“Be where you are; otherwise you will miss your life.”
Just when you think life can’t get any more chaotic, challenging or seemingly ridiculous, it does.
Life’s like that!
Where I live in Canada, tornadoes are rare. Recently, though, and all at once, six tornados sliced devastating paths of destruction through our tiny rural town and through five of our neighbouring communities. Making international headlines, in fact, our Dunrobin Village was nearly wiped off the map; more than thirty Family homes and businesses were completely destroyed. At home, we were fortunate as the storms missed us by less than a kilometre; our little neighbourhood was spared but for the loss of a few trees and some lawn furniture that disappeared into the local river. Demonstrating incredible community spirit and resilience in its finest form after the storms, hundreds of local people now gather daily, under the expert guidance of professional emergency response teams to assist with monumental clean-up and restoration efforts. As we move into many of the areas hardest hit, our minds struggle to comprehend the devastation and we realize that the impact on us all, psychologically and physically, is significant (and often overwhelming). A week after the storm, I realize, as many did, that I had been on an adrenalin-high for several days with wide-ranging affect: my sleep was challenged, my mind wandered, my acid reflux flared up. And, there were subconscious impacts that I wasn’t even aware of at the time.
In our mindfulness group, we explore how events and experiences like these are often triggers for deeper issues: feeling of vulnerability, insecurity, anxiety; precursors for symptoms of mild post-traumatic stress – even for those of us least directly impacted. It’s hard to comprehend what the families who have lost everything are experiencing.
‘Hands-on’ experiences with these types of major events are uncommon. Still, though, many of us have experiences that trigger similar reactions mentally, emotionally and/or physically. Sometimes, encounters we have with difficult circumstances or people with whom we don’t see ‘eye-to-eye’. Sometimes, the triggers are related to past trauma. And, sometimes still, many people are triggered by life’s daily grind, stressful workplaces, and the burdens of everyday responsibilities. Anxiousness, anger, frustration, disillusionment or sadness are all feelings that can, and often do creep in to overwhelm us.
In the mindfulness group at my workplace, we continue to explore how these types of experiences impact our well-being. Sudden events may be easy to recognize, but what often catches us off-guard are the subtler things; life’s circumstances which often hide just below the surface of our conscious awareness. When these triggers quietly manifest, if you are like me, you may begin to sense a heaviness of body and darker thought patterns or emotions that seemingly have no apparent cause. These are symptoms; indications that there may be bigger issues which need to come to the surface. It’s easy to ignore them; to rationalize that we are simply tired, over-worked, or stressed out. But, over time, rationalizing will likely give way to a greater impact than we are willing to admit. It might be about deep-seeded from our past – unresolved conflicts with family or friends, or about unrecognized anxiety about the future – whether we can pay our bills next month, or ever afford to retire. In any case, we experience whatever the impact because, as human beings, we are hard-wired to live our lives always addressing the primordial reflexes of the body-brain complex: we are wired to constantly look for comfort and safety. Thoughts can become ruminations – the constant re-thinking of negative issues and concerns – expressed as emotions in the body (feelings of uneasiness, an upset stomach, tense muscles, headaches, etc.). When left unchecked, these ruminations are potentially debilitating.
But here’s the good news: we find peace, harmony and freedom from suffering when we connect with heart-centred presence; when we say “yes” to what is – the good, the bad, and everything in between.
Whether we struggle with significant events that impact us financially, physically or mentally, or we experience life’s difficult burdens that come with seemingly consecutive, challenging circumstances, we can live our lives with a greater sense of flow, from a place of deep stillness regardless of the chaos that appears on the surface.
It’s called living in mindful-presence. Mindful-presence is the conscious awareness of numerous inter-related facts: life is challenging, difficult and, sometimes, cruel and unfair; more often than not, most of the suffering we experience is less a result of circumstance than it is our resistance to the experiences; and, living heart-centred in a place of peace is a choice we can make with each breath we take.
So, let’s unpack that a bit. Whether we like it or not, if we are honest with ourselves, we know that life is never what we think or hope it’s going to be. That’s life – the sooner we embrace this truth, the sooner we find peace with our life experiences.
What can cause us the most difficulty in life are not the circumstances we encounter, but our reactions to them. And, most of our reactions – consciously and subconsciously – are based on a resistance to the reality we are experiencing because they infringe on our egoic sense and perception of what is either safe or what threatens our level of comfort. The fact is, whatever we resist, persists. Whatever we fight, strengthens. This is especially true of our inner thoughts, feelings and emotions.
What we don’t realize or forget from time-to-time is that living heart-centred means we know that our true Self – our true nature – is the infinite space within which all of life exists: a place of deep stillness that is always already present. And, when we connect with our true Self, we are no longer attached to the circumstances, experiences, thoughts or emotions that occur; we are not our experiences, but the conscious awareness of them. And from that place, we can choose how to respond – not react – to each and every experience we have. By saying ‘yes’ to what is, we begin to see that our worrying and the very circumstances that ignite the vicious cycle of negative thinking begins to lose its hold on us because we are no longer identifying ourselves with the experiences, thoughts and emotions. We see that our heart-centre is our grounding. We see that the space of deep stillness is our anchor.
This is liberating! We no longer need to be controlled by external or internal conflict, pain and suffering.
So, in all of life’s circumstances, how exactly do we move into this new way of mindfully living with what ‘is’? The strongest practice I have ever experienced is also the most-simple: living each moment, each experience, encountering each thought and emotion no matter how difficult, with a simple ‘yes’: yes to what ‘is’, whatever is my reality is in this moment; yes to whatever trauma I may have experienced; yes to the unfairness of life or cruelty of others towards me; and, yes to the fears and anxieties I have about tomorrow, next month, and into the future.
When we meet all of life with yes to what is, we open our minds and hearts to the possibilities of healing old wounds and living without fear. By saying yes, we are consciously allowing ourselves to be open to and aware of our current reality. By saying yes, we begin to acknowledge, without judgement, what is in our lives, allowing everything to be as it is without wishing it to be different. And, by saying yes, we are able to accept life’s reality as an opportunity to dive deeper – to connect more deeply with life and all of its experiences and circumstances.
When we decide to live by encountering each moment with ‘yes’ to our reality, we open ourselves up to seeing life from a new perspective – seeing life differently, seeing others differently, experiencing life differently. When we live heart-centred in this way, we can tap into the vast resources of wisdom, joy, forgiveness, kindness and compassion – for ourselves and for others. We can think, feel and move from a deeper space of quiet understanding and, as a result, make wiser choices that respond to our human experiences and protect our minds and bodies from the consequences of reactive living. We begin to see the inter-connectivity of all life. We can learn to be truly present and respond to life in a way that is healing, nurturing, and healthy.
This is living life from a place of deep stillness, peace and equanimity. This is how we can live our lives grounded without being tossed about by the waves of life. This is freedom and liberation in its most fundamental form. This is living in mindful-conscious awareness, open to the infinite potential of each breath we take.
Breathing in, I acknowledge all that is causing me suffering.
Breathing out, I say ‘yes’ to everything that is present in my life.
Breathing in, I accept the good, bad and everything in between that is present.
Breathing out, I rest in the deep stillness that is always, already present.
Edited by Jeff Potts.
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.