As I head out this week, there’s a chill in the air and it’s clear that winter is fast approaching. In our meditation room most of the group grab a blanket to get cosy. We begin the evening with the Loving Kindness practice, also known as Metta Bhavana. We think about someone in our lives that we have an uncomplicated relationship with. We are to envision them as best we can and send them love and good wishes. I think about my seven year old son who brings joy to my life everyday. It’s easy to think about someone that I love so much and it gives me a warm feeling in my heart.
I can see how this exercise would be beneficial in helping me be more compassionate towards others and even towards myself. I can understand why we have been asked to focus on a positive relationship as I know that there are people in my life that I would struggle to relate to. I imagine that this exercise could throw up hidden feelings of anger or resentment and like any practice, it’s best to begin gently. If people have hurt us, it takes a huge amount of kindness to be sympathetic to their situation and to then forgive them. I think about a quote from Buddha I came across that’s says “Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” It’s not always easy to walk away from things but ultimately we hurt ourselves the most by holding onto resentment. It must be a step further then to be able to send good wishes to those that haven’t earned them but I intend to try this in future if only for my own good.
The group have a chat about how we’re feeling and we’ve all enjoyed the warm fuzzy sensation from thinking of our loved ones. There is a definite sense that we are beginning to explore our thoughts and feelings in more depth. This is confirmed when we move onto our next exercise Observing the Undercurrent.
The Undercurrent is made up of our life experience, thoughts and feelings and is a collective of everything that has gone before in our lives. It’s like a river that runs on its own with various things rising to the surface. During this task, we have to observe what is arising for us and then let these thoughts go without reacting to them. We have to stand on the metaphorical river bank and let the river (undercurrent) flow past without jumping in. When negative thoughts appear and we get caught up in them, wallow in them or allow our emotions to overcome us, it is the equivalent of jumping in to the undercurrent. Instead, it’s better for us to observe best we can and give ourselves some space. It’s not about looking the other way either and pretending that things aren’t there for us because our undercurrent is part of our life and cannot be avoided.
I try my best with this exercise. There are a load of random things popping in and out of my mind to do with work and my children but it’s more like a list of tasks than anything deep and meaningful. I find this is happening a lot recently when I’m doing the practices and wonder if I’m getting worse. Ironically, in my daily life I feel less pressure and am certainly getting through my to-do lists more quickly. I remember Julie saying last week that the more we practice mindfulness, it can feel harder before it gets easier. It’s not that we have more distractions, it’s just that we are increasing our ability to notice them.
We have a group discussion and it seems we’ve all grasped the concept of being an observer in our own mind. Julie explains that the fact that we are able to take a step back and identify the thoughts in our undercurrent, means we are going in the right direction. It’s all part of raising our awareness. Phew! I’m relieved that although my thoughts are a bit trivial at least I can recognise them for what they are.
Over the next week, I try this practise of Observing the Undercurrent almost every day. Some insightful things come up and I follow the procedure of acknowledging them and allowing them to pass. With some things this is more difficult than others which is no surprise. I am not someone who holds grudges and am normally a very forgiving person but lately I’ve noticed a bit of resentment I’m holding for someone. Whilst observing a few mean thoughts I’m having about this person, I notice that it actually feels nice to hold onto them instead of immediately letting go. It doesn’t mean I’m a mean person but I think sometimes I do let things go too easily which can then affect me later. Perhaps this is why resentment has been building for this person and hopefully now I’ll be able to shrug off future disappointments.
I’m a bit unsure if I’m heading in the right direction with the undercurrent and how we deal with it but I know that the mind is a complex creature and it will take more than a week to understand it fully. I’m looking forward to next week when I can compare my experience with the other students and hopefully things will become clearer because I know this is a weekly journey of self awareness and exploration.