Miku

This week’s reflection was written by Michelle Morris:

This morning

Relishing the cool morning air,

its touch; freshness.

The Cardinal, bright red breast,

flits to a small bush, then still.

Sounds of insects, then quiet pervades.

Presence of the cliff in the background.

Mikus developed when I was on retreat in Mexico. One of the activities offered was embodied journalling, a process of being given short prompts and then a few minutes to write something in response to this. I explained to the facilitator I had RSI, and was not able to write much. He suggested to do haikus. This appealed to me; I love the simplicity and focus on nature of this poetry. As we had only a few minutes to write, I decided to do my own style, without needing to conform to the particular number of syllables of haiku. We first called this type of writing a Michiku, which in haiku style became shortened to Miku.

Discovering this way of writing has been wonderful. It has greatly reduced the struggle and striving I have previously experienced with writing. The common roadblocks of perfectionism and fears of inadequacy and failure are not featured so much in my awareness. Synchronistically I just heard a radio program, interviewing performers about their experience of failures and how they can continue their “experiments” nevertheless. In a self-mocking tone Justin Hazlewood (the bedroom philosopher) spoke of “the struggle to do something brilliant “. Doing the miku I feel more ease and the critical voice is quieter. Self-judgement has taken a back seat! And it is very freeing to have more acceptance and let go of trying to express “something brilliant”. The qualities of non-striving and non-judging are core attributes of mindfulness. Jon Kabat Zinn reminds us:

‘Suspending judging, or not judging the judging that does arise, is an act of intelligence, not an act of stupidity. It is also an act of kindness toward yourself, as it runs counter to the tendency we all have to be so hard on ourselves, and so critical.’

In meditation and other parts of our lives, being driven by striving can be a real obstacle. Jon Kabat Zinn gives further valuable guidance: meditation ‘has no goal other than for you to be yourself’. He gives examples of common thoughts we have: ‘if I were only more calm, or more intelligent,… or more of this or more of that, if only my heart were healthier or my knee were better, then I would be okay. But right now, I am not okay’. What might our lives be like if we cultivated more kindness to ourselves and less striving?

In approaching the experience of writing mikus with less judging and striving, and greater sense of curiosity and wonder, there has been the joy of surprises. New ideas emerge as I am writing, ones I had not been aware of in the beginning–a flowing, creative process.

In relation to mikus , the facilitator of the Mexican retreat made a very meaningful comment ‘you have turned your symptom into an asset’. Reflecting on this I see RSI has helped free me to feel accepting of doing something simple and let go of strivings to do ‘something brilliant’.

When I look at all the colours

A feeling of delight.

Drawn to the world of greens,

wanting to immerse myself.

I think of Becky, blind,

in a world of shadows.

I appreciate more,

orange, pink, blue and green,

somehow they appear brighter.

Weekly practice idea: Choose something you would like to create: maybe a piece of writing, a drawing, woodwork, a garden bed, a meal. Try approaching this time of creating with curiosity and acceptance.

Michelle Morris

 

 

Developing insight

‘The man with insight enough to accept his limitations comes closest to perfection.’

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Imagine walking around for days with a serious injury and not even noticing it. There is a rare genetic disorder called congenital insensitivity to pain, where this is exactly what happens. People with this disorder don’t feel physical pain, which sounds wonderful at first, but is actually extremely dangerous. As children, they may chew off most of their tongue, constantly get injured without learning from the pain, and spend a lot of time in hospital. Throughout their lives, they don’t know if they’re getting appendicitis or some other internal disease. People with this condition tend to die young, with their bodies in a terrible state after years of broken bones and other injuries.

Our challenging emotions are the psychological equivalent of the physical pain we experience – often unpleasant, sometimes so excruciating we feel we cannot bear it, yet on the other hand they are like a bell which alert us to what’s actually going on in our lives. If we try to simply ignore them, we’re like the person with severe chest pain who refuses to call for an ambulance and dies of a heart attack. Yet if we investigate our emotions, like a doctor who examines a patient with a set of symptoms, we can learn a lot about ourselves.

In order to investigate the emotions, we first need to have some space around them, which is where the practices of recognition, acceptance and investigation we talked about in the previous two reflections are important. It can also be helpful to talk to others, or seek some counselling. Once we gain a wider perspective, we can then ask ourselves – what can this emotion tell me about my life?

Sometimes there is an immediate, obvious answer – ‘I’m resentful because a colleague got credit for one of my ideas’ – and a deeper, underlying one – ‘I’ve always found it hard to assert myself’. We might notice certain emotional patterns, or over-reactions to current events, which stem from experiences in the past. In mindfulness, we try not to judge ourselves for having these emotions, but rather learn from them. We all have our vulnerable places, where something affects us more than we think it ‘should’. This is just part of our common humanity, and rather than judging ourselves harshly, we can use the insight we gain from understanding our emotional ‘symptoms’ to grow and develop.

Weekly practice idea:

Write down one challenging emotion you experience regularly. Then write about the ‘story’ behind this emotion. What can you learn from this story to help you in the present and the future?

Anja Tanhane

 

Embracing our challenges

Over the past two weeks we have been looking at paying attention to our emotions, and how the mindfulness practice of RAIN can assist us to work with them more effectively. Today we will explore Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh’s five stages of dealing with emotions, which have some additional steps to the RAIN practice which can be very helpful.

His first two steps, Recognition and Acceptance, are the same as in RAIN. However, the next step, Embracing, offers a very powerful way of engaging with emotions we might usually choose to reject. Thich Nhat Hanh talks about bringing the emotion in close and embracing it like you would a crying baby. If we think about a crying baby, that is a sound which is not usually very pleasant! We could reject it and take the baby out into the garden, closing the doors and windows so we no longer hear it as much, but that would not be very loving, and it probably also wouldn’t stop the baby from crying. Or we could get angry with the baby, yelling at it in frustration, demanding that it stop – again, neither loving nor effective. The more instinctive response is to bring the baby in close, hold it with tenderness, and try to soothe it. We can think about why the baby might be crying – is she hungry, cold, tired? – and take steps to look after her, but the most effective initial response is to simply show her that you’re close, and that you care.

If we think of our challenging emotions like a crying baby trying to communicate that something is wrong, we can see that our responses are often unloving and ineffective. How often do we try to shut our emotions down so we can no longer ‘hear’ them, or else get frustrated with ourselves for not feeling how we ‘should’. Meanwhile, the baby is still crying, feeling rejected and unheard. It may seem counter-intuitive to embrace aspects of ourself we’d rather reject, but these aspects are also a part of us, and want to be acknowledged. Some of the difficult emotions can feel quite primitive, or child-like. Once we have embraced the emotion and soothed it, we are then in a position to go to the next step, which Thich Nhat Hanh calls Looking Deeply. This is where the adult, responsible self can take charge and ensure that the needs of the crying baby are met appropriately, in a mature and constructive way. We can ask ourselves – what is really going on here, and what can I do about it?

His final step is called ‘Insight’, and this is where working with our challenging emotions can go beyond simply ‘managing’ our emotions like we might manage a tricky household budget, and lead us to increased wisdom and understanding. We will look at this final step in more detail in next week’s reflection.

Weekly practice idea:

This week, try to approach difficult feelings and emotions as if they were a crying child wanting to be comforted. Notice what difference this makes to your experience of these states.

Anja Tanhane

The practice of RAIN

Last week we looked at the advantages of listening to the messages our emotions might be trying to tell us, of paying attention to them rather than ‘shooting the messenger’. There are several approaches in mindfulness for dealing more effectively with our emotions, and today we will look at one which is taught by well-known meditation teachers such as Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach, best known under its acronym RAIN.

RAIN is a four step process which can help us transform how we approach our emotions. Sometimes this process is best done with the support of a teacher or therapist, or, if the emotions feel manageable and we have some experience with meditation, we can also do this on our own. The four letters of RAIN stand for:

Recognition: The first step is to pause, tune in, and recognise the experience for what it is. We might be feeling unmotivated, and recognise that underneath our lethargy is a feeling of hurt and discouragement. Or we might be tetchy with our family, and when we take some time out we realise that an incident at work has left us more shaken than we realised. It’s not always easy to recognise what our emotions are, but over time, with regular meditation and other practices, we can become more skilled at this.

Acceptance: In some ways, this is perhaps the most difficult step. It’s natural to have feelings of aversion to unpleasant circumstances, including challenging emotions. Acceptance sounds passive, as if we’re helpless victims of our circumstances. In fact, it’s a very active way of engaging with our lives. Acceptance doesn’t mean we don’t work towards changing a situation for the better. But just in this moment, we accept the emotions we have – we accept that they are present.

Investigation: This is our opportunity to look more deeply into the emotion. In mindfulness, we do this by investigating our experience of body sensations, our feelings, our thoughts, images and beliefs. It’s not an intellectual or philosophical process, but rather one which is grounded in our moment-to-moment experience.

Non-identification: We have a tendency to over-identify with our emotions. I am a happy person. I am an angry person. It’s more helpful to say ‘having a thought that I’m angry’, or ‘feeling butterflies in my stomach with excitement’. Emotions come and go like weather in the sky – we are much more spacious than a temporary emotion passing through.

Processes like this take time, but it’s time well spent. Feeling more effective in dealing with our emotional life can give us a great sense of confidence. And gradually, as we get to know ourselves better, we can use this process even in the midst of a hectic day. ‘Ah yes,’ we can say to ourselves when a familiar emotion arises, ‘here it is again, trying to pass on its message.’

Weekly practice idea:

Take twenty minutes or so to use the RAIN process to investigate an emotion you have been aware of lately. Try to start with a low-key emotion rather than a really intense one.

Anja Tanhane