“I find surcease from the entanglement of questions only when I concede that I am not obliged to know everything. In a world where many desperately seek to know all the answers, it is not very popular to believe, and then state, I do not need to know all things.” ~ Maya Angelou from Death and The Legacy
2014 has been a rough one. In my own little circle, my community, my country, there have been an unrelenting series of injuries and illnesses, injustices and tragedies, unexpected heartbreaking deaths. I’m not a fan of New Years parties but this year, that Times Square ball cannot drop fast enough for me.
To be more precise, my mind can’t wait for ball to drop. My mind reels after a year of frightening diagnoses and uncertain treatment plans. My mind staggers after so many distressing phone calls and emails and Facebook posts. My mind wants to understand why these things happen and what it all means. My mind wants to know.
My mind hates the mystery of living.
This week has been a particularly painful one. (As a friend said last week, just when we thought we were through it, 2014 saved the worst for last.) When every fiber of me feels raw and aching, my mind can sincerely kick into overdrive. Difficult circumstances stir up long-buried stories and emotional patterns from lifetimes ago. I hear words in my head like “you don’t deserve to feel this way” and “you’re going to do something wrong and make everything worse” and “you should be able to do this without help.”
Luckily, my wounded mind is housed within my wise body. When my mind is resisting the unfathomable and kicking up defended story lines from my childhood, my body is ready to tell me the truth. My body is fine with the mystery. My body tells me how it is.
When things fall apart, thinking only confounds me. From a place of reflexive recoiling, my mind can lash out and give me all kinds of confusing information. It’s much more helpful for me to go to my body: walk, move, dance, do yoga, meditate, or breathe deeply. If I go to my body, I don’t need a story, I don’t have to listen to the chorus of directives in my head, and I don’t have to understand or know anything. I can just feel what is happening.
This week I discovered a guided meditation called Soften Soothe and Allow by Kristin Neff on the Insight Timer meditation app. In it, Dr. Neff approaches difficult or painful emotions somatically by softening, soothing and allowing. First, she guides us to feel the sensation of the emotion in the body and soften into it rather than tightening. When difficult feelings arise, my natural reaction is to tense and pull away. Instead, I can make the choice to turn toward the pain and soften it. Even a little at the edges. Then, she suggests breathing into or touching the body to soothe the painful place. Even a little at the edges.
Finally, she directs to simply allow the sensation to be without pushing it away or masking it or running from it. Imagine that: just allow it.
Everybody responds differently to painful circumstances. There is no right way to be hurt or angry or frightened. There is no right way to grieve. Dr. Neff’s meditation creates space for all experiences. In times like these, it’s a helpful reminder to stay open to suffering, to respond to it with tenderness and to allow it to be. I find that I’m grateful for my life even in troubling and difficult times, grateful for this very moment.
There is no telling, of course, what 2015 holds. My mind sorely wishes for a promise that everything will be okay next year. Luckily, my body is there to integrate the pain with the gratitude, the bitter with the sweet. The integration gives me space to appreciate all my experiences and embrace the mystery of living.
Even so, my mind and I wish you a happy and peaceful new year.