The Wisdom of OWLS – Finding Liberation from Conflict and Suffering
Revised October 2017
Have you ever watched an owl in the wild? They seem to have endless potential for just sitting, observing, watching – turning their heads 360 degrees on whatever it is that has captured their attention.
“Sometimes, simply by sitting, the soul collects wisdom” – Zen proverb
There are many wisdom sayings and stories that use the actual and metaphorical image of the wise owl. And that’s easy to see given the perspective of the owl as a bird that is patient, watchful and attentive in its every-day comings and goings. We are also intrigued by the owl’s ability to not only survive, but thrive, even in difficult and harsh conditions. And it is this last example that I think many of us desire, that is, the need to learn to thrive in our everyday lives, not just survive; to find joy despite the sadness, compassion despite hatred and peace despite chaos.
But here’s a way, using the acronym OWLS, that we can use to address those things that cause us so much of the suffering we experience in our lives. And when I say suffering, I mean all forms – everything from that annoying driver that seems to spur our road rage, to deep-seeded issues that have caused long-term conflict and harm, be it with people, situations or past incidences of deep, deep psychological and/or physical damage. The same technique can be used for understanding and accepting the positive and wonderful experiences we tend to cling on to, wishing they’d never end, or will be experienced again someday. The basis of this technique is to understand that all is temporary, all experiences good and bad come and go and are the ebb and flow of our life.
This is just a technique – there are many, I’m sure. And it’s not about substituting professional help if that is what is needed. Sometimes we need the help of physicians, psychologists, counsellors and others whom we see and trust as reliable sources of expertise to aid us in our journey towards healing of body, mind and spirit. But it is a technique that is memorable and easily applied in that moment and situation when we are caught by thoughts and emotions that seemly pop up out of no-where that challenge our sense of inner peace and equanimity. It is a practice that we can employ anytime to help us remain in present-moment awareness, and not caught in the web of our self-imposed concepts of self – our ego-based persona.
Here’s the approach you can use:
[dropcap]O[/dropcap]pen – have an open mind. An open mind allows an open heart, open to anything that is causing conflict, suffering and pain. Perhaps it’s a current or past situation, a relationship, a hurt, a fear, anxiety. It doesn’t matter what the cause, or even perceived cause is – simply be open to seeing it, here and now. Allow yourself to become aware of what it is, naming it specifically. Visualize the word. See each letter, like a sign on the side of the road that represents what is arising. And simply allow it to be what it is, without analysis, judgement or wishing it to be different. Do not resist it nor grasp onto it as though you can change it and make it something other than what it is. Gently bring each one into this present moment, especially if it originated in the past or distant past.
[dropcap]W[/dropcap]elcome – Welcome any feelings, emotions or physical sensations that come up that you connect to what is causing you difficulty or pain. Embrace each one as though you had invited it into your life. This is your opportunity to learn great lessons – an opportunity for growth and development. Be consciously present, in this moment. Allow your awareness to be with the physical sensation that arises. Just be with the sensations you have related to what you’ve named as causing you difficulty, conflict, suffering or pain. Realize that your thoughts and feelings about this pain are just that, thoughts and physical sensations – they are not who are and do not need to control you any longer.
[dropcap]L[/dropcap]et Be/Let Go – Just let whatever is causing your suffering to ‘just be’. There is never a need to push away, bury, or hang onto the thoughts or experiences that seem to trap you in unhappiness. By letting things just ‘be’, you can to let go of your identification with whatever is causing you pain – it is not who you are, it is not permanent and it does not need to define you. It no longer has any power because it is not who you are. Let be and let go of all the stories you’ve created about the hurt, let go of your perspectives, wishes, desires, aspirations, prejudices or concepts about the cause of your pain.
We are learning also to forgive – both ourselves and those who are or were part of the reason we suffer. Through compassion, we see that we can let go of the hurtful actions and words of others, recognizing the frailty of our humanness. And we learn to forgive ourselves for suppressing, pushing away or grasping desperately to those things that created our suffering in the first place.
[dropcap]S[/dropcap]tay with Awareness – once you become aware of the reality that you are not your thoughts or experiences, your perspective begins to shift. You begin to see that life is a ‘happening’. What your mind thinks and body feels are the result of what is happening in your experience as a human being. Just like a wave happens as a result of the forces which affect the movement of the ocean. You are not what is happening – the true you is the ever-present awareness of what is happening. By simply observing what is happening, we remain as the awareness. Stay with this moment-to-moment awareness. This is where peace, deep stillness and equanimity are always, already present. This is who you really are!
Liberation from suffering is an act of our true Self. It is taking our intention and desire to be happy, healthy and fully alive to a point of making a choice to move beyond our suffering. It is an act of surrender of the ego – the identification with our experiences, and resultant thoughts and physical sensations, as who we are. When we decide to set our suffering free, we are actually making a conscious choice to no longer suffer, to liberate ourselves from that which causes our pain. We learn to forgive, but not forget the lessons. By forgiving, both ourselves and others, we are free from pain and suffering, and we to move into, and rest in, the warm light of healing, growth and maturity. We can now begin to live more and more in heart-centred present-moment awareness – the place of deep inner wholeness.
Breathing in, I open both mind and heart to see what is causing my suffering.
Breathing out, I welcome and embrace all that is connected to my suffering.
Breathing in, I let go of my personal identification with the causes of my suffering.
Breathing out, I set those issues free, liberating my mind, body and soul.
Author Bio – A devoted meditator, Paul believes in the integration of mind, body and spirit as necessary for healing and bringing about physical, mental and spiritual health and wellness. Through meditation, he believes anyone can develop the ability to be heart-centred and live in gratitude, joy and peace, despite past or current trauma and life struggles.
You can read more articles by Paul here.