Our deeply wired negativity bias turns our fears in on themselves so that we begin to see ourselves as constantly falling short and causing us to lose trust in ourselves and inevitably others. When we grow up with trauma experiences including neglect or abuse we become fed with internalised assumptions we don’t belong, we are unworthy and there's something wrong with us. When we lose sight of our own authentic potential, we can also no longer see it in others. Suffice to say that right now across the globe there is increasing suffering. Mental illness has become an epidemic not to mention the current pandemic we are living through and how it highlights the inequalities in our world.
It’s no wonder that our world is suffering from deep mistrust- the mistrust that perpetuates discrimination, violence, disorder and disconnection from self, others and our environment. Patriarchal hierarchical systems maintain this mistrust in our societies across the globe. Those invested in these structures have mostly checked out as a result of their own deep pain and are just reacting to what they perceive threatens their power, territory and egotistical sense of self. When these negativity bias takes hold this becomes the lens we experience life through.
Yet underneath all this we can uncover our human goodness and the capacity for compassion is within us all. By choosing to be creative and go with what is helpful we can make this our intention in our practice and life. Seeing our suffering, trauma and pain is the first step in the pathway of mindfulness. Then the more you can open up and make yourself familiar with presence and aliveness the more you will trust in the vastness of the ocean of awareness that holds all human experience.
Today I listened to a Podcast today called Trusting the Gold by Tara Brach; a clinical psychologist and Insight meditation mindfulness teacher based in the USA. She shares with us the practices and pragmatic ways we can train in mindfulness and what Rick Hanson calls positive neuroplasticity. This podcast inspired me to write on my own experience of working with and learning to trust my body and mind. She says we need to start where we are and begin to get curious, investigate and befriend the sensory experience (even if painful) if we are ever to transform it.
"Sometimes we identify so much with the waves we forget we are also the ocean."
Mindfulness retreats for me have been opportunities to look more deeply within myself to understand the patterns of my ego and discover new ways of relating. Thankfully, I have sat with some incredibly skilful teachers over the years that have held space for healing and transformation using the ancient teachings of mindfulness and Buddhist psychology. I remember in 2016 on a mindfulness retreat I was sitting with some deep pain; traumas from early childhood that had been long playing out in my life and relationships from my identification with ego.
The emotional pain presented in my restricted heart beating faster, sweatiness and tightening and sore muscles and stomach churning as well as the memories and stories associated with the trigger. My first impulse was to run away from the situation and thoughts of trying to figure out a way to find a lift back to Sydney airport raced through my mind as I peered out the window of my small room in the Catholic convent. The first and second nights on retreat I was unable to sleep as I stared at the crucifix over my bed which also triggered other unwanted feelings in me. There was a mix bag of feelings; fear, anxiety bordering on full blown panic attack to frustration, rage, shame and disgust.
When it got too intense I would numb out totally but that didn't last long because the whole experience was set up so that I could tune into the experience and that's why I was there. I took on the attitude as I did in the four child birthing experiences I had, it was going to be painful but my body knew what to do and I just had to trust it. The mind certainly knows how to magnify things you focus on and while birth is physical painful, we can breathe through it and open our minds to stay present with the sensations instead of closing up with psychological fear that will ultimately cause us to give up our natural process.
Sitting in this state was hard meditation and yet my commitment, trust and faith in the practice was much deeper than my fear of experiencing suffering and anxiety. As I sat for hours and walked mindfully around the grounds of the convent I cultivated awareness of my pain and the space around it. As I began becoming more familiar with the pain I was able to intentionally choose to see my experience of it through compassion. Moving attention skilfully in and out of the pain in my heart and bringing more and more compassion almost like it was a fire I was building inside. Little by little my heart began to crack open and I distinctly recall feeling a strong sense of unlocking inside my chest and my heart quite literally opened up and softened in the places it felt tight and closed. With this movement a gust of intense heat and energy moved through the heart chambers and spread through my body like a tidal wave.
Tears fell silently from my eyes and a sense of incredible relief and release came over my body and mind and a beautiful stillness emerged. In this stillness I felt connected to everything, tender, aware, soft, and trusting of the very nature of my existence. This experience and many others both before and after have helped me to trust my mind and body and choose to keep developing the authentic path of wisdom and compassion for self and others. One thing I have learned in my 25 years of practicing mindfulness meditation is that enlightenment isn't the transcendence of ego but happens by making the unconscious conscious and that happens through the liberation of the ego. Our authentic potential lies within us realising ourselves essentially as connected to an ocean of loving awareness and that we as humans all seek to give and receive love.
Great meditation practices to help with developing trust are:
MBSR Mindfulness of difficulties by Marion Miller https://insighttimer.com/marionmiller/guided-meditations/mindfulness-of-difficulties-2
RAIN by Tara Brach https://www.tarabrach.com/rain/
Meditations on Trust by Jack Kornfield https://jackkornfield.com/meditations-on-trust/