I was not prepared for the profound life changing impact that mindfulness will have on my life. I became interested in mindfulness almost by accident, but just knew that this was something that I needed to explore. It resonated with me so fiercely that I could not ignore my desire to learn more. I read, watched and devoured whatever I could get my hands on regarding this fascinating topic. Deciding that I needed to be formally trained in mindfulness I registered at the Institute of Mindfulness South Africa for their two year course on mindful-based interventions. Excitement ran high as I was preparing to attend my first retreat, which forms part of the studies. This would also be my first introduction to formal meditation. In hindsight I am mildly amused at my eager self. Had I known what a difficult experience it would be I might have opted out of going and shut the door to anything mindful permanently.
We meditated for hours. We had long stretches of silence forcing a person to become acquainted with your inner landscape. Forcing you to turn inwards and breathe with yourself. There was no distractions, no means of numbing. It was like I had been thrown into a room with only myself for company and I did not like it one bit. I was drowning. I was not prepared for the onslaught of emotions and feelings – especially intense feelings of anger and frustration. I was not prepared for the intense feeling of being out of control and the fear that accompanied it. I wanted out. I did not sign up for what was happening to me. I did not pay thousands of rands to be in such pain. All I had wanted was to learn what mindfulness was about. I did not realize that this was mindfulness and that it started with me, with my own practice.
I could never have predicted that the act of spending time with myself will cause me to have a severe meltdown by the end of the retreat.
Yet, there I was a beautiful mess, crying in front of strangers, my heart cracked wide open, gasping for air. That moment changed my entire life. I have always sneered at vulnerability, thinking it weak and needy. Yet, here I was vulnerable and definitely not weak or needy. I remember the kindness and compassion that my teachers extended to me. I light touch, a safe container holding me, allowing me to feel everything in that moment. Giving me permission to just be with whatever was arising in the moment. Not trying to fix me, or problem solve or even to make me feel better. They extended a beautiful gift to me in that moment, the gift of baring non-judgemental witness to my suffering and through this giving me the courage to turn towards it instead of running away from it.
I felt raw, cracked open and exhausted after the retreat. I was confused – this is not what I had expected to happen. I had only wanted to learn about mindfulness and how I can teach it. I did not realize at the time that my mindfulness journey will firstly be a deeply personal journey. I did not know that mindfulness will cause me to wake up to my life and bring me face to face with my own suffering. I did not yet fully understand this gift that had been given to me. As I sat waiting for my plane I realized that underneath all the anger was a deep sense of sadness and loss and it was overwhelming.
Recently I came across the following quote from Pema Chodron, “So even if the hot loneliness is there, and for 1.6 seconds we sit with that restlessness when yesterday we couldn’t sit for even one, that’s the journey of the warrior.’ The hot loneliness. I looked up the meaning of loneliness and came across the following idioms: a heavy heart, having a lump in your throat, being sick to your stomach, gloom, sadness, isolation, abandonment, rejection and to weigh heavy on your conscious. Hot can be described as; boiling, scorching, roasting, searing, flaming and blistering.
When I put some of these words together I came up with the following; searing sadness, scorching heavy heart, flaming rejection and a blistering lump in your throat. Those descriptions describe suffering well. Who would judge anyone from turning away from these sufferings? From wanting to numb and feel as little as possible when the alternative hurts so much? Yet, mindfulness teaches us to befriend these feeling. Instead of turning away, to turn towards them. To allow, to give permission and to be with these sufferings.
“We run from grief because loss scares us, yet our hearts reach towards grief because the broken parts want to mend,” This quote from Brene Brown explains why turning towards suffering is so important. This is the gift that my teachers extended to me during my meltdown. The gift of allowing my heart to turn towards all the unspoken hurt in my life. The years of bottling up, of running away, and of escaping the truth had finally caught up with me in that one beautiful messy moment. My heart wanted to mend all the broken parts. It needed me to turn towards a life time of hurt.
Pema Codron calls it the journey of the warrior. Although I have not always felt like a warrior, more like a wounded somewhat clumsy child trying my best to make sense of it all. I have struggled and opted out of my warrior journey more that I care to admit since that messy moment on the floor. That was until I befriended a companion that changed my whole warrior journey. I’ll introduce you to this companion next time.
Until then dear friends may you have the courage to turn towards that which lies heavy on your heart.