Having a meditative Christmas Eve?
December is the worst time of year for me. I detest the commercialization of everything, and fewer hours of sunshine makes me super grumpy and lethargic. So what I'm writing is just as much for me as for you, if you feel a similar way.
I woke up today and listened to a guided meditation and brief Q&A from Against the Stream. They do live meditations and talks in San Francisco and Los Angeles and record them as a podcast anyone can listen to for free.
They're all about real talk and dealing with issues like depression and addiction. This one is a good meditation for beginners, with perfect questions afterwards.
It reinforces the kind of meditation I was talking about with you last time.
Last week I encouraged us to notice what our animal selves want (comfort, safety, instant gratification) rather than what our “adult self” wants (money, romance, a healthy body)…
And rather than being angry with ourselves for wanting those animal desires, for being tired, for feeling grumpy, whatever it is, instead taking 15 minutes and approving of this part of ourselves.
Because when we hate on ourselves, we hurt ourselves, and we end up driving those animal desires further into our unconscious (where they end up causing life-controlling patterns and
So let’s try this experiment, instead of our usual frustration, let’s give that animal part of us some approval and gratitude for looking out for us, like our confused little dog that barks at the mailman out of a desire to protect us…
Instead of “No! Bad dog!” let’s try a different approach. Let’s say, “Oh, you’re so sweet, trying to protect me like that, thank you!” (In an “It’s the thought that counts” kind of way.)
Take a deep breath, and feel, perhaps, the pang of whatever lies underneath the animal desire you usually dislike about yourself.
Usually when I have a strong desire to comfort myself with some instant gratification thing, it's because there's a sharp pain I'm trying to soften or numb out.
And I gently let myself feel that pang, while I acknowledge the desire to numb it out and feel enormous gratitude to the part of me that was protecting myself from that pang.
"That's so sweet of you to protect me from feeling this discomfort. You're so good at your job, thank you!"
And I soothe that part of me like comforting a frightened little puppy, like, "Hey there, it's okay. This sharp pain isn't that bad, see? I can feel it and breathe through it and notice how it ebbs and flows, and after a minute or two, it's released, see? There now, it's subsiding. Whew. See? We're okay. We're okay."
Because just like physical pains, when we sit with our painful emotions and breathe through them, they tend to dissipate. Emotions just want to be felt, man. Instead we avoid them, and they just get more and more insistent.
So we turn our attention to these feelings and we breathe, and then the painful emotion runs its course. Eventually, it releases.
Then what happens?
Well! Through the magic of neuroplasticity, you start to retrain your brain. Where it previously (totally unconsciously) felt a painful emotion like stress, anxiety, fear, anger, or boredom and
instantly reached for a craving that would bring it instant comfort, numbing, or distraction from that pain…
…you've now shown your nervous system a new way of responding to a painful emotion. You've countered the urge to numb or distract with the action of feeling the pain, breathing through it, and allowing it to be released.
Now, this training practice may need several repetitions to become your new normal. How many years has your unconscious had to build the habit of soothing whenever a certain pang is felt?
These neural pathways build up over time, and it takes time to rebuild them.
So be gentle with yourself. Cherish the moments when you get to peel back another layer and discover pains you've been unconsciously numbing.
Over time, you'll find it's not "self control" or "will power" you needed at all. What you were trying to control was actually trying to help you all along. And by gently feeling and thereby releasing painful emotions (instead of covering them up or distracting yourself with instant gratification binges) you start to find you have fewer cravings for those self-soothing habits because you have fewer pains to soothe. Or the pains come up, you feel them and release them, and then they're gone.
And then we have fewer self-sabotaging moments standing in our way of creating the life we want. And that’s what really excites me. I want us all to go out and create our amazing visions, not wallow in our distractions and procrastination.
So will you try it?
Hit reply and let me know if you do.
* For more on these ideas, I point you to my teachers, who continue to influence me and blow my mind on a regular basis: Carolyn Elliott, Tom Chi, Pema Chodron, Tsultrim Allione, Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche, and my good friend's sweet little chihuahua Schnitzel, who has taught me so much about the mammalian nervous system.