Don’t let this image make you recoil in horror. Read on.
Anyone who knows me knows that in the past four years I have lived through a cluster of challenges. We all face sucky moments- nothing new in that. But in the past four years big challenges seemed to showing up in rapid succession.
The ugly photo at the top of this post illustrates one of several roughed up life experiences that I’ve recently encountered. There I was driving along Interstate 95, heading down to Baltimore to celebrate a dear friends birthday, on a sunny day in October 2013 when BAM! I was hit from behind. Bending steel, thuds, forceful impacts and glass shattering, landing all over my body. (Thank God for safety glass and Subaru) Pure sensation and shock were the dominant features of the moment. There was slow motion uncertainty as my car bent and buckled. This “hit” was one of a series of things (one being cancer treatment and multiple concurrent cancer scares that both I and loved ones faced) that were bending, shaking and stretching me.
Life’s seemingly cruel moments that pull us into eye- to- eye meetings with cool mortality often have that strange property of slowing down time, which then opens us up to experiencing the moment as direct, unfettered awareness. Difficulty can pull our delusional magic carpets right out from under us. Waking up can come via sudden, fierce violent shakeups and it can also come via a persistent, compassionate commitment to awareness practices such as meditation and yoga.
Confession: Six months after the car accident I am still hyper-vigilant and anxious when on a highway that widens into any more than two lanes in either direction- I imagine people behind me not paying attention and plowing into me again. When I go to the cancer center for tests and scans I feel a familiar wave of anxiety course through my body. When any of my loved ones wait for results from medical tests, I find myself waiting for the other shoe to drop. Yet, with all of the static that gets stirred up in me, I do eventually find myself sinking into a pool of clarity where I compassionately witness what is “as it is”.
I know these practices help. This is why I do what I do and teach what I teach.
People often ask me to describe the states that awareness practices can induce and the term that I have been using for a few years now is awakened presence. Awakened presence is a state of being with a notable absence of delusion. A deluded mind will not even know how much suffering it is causing. An awakened mind will be able to clear itself of the static long enough to return to a clear, resting state. A deluded mind will not recognize that it is deluded unless it uses some tools that are designed to help it recognize itself. When we are awake and present we are not lost in a sea of static. We are with the stream of life events, life moments as they arise and dissolve and because we are fully engaged with the world and not shut off in isolation, we can learn to respond to this streaming of life with insight and skill.
My favorite description of awakened presence comes from Lisa Dale Miller in her brilliant book, Effortless Mindfulness: Genuine Mental Health Through Awakened Presence. Lisa writes: “Awakened presence is a natural outcome of an embodied mind recognizing what is as it is.” She nailed it.
Awareness practices, consciousness practices and any practice that helps us cultivate more wakefulness and presence in our lives already dwell within us. We simply need tools and each other to help remember our essential nature. We possess a deep pool of clear awareness that is bigger than all the passing phenomena that streams through our daily lives. As the yogi’s say:” We experience emotion but we are not emotion, we experience physical pain but we are not the pain.” We are bigger, we have a meta- awareness that can hold and contain the experience of being fully human, with all our foibles and vulnerabilities while fully knowing that we are not fundamentally them.
There is nothing esoteric or mysterious about awareness practices. The practices that I practice have been my companions for three decades and I can say with 100% certainty that they are feet on the earth kinds of practices- real, relevant to ordinary life and accessible.
I’ll be offering a partial day retreat on May 10th and I’ve deliberately titled it: Cultivating Awakened Presence & Resiliency. This afternoon will not cure you of your existential static. Static happens. Sucky things happen. What this afternoon will offer you is some time to clear your static while nourishing your potential for awakened presence and more robust resiliency.
Beneath the bent steel and shattered glass, beneath the scars, pain and uncertainty of whatever physical, emotional or mental challenge you are wrestling with, there awaits a luminous pool of wakefulness that wants your attention. If your antenna is finely tuned, you will hear that call- when it comes greet it warmly, settle down and see what shows up. Some new delights might be waiting for you.
Cultivating Awakened Presence & Resiliency
Saturday, May 10 2-5:30 pm at The Living Seed Yoga Center, New Paltz, NY
Questions and more details contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Registration: www.thelivingseed.com or call 845.255.8212