By Carolyn Hobbs, LMFT
My first meditation class happened in 1974 in the basement of an ex-fraternity house on the University of California campus at Berkeley. Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche, fresh off a refugee boat escaped from Tibet, sat in front of the room on a large red zafu with pitch black hair and the most radiant, joy-filled eyes I’d ever seen. Though I was raised Lutheran, he gave me the missing piece.
In a soft gentle voice, he gave me permission to stop obeying every thought in my head by focusing on my breath and lightly labeling all thoughts “thinking.” Little did I know—at the tender age of 25, lonely and sad and fresh out of an unwanted divorce—that his golden meditation teachings would offer me practical life guidance in how to meet life consciously, and keep returning me to the inner peace, freedom and joy we are all born with in our core.
That was 43 years ago. For four decades, meditation became my daily companion to help me meet illness, loss, grief, despair and life changes with grace.
Day in and day out, meditation gently invites us to notice mental habits and take responsibility for how we respond to the ups and downs of life. It nudges us to whisper to ourselves, “How do I want to respond in this moment? Do I want to meet my own or other’s anger with anger or kindness? Do I want to let fear consume my attention for hours, day or years—or hold it in compassion? Do I want to stay lost in the worry story I woke up with—or notice it and let it go?”
In other words, when we consciously ask, “Do I want to be lost in anger, fear, despair or worry for hours or return to inner peace,” the answer is a no brainer.
For years, I have enjoyed bringing the practical life skills of simple meditation, loving awareness and kind compassion to thousands of students and clients. Since all humans at one time or another face the same stumbling blocks—fear, judgment, anxiety, jealousy, doubt, guilt, shame and despair—we can all use safe, healthy “golden” tools to quickly return ourselves to our natural birthright: pure joy, love, happiness and inner peace.
The truth is, no matter how aware we are, we cannot control which feelings visit us at any hour, day or night. But we can control how we respond! Though we were taught to avoid “negative” feelings whenever possible, this only gives negative feelings power to return tenfold.
A much higher, wiser path is the power of conscious choice. Since all power is always in the present (not the past or future, where fear loves to hang out), meditative awareness allows us to consciously choose how to respond in this moment.
The moment we label an anxiety story “thinking,” it dissolves. We can hide under the bed when that same old fear of our spouse having an affair grabs our attention—or put breathing room around the fear by witnessing it and responding, “Hello! I was expecting you, but I’m busy planning a romantic dinner for my sweetie.” We can stay lost in guilt thoughts for hours, or remind our selves, “I am conscious awareness noticing feelings visit me.”
For example, Suzie stayed busy for years in order to postpone her feelings. She worked fulltime, became a stellar mom, met her husband’s every need and helped her neighbor—anything to avoid feeling her depression. But when she couldn’t get out of bed in the morning, and anti-depressants failed her, she found relief in meditative awareness. “My twins started college and I’m retiring next year. But I’m terrified I’ll spend my life in bed, depressed….”
“Let me stop you, Suzie,” I interrupted. “Depression is the trump card of feelings. If we ignore our sadness, fear, hurt and shame long enough, depression stops us in our tracks. Would you be open to healing this for yourself?”
“Anything! I’ll try anything,” she blurted out.
I had Suzy close her eyes and take several deep breaths. “Now ask your body where you feel depressed inside,” I whispered.
“Right here, like a brick on my heart,” Suzie said as she patted her heart.
“Good. Now focus directly in the center of that heavy brick, take a big breath in your belly and imagine sending your exhale into the center of the heaviness.”
Tears trickled down her cheek. “I never grieved my twins leaving home.”
“Would you be willing now to feel how sad you feel about them leaving?”
Suzie wept several minutes until her crying came to completion.
“I feel different,” she said as she stood up, “more alive and peaceful than I’ve felt in some years, even joyful, as if a heavy weight has been lifted off my chest.”
Buried feelings need more than just time; they need a few minutes of our attention.
Even if we only have a few seconds while sitting at a red light or standing in the grocery line, we can pause, take a few deep breaths and notice the fear story, worry thoughts or anxious tight belly inside.
If we squeeze two minutes out of our busy day, we can ask, “What would I love to hear right now while my loneliness or sadness is visiting again?”
If we have ten minutes, we can sit in our office chair or living room couch, close our eyes and shine the power of our full attention on our current anxiety or hopelessness, locating it in our body, breathing into it and surrounding it with loving compassion. Whatever feeling is visiting us, we have our new ally: the power of meditation and conscious choice.
In those precious moments when we greet feelings with loving awareness and reassurance, worry and anxiety stop, fear stops, despair stops. And in the quiet stillness, we see with the loving eyes of our heart that we cannot control life. Life moves through us in its own timing, own changes, own wisdom. Our job is to witness it, grow to trust it, and meet it with loving acceptance.
Practice Tool: Starting tomorrow morning, before rising, take ten deep breaths, place both hands over your heart, and ask, “If I could hear anything now, what do I secretly wish someone would say to me?” Breathe deep in your belly and patiently listen for the soft, quiet voice of your wise heart to bubble up from deep inside. When the answer comes, whisper it to yourself five times (each repetition quiets that annoying skeptic inside).
Whether your loving phrase is “I love myself for feeling scared,” “I understand me” or “I am safe and loved, even now,” feel free to repeat your loving phrase every morning for as long as it nurtures your body, heart and soul. Throughout the day, when you think of it, ask, “What would I love to hear?” and repeat the answer to yourself. Telling yourself what you love to hear—and not waiting for a loved one to think of it today—takes desperation out of the love equation. Fearless love infuses us with that inner joy, freedom, happiness and inner peace we all long for every day.
Carolyn Hobbs’ new book, “Free Yourself: Ten Life-Changing Powers of your Wise Heart” (Wisdom) is available in print and audio on Amazon.com and Audible.com. For more, including videos & radio interviews, visit her website: www.carolyn-hobbs.com.