counselling, spirituality

Bliss, Despair, Terror – Meditation + The Importance Of The Spiritual Community

I mentioned to a colleague at work the other day about going to a Buddhist class one night and she said that she didn’t think she’d have it in her to meditate and “sit there with no thoughts”. I rushed to say to her what I say to anyone who has similar apprehensions about meditative practice – that it doesn’t matter if you can’t silence your thoughts, it’s about being present with whatever arises. And watching it with as little judgement as possible. I then told her something that was said to my roommate at the Buddhist retreat by one of the leaders there: “Whatever you do on the cushion is meditation”.

And what happens on the cushion varies for me. Sometimes it’s a ton of thoughts buzzing around like flies, sometimes bliss and silence, sometimes restlessness and an inability to focus, sometimes tranquility, sometimes a song stuck in my head. Usually a combination of all of the above. 🙃 Sometimes the restlessness intensifies to give way to a strong emotion – like grief, anger or sadness. When this happens, I try to have the courage to lean into it, lay my hand wherever it hurts and breathe through the waves. A leader I was having my meditation review with at the retreat assured me that when these things are surfacing, it’s unfinished business starting to become finished business. I was so relieved I could’ve fallen off my chair. Thank God I wasn’t just feeling all this stuff for the hell of it! “It will get easier,” she reassured me again.

The thing about regular meditation that I’ve learned so far is that the effects of it bleed into the rest of your life – pleasurable and painful. The intensity of feeling doesn’t stop at the cushion. Or at least, it hasn’t for me. Oh my God, I’ve been so irritable at work this past week. And sensitive. To give an example, something somebody said to me at work the other day affected me so strongly that later on, when I woke up halfway through the night to go to the toilet, I couldn’t get back to sleep for another 45 minutes because I couldn’t stop thinking about the situation. I felt so hurt. The pain was almost physical. And then the hurt and irritation morphed into despair when I considered another difficult life situation. It wasn’t even like they were waves of emotion – I was in the fucking sea.

Opening my heart and mind through meditation and mindfulness is leaving me more open to everything. I’m already what I would consider an emotional and sensitive person but things feel even more visceral now. More intense. Feelings of terror, panic, despair, bliss, contentment, peace, euphoria, rage, lust, sadness, insecurity. Like, within the span of a week. And as I wrote in my journal, maybe it’s normal to feel everything so intensely. “Things are 50/50,” my counsellor rightly said today. “Or maybe 51/49 – if you’re lucky.” He explained how my unconscious is bringing up more and more things for me to look at when I’m ready. I joked with him, saying: “I don’t want anymore! I’ve had enough – I’m tired!” His laughter lightened the heaviness of my emotional depletion.

But in a way, it makes complete sense. My addictive behaviours were put in place by me specifically, if unconsciously, to numb my emotions. And I’m unravelling them.

“Ten years after I got sober, my breakdown spiritual awakening started. In addition to not drinking, I had just quit sugar and bread for the first time. I thought I was going to come out of my skin. I sat across from my therapist, Diana, and said, “You need to give me something for my anxiety. I can’t take it. There’s nothing to take the edge off anymore. I’m freaking out.”

Diana calmly replied, “What do you want me to give you?”

Infuriated by her calmness, I said, “I don’t know! Medicine. Something for the anxiety! I’m like a turtle without a shell. I have NO SHELL! No booze, no muffins, nothing! I’m a turtle without a shell in a briar patch. Everything in the briar patch is poking me and jabbing me. It hurts.” – Brené Brown

It’s interesting when you start looking honestly at addictive behaviours – you see just how often you reach for things to numb restlessness and painful emotion. This is something I’m starting to observe in other people, too. How addicted we all truly are to our phones. How many of us stuff down the difficult stuff with excess sugar and snacks. It’s like I’m watching myself – seeing myself in everyone. And finally starting to understand.

My meditation practice has been supported massively by the Sanghas I’ve been going to. It’s amazing how supported and held I feel meditating in a room with other people. Usually people more experienced than I am, which is also nice. There’s been a few times over the past few weeks that I’ve felt at the end of my tether. Going to these Sanghas helps enormously. It’s a place I feel like I can be the best version of myself – whether I’m thriving or struggling. It’s soothing hearing the leaders of these Sanghas speaking in a way that resonates with me. They’re loving, humble, wise, vulnerable, honest. I go to a Zen Buddhist night on a Thursday and a Triratna Buddhist night on a Tuesday. I don’t always do both but it’s comforting to know the option is always there.

Last Thursday, the woman leading the Zen Sangha spoke about a difficult meditation she’d had earlier in the week. She quoted Pema Chödrön, saying that her last breath at the end of the meditation was the first mindful one she took. This reminded me of the humanness of even the most experienced of meditators and validated my efforts in meditation.

Triratna means “three jewels” – one of these jewels refers to the Sangha or the spiritual community. Learning this was important for me because I’ve often thought that the spiritual path is one you must embark on alone and that true wisdom and happiness is found principally in solitude. Attending these Sanghas has been an opportunity for me to allow myself to benefit from and even depend on the company of others, in a way that feels safe for me. Being around other people who are as passionate about things like loving-kindness, compassion and spirituality as I am is proving to be a massive support for me.

Last night, I attended the Triratna Sangha. I was a bit tired and was rushing on the way there. I was a bit stressed as I thought I’d get there late. I wasn’t late, as it turned out, and the evening was a brilliant antidote to my slight stress and fatigue. In the first half, we were encouraged to lie down with blankets and listen to the soothing sound of the leader guiding us through a mindfulness meditation. “Allow yourself to truly arrive,” she encouraged us. This period of relaxation was followed by a tea break and then a metta bhavana or loving-kindness meditation. In the first stage of the metta bhavana, you direct your kindness towards yourself. I wrapped my arms around myself in a tight hug and sent myself sincere well wishes. Being in a space with other people who are also directing love and kindness towards themselves is truly a special and sacred thing.

These Sanghas give my spiritual practice, and even my faith, a boost that really carries me through my week. They’ve taught me the importance of the spiritual community.

Thanks for reading!

– SMUT. ❤ xxxx


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