At different times of life and at various times during any year, season, or experience, we arrive at turning points. The path before us may be blocked, or we might have to make a choice to go right or left. At times we find ourselves on a circuitous path ending up right back where we started, or so it seems. When we are first starting out in our lives, careers, relationships, or journeys, we may be craving opportunities to try new paths. I remember jumping at the chance to have a new experience, or starting a new job. At some point however, we learn that we cannot do everything. We learn to balance our time, energy, resources, and focus. And we begin to determine for ourselves, what really matters.
Focusing on a creative task or an important aspect of our work requires a certain amount of self discipline. Being in a relationship, being part of a family, and having friends all require a sense of self awareness and commitment. We have to learn how to say ‘no thank you’ when a choice would take us off the path have committed to. Sometimes veering off the path is a perfect way to develop, grow, or gain understanding and experience.
At a certain point however, when we have a goal that is important to us, it is crucial to understand how to say ‘no’ to that which threatens or diverts us from our own well being. I remember a friend of mine in my early college days, telling our group of friends, “You won’t see me until next spring. I’m going to be working on my thesis.” At the time, that seemed like such an extreme thing to say. I have learned since then, however, that when we have a big task, commitment, or challenge ahead of us, we have to acknowledge the time, energy, and care that will go into seeing things through
Meditation and mindful contemplation of the choices we have before us are both tools that we can use to discern what matters most to us. Our desires often transcend the limits of our own being. We cannot, for example, be in two different places at the same time. We are also each given the same time frame each day, 24 hours. No more, no less. We have physical needs that must be met including rest, nutrition, contact, shelter, connection, and safety. Our physical body can be stretched to its limits, but not beyond them. Push yourself too far, and something breaks. We can of course use our many mental, spiritual, and extrasensory powers to assist ourselves and others. We can strengthen our capacity to lift, move, walk, stretch, hike, swim, understand, learn, and heal. When we push beyond our limits however, we can break.
Often when we go into our meditation practice, we seek to relieve ourselves of stress, anxiety, fear, or some other issue that is causing us discomfort or worry. We hope to find relief from what has triggered our emotional upset or regain some strength from an injury, illness, or heavy load of some kind. We seek silence, calm, clarity, or balance. And often, through the experiences of slowing down and becoming more mindful of our breath, our body, our thoughts, and our ability to relax, we feel we have achieved some kind of balance. And for a time, we have. Taking time out once a day, once a week, or for a yearly retreat, does help us achieve a greater sense of harmony. However, if we fail to take care of what causes the upset, imbalance, frustration, or concern in the first place, we have missed the deeper benefits of our practice.
Whenever we go into a meditative experience, we become more aware of how we are feeling. For some, that in itself is enough to turn us off to the practice. We wake up to some pain or frustration. We become more aware of our fears or concerns. We don’t all automatically go into a peaceful place of love and harmony. Indeed many times when we take time to be still and quiet, our deeper feelings awaken, and we begin to feel more upset as those feelings make their way to our conscious mind and attention. Waking up doesn’t always feel good. Think about waking up after a bad dream. Nothing has happened during your sleep, except the images of a nightmare have affected you. Waking up after a nightmare can be disconcerting, and the feelings alone may stay with you throughout the day. Meditation can also allow us to become more aware of how we really feel.
That’s the good news and the bad news. Those feelings and their root causes, don’t go away because you don’t like them. If we keep them inside, they become a form of suppressed energy. Suppression turns into depression, and depression becomes any manner of other physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual manifestations. We usually call it stress, or anger, upset or frustration. We can call it a headache or aches and pains or simply ‘feeling down’. The waking up process that occurs in meditation as well as other spiritual practices, is just one step in dealing with what is at the heart of the matter.
What needs to happen is we need to pay attention to what the messages are from our own inner being. What does our physical body tell us? What do our emotional state and our reactions and responses tell us? What do our spiritual desires, questions, or malaise tell us? What does our level of energy and what do our needs and hungers tell us? Tell us about who we are. For example, if I have a nagging feeling about a decision I’ve made, that nagging feeling needs a name Is it doubt? Is it fear? Is it confusion? What is it? And what is that feeling attached to. After we name the feeling and attempt to connect it to something we have chosen or something that has happened in our lives, we can then move towards making peace with our feelings.
We respond to the life we are living. Consciously and unconsciously whether we choose to face something or not. Our reactions, responses, emotions, psychological well being, and physical health all are in tune to each and everything we are involved in. Most of us have learned to channel our feelings, often into work or responsibilities–all productive and rational ways of justifying our busy lives or chaotic or unsatisfactory ways of being. We often blame others for our situations or conditions, when in reality we have chosen to stay with the choices we have made in order to maintain familiarity, normalcy, a stilted or unhealthy idea of who we are and what we are really entitled to. We all make excuses for ourselves and others in order to justify the life we are living. We also do this so we don’t have to make changes. That is until it is too late, and we are forced out of our comfort zone or we finally have to deal with the consequences of all we have buried and tried to ‘live with’ or forget or express through our art, or through our service and devotion to others.
Looking from the outside, our lives may look like we have it all together. We may look like the most benevolent, kind, and giving person alive. Or we may look like we’re trapped or falling apart or living in a dream world. What others perceive of us, is less relevant (if at all relevant) than the image of ourselves that we have created. For many of us, saying ‘yes’ and putting up with situations at all costs, grew out of our desire to find meaning, purpose. Grew out of our desire to have a chance to prove ourselves, learn something, be given a shot at trying a new path.
We grabbed opportunities when they were handed to us, because as young, inexperienced, and naive people, we wondered if there’d ever be another chance. The grabbing for experiences, trying things out, saying ‘yes’ became part of our pattern. There are probably many other patterns we picked up or established as we grew. The ‘being a nice girl’, ‘giving with no thought of receiving’, or doing what you had to do despite the cost to yourself and your loved ones. We all have pattens like these. If not these, then surely you have some unique ones of your own. Consider what patterns have become part of your own belief system, and how those patterns add to your well being or not. In particular, how do those patterns relate to what you embrace or let go, when you say ‘yes’ and when you say ‘no thank you’. Notice how they have become your shield, your excuse-maker, or your justification for putting up with feeling less than whole an complete as you are.
The power we have to accept or reject experiences, opportunities, relationships, or beliefs about ourselves and others is a ruling factor of what fosters our health and well being. We cannot eliminate stress from our lives, but we can eliminate some of the causes of that stress. Think about what it would be like to have some healthy stress going on in your life. Instead of worrying about people who rile you up regularly or situations that you can’t stand, consider getting stressed about how long a walk you want to take, or what painting you will do next. Consider what it would be like to get excited (a form of stress) about starting a new business or taking a long trip or giving up a way of life that is wearing you out. Consider what might be a healthier to live.
Meditation done daily weekly, monthly, or now and then, have definite benefits. The benefits however, are multiplied a thousand fold when you use what you learn to discern how to eliminate the negative habits, patterns, and choices that threaten your health and well being. Once you learn how to take better care of yourself, you improve the way you do everything else. Start by saying ‘yes’ to assessing what parts of your life and choices could be improved…could possibly result in a lifestyle, with renewed energy and strength, with a clearer vision and focus to do what you are called to do and to live life purposely saying ‘no thank you’ to that which no longer serves your best interests or which distracts you from what really matters. And speaking of what really matters, spend some time connecting to what does matter to you. What are the most important elements of your life. How is your energy saying ‘yes’ to what enhances your well being and ‘no thank you’ to what does not?
One of the greatest gifts we have for coping with what is waking up inside of us and what is challenging us in the world around us, is our intuition. Meditation and mindfulness in our daily lives can both help us tune into the inner intuition and the messages that we are receiving on the physical, spiritual, emotional, and intellectual levels. All is working together in a pattern of inspiration and purpose. Listen to your inner knowing. Be receptive to Divine support, care, and understanding that comes in all kinds of forms, shapes, and connections. Let yourself receive inspiration and express yourself in ways that bring you fulfillment, release, and a voice for that which matters most.