What is revealed is This Awareness in which the story begins to dissipate and will eventually disappear entirely.
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JUDGMENTS ~ Judgments are a normal phenomenon for the human animal. They are a survival mechanism that help us to discern what is safe (good) and what is unsafe (bad). Judgments can show up even in meditation as we try to determine what is a good meditation and what is a bad one.
During meditation we will often get lost or caught in stories/thoughts or we might even fall asleep. Then we usually have some judgment like "I shouldn't (or don't want to) get lost (or caught) in this story" or "I shouldn't (or don't want to) fall asleep". However, getting lost in a story or falling asleep may happen many times during a single meditation. Our suggestion is to be willing to get lost or fall asleep and to be willing for a judgment about this to arise a thousand times. Surrender, meaning a complete allowing of the judging or the sleeping, is the key...
Another judgment we can make is how our meditation isn't as good as some other meditations we have had or isn't as spectacular as some extraordinary experience we have heard about. We don't have to believe these judgments. When it comes to knowing What we really Are, they are as useless as the story of not doing it right.
Knowing that this judging is a normal, automatic and human reaction (even to the point where we are judging our judgments) can actually allow us to have more compassion and be less critical about ourselves. Be willing to effortlessly surrender and let it all be just as it is and come back, again and again, to This Spacious Awareness that is witnessing the judging...
Notice right now...
You may have judgments about what you have just read or about how you think you compare to what is being described. Can you see that these are simply thoughts passing through Your Aware Presence?
Notice that What you really Are is unaffected by any judgments that arise. Turn your attention towards This Aware Emptiness that does not need to have any opinions about anything and simply Is.
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THIS ISN'T HOW IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE ~ Variations of this subtle thought can show up in three ways:
I don't want this "stuff" that is appearing now ~ Since an EM&B meditation is so open and we are consciously allowing any and all experiences to arise, occasionally some unpleasant memory or future projection may show up in the form of thoughts, images, emotions or physical sensations/discomfort. Because they are unpleasant, we attempt to resist or get rid of them.
In some sense, this negative experience wants to be released - to be freed - because, until now, it has been repressed. In these instances, we encourage you to be willing to be uncomfortable with what you have been trying to avoid and to allow such a memory or projection to appear and then to eventually disappear, as it naturally does when we do not indulge it.
While the discomfort (and resistance to the discomfort) is happening, you can put the main focus of your attention on What is Aware of the discomfort, rather than the discomfort itself. However, if the uncomfortable feeling is too intense and you cannot allow it to simply be here, please stop the meditation and ground yourself in your present experience. Open your eyes and look around you; feel the movement of your breath; notice the sensations of your body sitting in a chair, reclining in bed...
Notice that, in this moment, the unpleasant memory or projection is not actually happening anywhere but in your mind. If you need to, bring yourself more into this moment by moving the body - stretching or going for a walk; listening to some pleasant music; playing with a pet; or calling someone who can be with you without judgment and without reinforcing the uncomfortable story.
If this memory or projection is recurring for you, you may also want to consider having a qualified therapist assist you in moving through it and opening to the accompanying emotions so that they can be released. Depending on what is going on for you, we may be able to help you with this. Please contact us (Jeff or Julie) and we can chat about it and determine what is best for you.
I want this "stuff" that is appearing now ~ Sometimes during meditation, thoughts and feelings can show up around things that are lacking in our life: people we miss or wish to be closer to, a job we use to do that we no longer do, a place we wish to live in but don't, or an activity that we would like to participate in, but can't. At first this can be pleasant, but then there is suffering because what we desire or long for is not here.
If you can simply allow this feeling of longing to be here without resisting or indulging it, then do so. At the same time, place your attention on What is Aware of this longing, rather than the longing itself. Notice that longing also comes and goes in the space of This Awareness. Again, if this feeling is intense and recurring and you can't simply allow it to be felt, we encourage you to reach out for assistance in moving through and beyond it. Please know that we are available and we would be honored to help you.
I want "stuff" that is not appearing ~ Sometimes in our meditations, we hope that certain feelings will show up such as peace or bliss, and when these feelings don't show up on demand we think there is something wrong with our meditation, or with us. Please refer back to the earlier section about TRYING.
"Each time we experience This Spacious Awareness, it's important to take a few moments to fully Appreciate This Freedom/Peace - our True Self..."
Fear runs our lives! About twenty-five years ago, I (Jeff) was curious about how prevalent fear was in my life. So I kept a small notebook in my back pocket and began to write down whenever fear, either subtle or obvious, showed up. I was astounded. It was like "holy shit, it's always here" and it was dictating my life! Prior to that realization, I hadn't recognized that fear was so predominant, so powerful, and how it underlied nearly all my thoughts and almost everything I did.
Fear, conscious or unconscious, is so pervasive as part of being a human animal that we're often not even aware of it! So as we open more and more in meditation, it is inevitable that fear, at some point, will show up for many of us. Fear can be a powerful emotion that can potentially derail our meditation. We know of a few people who have given up meditating because of not wanting to experience this fear.
If fear shows up in your meditation, first, see if you can simply allow it to be here. Notice its physical qualities, how it feels in the body , whether it shows up in the stomach, the heart area, the throat, or anywhere else. Notice if there is a vibration to it, or where it feels more intense. Notice what thoughts are arising with these sensations. This noticing allows you to step back from the fear so that you are not totally identifying with it and the stories associated with it. Then see if you can allow all of these thoughts and sensations to be present just as they are.
Next, bring your attention to What is noticing, What is actually unafraid no matter what is showing up. Put your attention Here, on This Spacious Presence that is What you really Are and see what happens.
"Even fear comes and goes in this Space of What we really Are. Take some time to really Appreciate What is Free from the presence or absence of fear..."
In addition to subtle thoughts and not-so-subtle fears, there are many other ways we can become distracted from consciously resting in and as our True Self during meditation.
OTHER PROBLEMATIC MINDS AND EMOTIONS ~ Sometimes people tell us that they can't be present when intense emotions or mind-states show up during meditation. But What we really Are, as This Present Awareness, is always Here. So in truth we can never lose our True Self. However, our strong tendency is to identify with our stories.
With EM&B we can become Conscious of, and Witness to, the following types of problematic mind-states and their accompanying emotions, allowing us to Consciously rest more deeply in and as our True Self. This can often further settle the "problematic" mind, allowing us to Rest even more deeply... Such problematic mind-states can include:
resistant mind (the I don't-want-this-here mind)
desiring mind (the I want-this-here-now mind)
Post-Traumatic Stress (PTSD) mind*
Bi-Polar Disorder (Manic-Depressive) mind*
Obsessive-Compulsive (OCD) mind*
* Note: These mind-states are often much more intense than those listed above them. So please see the earlier instructions for FEAR if you're having difficulty.
In any given moment, as an experiment, you can consciously give permission for the mind to be as it is. It may sound silly, but you can talk to your own mind and say something like, "Okay, busy mind, go ahead - be busy (or worried or frustrated, etc.)..."
Be patient and pause for several seconds and perhaps the busy mind will begin to dissipate some or there may even be moments when there are no thoughts - just Space... And even if this doesn't happen, you can notice What is observing the mind and its current state, which takes the edge off of the emotional intensity. What is revealed is This Spacious Awareness - your True Self... So put your attention Here...
With a clear intention to realize more and more What we really Are, there is more and more of a willingness and a capacity to face whatever mental and emotional storms are showing up. Because we are resting more and more in and as This Spacious Awareness, we learn that it is safe to open to even the most intense emotions while, at the same time, we see that they can't touch the core of What we really Are. We begin to experience a Freedom from whatever is showing up.
If we meet these emotions enough times, they lose their potency. Some tendencies toward these particular mind-states may remain as a part of the human character, but they are negligible compared to what we once experienced. We find that we are not triggered by people and events in the way we used to be. We are better able to simply allow these remaining responses to be here without a need to act on them in any way. And what may have taken hours, days, weeks or even years to resolve can be processed in a few seconds or minutes.
If you need help in dealing with any difficult emotions or mind-states, please know that we are here to assist you. It really is possible to move through what seems like an intractable feeling and be Free of it.
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BODY DISCOMFORTS ~ During EM&B meditation uncomfortable body sensations may appear. Just like thoughts and emotions, you can Consciously allow these sensations to be here as well as any commentary about them. Recognize What is Aware of both the body discomforts and the commentary. At some point, you may wish to move or do whatever is appropriate to relieve those bodily symptoms. We find it useful to first recognize This Spacious Awareness before taking any physical action to resolve the discomfort. This helps in recognizing What is always Here under all circumstances. You may even find that some physical discomforts lessen or even disappear when you turn your attention to What you really Are.
Please know that you can make the distinction between a temporary pain that may be the result of how you are sitting, and something more serious that may need professional attention. Allowing does not mean neglecting the needs of the body. But always come back to Awareness first...
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BOTHERSOME SOUNDS ~ During meditation distracting sounds may occur such as a lawnmower, vehicle horns and traffic, voices, birds, kids, etc. Sometimes there can automatically be some mental commentary such as "I don't want this interruption to be here" or "That sound shouldn't be happening" or "This isn't right".
If you can do something about the sound, then of course take action to minimize or stop it. However, if you can't do anything about it, then surrender by consciously letting all sounds be just as they are and allowing your mental commentary about them to appear and disappear without following it. And while it may be true that you don't want the sound to be here, that is just another subtle thought which is simply passing through This Awareness/Silence that underlies all noise.
In some spiritual traditions, meditation is a formal process that has to be done in a very exacting way. Being told that we need to find a silent space to mediate, for example, can lead to an inability to meditate "properly" if all environmental input is not as it apparently should be. These expectations can cause a rigidity that does not allow for life to flow as it flows.
Silence can be pleasant during a meditation, but it is not necessary. We can mediate while there are sounds of birds, cars, lawnmowers or the coughing of a fellow meditator. Thoughts that tell us that "this meditation isn't right" or "I can't meditate with this going on" are also just thoughts appearing in This Aware Presence, along with the sounds.
When I (Jeff) teach meditation at the jail in a nearby town, there are many auditory distractions about which nothing can be done. The men I work with still report being able to notice What they really Are.
Once we have had a glimpse of This Awareness that is our True Self, EM&B can be done anytime, anywhere, under any circumstances - sitting in a noisy waiting room, listening to a crying child on an airplane or when the neighbor's dog is barking.
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VISUAL DISTRACTIONS ~ During EM&B meditation there are less visual distractions with your eyes closed than than with them open. However, we live approximately sixteen hours a day with our eyes open. So it is definitely useful to learn to meditate/surrender with our eyes open. For some of us, it can be more difficult at first with eyes open; however, it does get easier with practice.
Try it right now...
See if you can simply allow all objects in your visual field to be here just as they are, along with any commentary about them - "that's red", "that's my favorite picture", "that chair is ugly", etc.
Notice that This Spacious Awareness is always Here no matter what you are looking at and what thoughts there are about it. Turn your attention towards This Awareness (What you really Are) and notice that this Space has no inherent commentary about what is being seen. Objects simply are as they are and You are as You Are.
Visual distractions can even happen with the eyes closed, such as when some strong visual memory or desire shows up. These images can often evoke strong visceral responses. As we have said before, surrender is the key - allowing the images, and the feelings, to be here while noticing What is Aware of them. Sometimes, however, visual distractions may seem very frightening or disturbing, as can often happen with PTSD. If you are having difficulty simply allowing them, please know that we can help (Jeff or Julie).
"No matter what is showing up, turn your attention to What you really Are. While resting in and as This Awareness, see if there is still an issue that needs to be attended to. Sometimes there can be the practical aspect of simply helping the human character to resolve problems. We can both simultaneously deal with 'issues' and be Free of them..."
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