So much of our lives have been filled with avoiding pain and seeking pleasure with an endless obsession in the search for comfort. As humans we tend to crave stimulation, pleasure, and comfort. We want our senses entertained or satisfied. We usually manage to fill our whole lives so that we never just sit and contemplate, reflect, or experience stillness. We are always too busy creating, busy for busy sake or being entertained and amused to avoid discomfort in our lives.
An Ordered Garden and an Ordered Mind
How often do you take time out just to sit and contemplate? Can you see yourself sitting on this garden bench and experiencing the stillness of being? Is your mind ordered like this garden of pruned neatly arranged hedges, or does it resemble more a wild overgrown unattended garden? In this ordered garden there are clear pathways, methodical ways of moving around the space in a relaxed calm state as you move in each direction. This is when one is in a state of mindfulness. Without an ordered garden of the mind, it is continuing darting this way and that in the search of stimulation, pleasure, and comfort? That why meditation is so important as a regular exercise for the mind, just like we should regularly exercise the body. Meditation will help you to own your own emotions and be more responsible because you will have a higher level of awareness of the emotional source or trigger as you raise your insight and develop your emotional intelligence.
Your Emotional Response
I saw friend off at the airport as they were going overseas. Another of his friends turned up to say good-bye. The other friend was crying as she said good-bye to our friend while I was full of smiles and joy. One person is happy, one person is sad in the same situation. The other friend could have been thinking how much they will miss our friend while I felt joy and happiness for our friend’s good fortune to be able to travel for a while and experience new things. Each of us, as his friend, experienced opposite emotional responses to the same set of circumstances because it is one’s own mind that perceives things as happy or sad.
We choose our response to a situation, no one can make us happy or sad. Just like no one can make us angry. That rush of anger comes from a place we need to examine. Maybe it’s anger about not getting off your butt to do something and by getting angry with yourself this can be the catalyst for change, for you to get up and act to change your circumstance for the better. However, if anger ends up being directed at another person, that is not healthy. We need to take responsibility for our anger and not direct it at others. Sitting in meditation when noticing anger arising, can give an insight into causes and triggers of the anger. But I digress… let’s leave the emotion of anger and get back to the emotion of boredom and the emotional state of continually craving emotional stimulation.
Often during meditation, you can become distracted by discomfort, if holding the one position for a long period. It is little wonder that while sitting in meditation a student gets bored or sore and wants to move. It seems natural to us to want to instantly fidget or move to end the discomfort from sitting in a certain position for a period. After all, in the rest of our lives we aim to quickly end any discomfort by distracting ourselves.
If we get bored during meditation, know that you have made the decision to place a value on the experience as ‘boring’. No one or thing can make us bored. ‘Bored’ is an emotional response we use in such a situation whereas, ‘joy’ might be an emotional response by another person to the same set of circumstances. It is all up to your own personal interpretation. How we perceive something is how it is. Gaining the knowledge that you create your own condition; examine why you act in a certain way. If you don’t like how you respond, by firstly becoming aware, you can start to choose to change your response! We have control over our own emotional state when we develop emotional intelligence. Let you give you an example that shows we choose our emotional response.
While sitting in meditation it is important to cut off from the need for stimulation. Keep your focus on the meditation object and then you are in a state of mindfulness. For example, if you get an itch on your nose or a tingle in your big toe; know it, but that is all, do not attend to it. It is important to remain perfectly still during meditation. This does not mean that if a sitting creates excruciating pain that you ignore it. On the other hand, every little itch is an opportunity to strengthen the mind and stay true to the course. Stay focused on the breath. Maintain a perfectly still body as it is the pathway to the quest for stilling the mind.
In fact, the longer you meditate the more you will find that when you are in the meditative state you lose sense of your body. It is a wonderful release to leave the body and only be in touch with the mind. It is possible after such a level of mediation to find, when the meditation session is over, you have, much to your surprise, a dead leg! I am certainly not indicating that you need to have pain to meditate well. I do not follow the practice of ‘no pain, no gain’, however, a slight discomfort such as an itchy nose could be welcomed as it helps the meditator to develop concentration on the breath. This helps you in daily life when you experience a discomfort not to instantly try to fix it. This practice is character building developing resilience, deferred gratification, and mindful actions. Meditation gives you the ability to be able to mentally detach yourself from continually experiencing the body. It also gives you the ability to concentrate on the mind.
Building Emotional Resilience
When on a long retreat with the monks, I was woken at 4am (monk’s time of rising every day!) by the beautiful resonating sound of a gong. I would see others arrive at the ablution block looking as weary as me and then we would make our way, in the darkness along a little path to the meditation hall. We each took our place on the floor in the hall and sat crossed legged with eyes closed. Within a few minutes the little bell would ring, and the meditation started. There was no meditation music to help relax the body or guided muscle relaxation exercises. Instead, you just sat with your legs crossed. I watched as thoughts came in, ‘I want to go back to bed’, ‘this is ridiculous getting up at this hour’, ‘what the hell was I thinking when I signed up for this’. Then as time passed, I noticed the thoughts were coming in less and less. I eventually went to that place where you fall back from your thoughts, and I felt at one with the Universe. Time passed but I had no sense of time. After I don’t know how long, the tinkle of the little bell brought me back and the monk gently spoke and asked us to draw our attention back to the room. He asked if anyone wanted to finish now that we had meditated for one hour and if so, they could get up and leave quietly. I was shocked we had been meditating so long. He continued explaining that if we would like to go for a further hour, then just stay seated. As I brought my attention back to the room and then to my body, I realised I had a dead leg, and I could not move! Try as I may to move my leg, it just wouldn’t.
Then before I knew it the monk was telling us we were now on our second half of the meditation, and I’d lost my opportunity to leave! I became quite stressed at the prospect of staying there any longer but had no choice as I settled back into the meditation, eventually losing connection with my painful dead leg, then my body and went into the place where it is timeless again. When the monk brought us back from the end of the second hour, I noticed the discomfort of the dead leg had gone but I was still so grateful to be able to get up move around and go to breakfast!
I’m not suggesting you throw yourself in the deep end and do a 7-day retreat where the meditation sessions can be 1-2 hours long if you haven’t meditated before.
Building Emotional Intelligence
Start with small little steps with 15 minutes per day of meditation. Can’t spare 15 minutes!? How much time do you spend daily scrolling the mobile phone? Stilling the mind will start the development of a strong mind that is not endless seeking stimulation, gratification, and things! There is a pleasure and bliss like no material possession or mindless activity can provide, in finding your inner self through mindfulness and meditation.
© Extract from Robinanne Lavelle’s ‘Life Sorted in 8 Sessions’ due to be released March 12, 2022.