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"When one experiences truth, the madness of finding faults with others disappears" - S.N. Goenka.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
The Stirring that Keeps Us Awake
Sometimes, in the dead of night, the silence stirs me awake. Eyes open, blinking to a thumping heartbeat, moving away from dreaming and into the shadows of darkness. “Why am I awake?” is always the first question, “Go back to sleep” is always the response. Resisting wakefulness makes sleep run further away. Finally surrendering to my stubborn mind, it wins and willfully opens the floodgates of thought. Waiting for sleep’s intruder to present itself, I notice and pay attention, observing the thoughts playing in my mind. Each minute the moving clock ticks, my heartbeats grow faster and louder. Anxiously the persistent thought repeats, “I’m still not sleeping! What is so pressing that must be handled right now?”
Eventually my pulse slows and steadies, my mind clears and the pressing issue finally reveals itself. 3AM isn’t an ideal time for problem solving. Morning is always better when all will be addressed. With that, dreamland comes to the rescue and when it doesn’t there’s Xanax (yes, sometimes I cave and take the easy route).
This night, when the intruder came, it was expected. There were no questions about this episode. This plea for help, this pooling ache, woke me in haunting stillness, and surprisingly I welcomed it with open arms. Knowing this was an exploration that deserved total attention. Perhaps this time 3AM was a good time for problem solving? After all, it’s quiet and still.
A week had passed since my dearest friend uttered her diagnosis: cancer - the “C” word. Too loaded and unbearable of a term to fully process, we shorten it to create less to deal with – and why wouldn’t we? The mere thought of a diagnosis generates paralyzing panic (see my post “The Higher Risk Society” for my brief cancer scare). Avoiding is simply easier until the choice is no longer ours and we’re forced to confront our deepest fears.
Our scariest moments often happen alone when frightening thoughts are so consuming that even breathing becomes hard. Those thoughts are the worst at 3am. The jump from one fear to the next, spiraling down a dark abyss at lightening speed, until suddenly we slam into a thought that makes our heart stop. “What is wrong with me?!? Why would I think of that?” We berate our wandering minds for traveling to totally unnecessary and gut-wrenching places. In a matter of seconds our worries take us from headache to brain-tumor, from a sleepless night to “Oh my god, I’m never sleeping again!” No wonder we’d rather avoid words like cancer. Why give incentive to create those monsters and free-fall into a pit of anguish?
We face our fears because dodging just leads to being haunted by ourselves. What resists persists. Avoiding is a tactic that never works because our deepest fears must be heard, acknowledged and understood. Only then will they dissolve and release – and in the process we heal ourselves.
How do we understand our greatest fear? When do we have the courage to face ourselves?
Sometimes we have to reach a point of life-threatening despair before we find the courage to move forward and step directly in the muck. That breaking point is different for everyone. The amount we try to carry before we fall doesn’t predict strength. Strength comes from noticing that the load is too heavy, rather than pushing through with blinders on, trying to make it quickly to the other side.
“The things we may take for granted someone else is praying for.” - unknown
It is when we fall and struggle to get up that even the most devout atheist will approach God for help - whichever version of God that may be. For me, God doesn’t live in dogmatic scripture or in the clouds on a far-off throne. Instead God is very close, as close as our own breath. My belief about God is simple. The energy that created everything, that aligns the stars and orbits the planets – that energy is part of everyone and everything, including each one of us. That is what I term God. But sometimes I call it Source, the Higher Self, Love or Light – all these terms adequately describe the indescribable - the sensation of divinity.
That night the weight of the cargo I’d been storing for years – the struggles with my mortality, of the “C” word, of acquiring a life-threatening illness, made me feel weak. I was no longer strong enough to lift it. My deepest, darkest fears buried in the depth of my core were staring right at me, naked and raw. My friend, in all her strength, revealed this to me - without using words.
In a desperate plea for help, to face the fears that had long been resisted, I turned to God for help. The heaviness sat on my chest left me gasping and crying for air. It finally fell to my feet and I used it as a step to lift myself up. As I inhaled, a voyage to the center of myself reached within my heart and transcended the pain by experiencing supreme love, grace, and….God. It happened abruptly. The weeping stopped. Stepping into a vacuum of nothingness, the silence swallowed me whole. I do not know if I ever sensed such vastness, felt so insignificant and experienced such stillness simultaneously. I exhaled, closed my eyes peacefully and finally fell asleep.
How does the old adage go? God doesn’t slam a door in your face without opening a window of opportunity? The trick is to be willing to close the door and open the window. In the shadow of all that sorrow, many lessons were unveiled. In a period of mourning, I gave myself permission to feel…..everything - not only pain and sadness, but also profound love, gratitude and connection. In my vulnerable state an inner union formed that radiated outward. Connecting deeper to myself, my family, my friends, even the people I barely knew. Without warning, life shifted.
The ancient mystics and spiritual gurus all proclaim that we are made up of three entities: mind, body and spirit. When these entities CONSCIOUSLY merge we reach bliss – an inner knowing that translates into ultimate peace. Most aren’t aware of the inner dialogue going on between our minds and bodies. We believe our minds to be completely separate and removed from our physiology but clearly this is not the case. Our bodies react to our thoughts. Public speaking can make our palms sweat and hearts race. When we think of sex our groins ache. Stress wreaks havoc to our emotional and physical lives – but how much credit do we really give our mental thought patterns? Negative thinking, our tight hold on anger and resentment, envy, guilt, shame – these thinking patterns create uncomfortable experiences (both physically and mentally), by changing our thinking we change our experience. Before we can change our thinking patterns, we first must understand what our patterns are.
My main focus as a yoga instructor is to teach mind-body awareness. Merging the mind, body and spirit by connecting with the breath. Learning to listen to the subtleties by paying attention and getting to know ourselves. How do we gain insight to become more understanding and intimate with ourselves?
We simply sit and listen. We watch the thought patterns as if observant of our own mind and we begin to notice trends. We explore and dig deep. We ask questions and obtain answers. Then we change.
Our body is a vehicle to understanding ourselves, it’s not separate from our minds or our souls – all parts of ourselves work together in a harmonious dance, lets wake-up and stop long enough to hear the music.
Through my friend's challenge, I’ve journeyed within to find undiscovered secrets. That stirring in the dead of night is there for my benefit, if only I’m awake enough to notice. Can I accept and appreciate instead of resist and fight or numb and ignore? When fears surface I’m given the opportunity to explore and release rather than avoid and contain. Will the questions come to me again at 3AM? I would be surprised if they didn’t. But this time when they come, there will be no resistance, this time I’ll be ready and willing to listen.