Spiritual Post-Its, via dear friends
Sometimes it can be really easy to forget what you already know. I was reminded of this over the weekend, spending an evening with three dear friends: Seth, Graciela and Marissa. All three are yoga teachers, and I was struck by how easy life feels in the company of people who you feel are on the same path as you. It feels safe. I remember my granny telling me, years ago, that she’d gone to a party where all the guests were psychotherapists, and saying, “I’ve never been to such an easy party in my life!” Meaning, people had shed enough layers that there wasn’t so much anxiety around trying to prove anything.
So we were sharing the various things going on in our lives—the adventures, the feelings, the trials and tribs, the usual. And I spoke about a particular tangle I’d got myself into—my mind was trying to deal with a thorny-seeming problem that kept going round and round in my head. We talked it through, and by the end of the night, each friend had revealed a beautiful, shining gem of wisdom. As we were winding things up, my friend Marissa said, “I know you already know these things. We all go through times in our lives where we get so overwhelmed in a particular situation that it’s like we forget what we’ve learned.”
So, if you have found yourself in a pickle lately, I want to offer you theirthree excellent pieces of advice—like spiritual post-its—which maybe you, too, already know and have temporarily forgotten.
1. Do away with the third layerMy friend Seth did a simple analysis of the semi-torturous layers of thinking that we often have in response to an emotion. We broke this down into three main components. The first is the actual emotion—the nitty gritty, if you like. The second is the thinking response to that emotion: “Oh no, I am sad” (or, “Hooray, I’m happy!”). And the third is the opinion we have about that thought: “I am ashamed that I am sad” or “I am relieved that I’m happy”—which can spiral off into a further nine zillion layers if we let it: “I am a bad yogi. I have failed somehow…” “Thank God I’m happy, now I can start fantasizing about the rest of my life….” And so it goes. If we’re working with what’s going on inside us, we need to get past the chatter, or at least notice the layers.
2. Get right into the very moment in the simplest possible wayMy friend Graciela pointed out that what we fear is going to happen—or what we wish hadn’t happened, or what we wish would happen—is not happening to you right now. Right now, you are reading at your computer. Later you will be making a cup of tea, or walking down the street, and you will be alive in the world as you do these things. Any time you feel overwhelmed, just come back—to the simplest part of what’s going on. The walking, the breathing, the hearing. While walking home recently, my whirring thoughts were interrupted, like a newsflash, by a flash of actual reasonable insight which said: “When you are thinking these thoughts, you are not in the real world of your life. Any moment you spend on these thoughts is a moment you are not spending actually living”. I say this without judgement—daydreaming can be a wonderful thing. But I think it can be important to recognize what it is you’re actually doing, and to do it as a decision.
3. Healing treatments are not magic solutionsWhen we’re feeling distressed, we might wish that someone would just wave a magic wand and make everything okay (I have definitely found myself wishing this were possible from time to time). But no-one can do your inner work for you. Marissa said that treatments like Reiki and bodywork do their amazing work of relaxing you and returning you to a quiet space, where you are then able to feel what you need to feel or be open to whatever insights may arise, and where you have the tools to support this work.
We all get in a tangle from time to time and forget some of the precious things we thought we’d learned. That’s why it’s so important that we hold the wisdom and kindness for each other, to be shared right when we need it. This is a part of Sangha, the Buddhist idea of true community—which is itself one of the three jewels that practitioners take refuge in. Precious indeed.