A New Years Aspiration: How to Grow Life’s Beauty in you
The new year brings opportunity for beginning anew. It’s a returning, where ending meets beginning and we have a chance to take inventory on what has come to pass; what has worked and what has not worked; what we wish to thank and bid adieu to; and what seeds we wish to plant and grow in the coming year.
It’s a time for resolutions and setting intentions. In the past, I’ve made resolutions to read more, do more yoga, ride my bike to work, go to bed early, stop eating gluten, to floss every day, and the list goes on… I have had success, and I’ve also put a lot of pressure on myself with these long lists of expectations…
This year I am going to keep it more simple, and I hope to inspire you to do the same. In fact I am going to try to not do, that is- I am going to practice Stopping. My sense is that this one intention and action (or shall I say non-action) will increase my ability to recognize and to be present with my habit energies, allowing me more agency with them.
There is an ancient Eastern story about a person on a horse. The horse is galloping speedily and it appears that the person is on their way somewhere important. As they pass another person standing on the side of the road, this bystander asks, “Where are you going in such a hurry?” And the person on horseback replies, “I don’t know! Ask the horse!”
Mindfulness meditation teachers explain that this is like many of us. We are going, going, going, we don’t know where we are going, and we can’t stop. The horse is our habit energy, pulling us along and we are powerless. We keep going and running and struggling and it has become a habit.
How often have you noticed that you are so caught up in the timing, the charting, the testing, the appointments, the procedures, that you kind of lose sight of what it’s all about? Creating a healthy pregnancy has become a project and you feel held up in life. Once this project is complete and this goal met, then life can continue to move forward. When you stop and notice this- you can remember - oh right… it’s about inviting a new life in! A whole other person, with their own story, their own conditions, their own beginning, and their own life path. Is this really something that anyone can make happen on their own terms?
When you stop, you realize that it feels like life is on hold. Somehow, your happiness and your peace have become conditional on this one thing that you do not have ultimate control over. As a result, your life has become about desperately grasping control wherever you are able to, in order to try and make this thing happen. Because it hasn’t been happening the way that you wish it would, you try harder, gripping the reins tighter and the horse runs faster, pulling you along. Can you try to slow the horse down and take in the scenery?
This is not about stopping treatment or giving up on trying to create a pregnancy. It’s about stopping to take care of what needs to be taken care of, and to continue to leave no stone unturned and doing it with presence. Can you try to stop the crazy horse, so that it’s easier for you to welcome what life has in store for you?
Here are some tips on how to stop this horse:
1. Stop and breathe.
They don’t call it horsepower for nothing. The horse, our habit energy is strong. Its running is part of our primitive brain’s functioning and has been critical for survival as we have evolved. Danger is a different creature now though. It’s no longer a saber-tooth tiger, but our day to day social and financial stressors.
Our breath is an anchor. An autonomic bodily function that is always happening, whether we are aware of it or not. It is where our mind can meet our body. When we stop and focus our awareness on our breathing, we are flexing our brain’s muscle for concentration and higher cognitive thinking. It’s the part of our brain that can take control of the reins, to calm and to stop the horse. Flex this muscle as much as you can throughout the day.
Imagine if you walked around with a dumbbell all day and flexed your bicep whenever you remembered to do so. Your one bicep, over time would build, becoming strong and ready to support and stabilize you in any adverse event. Same with your pre-frontal cortex. Breath awareness actually makes this part of your brain grow bigger, giving you the ability to maintain self-regulation and control in the face of strong habit energies and emotions. It allows you to tame the horse.
2. Stop and calm.
Once we have practiced with stopping to breathe, we can practice with stopping to calm our body and our emotions. This is impossible to do without stopping first.
When our horse is spooked and caught in an emotional storm, it cannot see clearly and it can kick, trample, and hurt itself or those around it. When we are having a strong emotion, we lack the clarity or the strength to stop ourselves from making rash decisions or taking action that we later regret.
When our ability to stop and breathe is strong, we are able to stop and calm ourselves as we practice recognizing and accepting our strong emotions. We don’t deny these difficult emotions, we calmly accept what is coming up for us in the moment. When we are calm enough, we are also able to look deeply into the roots of these difficult emotions and understand what has brought them about, rather than be swept away by them.
When we look deeply to understand all the various causes and conditions, primary and secondary, that have watered the seeds of these difficult emotions in us, we have the insight to know what to do or not do in order to change the situation. When we are able to stop and calm the horse, there is more clarity to better lead and direct the horse.
3. Stop and rest.
After calming ourselves and the horse, we must take rest. Calming allows us to rest, which is a precondition for healing. When they are wounded, all animals in the wild find a place to lie down and rest for days. When our minds or bodies are wounded, we tend to worry, and try to make it better- which is a kind of resistance and struggle.
We must practice to rest in order to allow our bodies and minds to heal. Resting and healing is not something that we ‘do’. We tend to want to attain, so when we want to rest, we might go on vacation perhaps to the beach or to the mountains. But sometimes we return from holidays more tired!
Taking rest is to stop doing and to be. It shouldn’t be a struggle or an attainment, nor should it be tiring. Our bodies and minds have the innate capacity to heal themselves, we can support this process by allowing the time and space to rest and to be.
4. Stop and internalize the positive.
Our minds are made up of our experiences. The flow of our experience shapes our brain, our mind and thus ourself. Unfortunately, our brains have a negative bias. That is, the brain preferentially scans for unpleasant experiences in order to protect and preserve us from danger.
What this means is that even if our positive experiences outnumber our negative ones, our pile of negative implicit memories grows faster, creating a backdrop feeling and overall identification toward gloominess. This leads to a sad and easily spooked horse.
The remedy? Well it isn’t to suppress negative experiences, but rather to nurse and cultivate positive ones. We can stop to integrate them into our implicit memory, so that they become a permanent part of ourselves.
Don’t let the good stuff go unnoticed. Look for them - kindness, wonder, something beautiful or gratifying, a pleasant sensation, whatever it may be … open up to it and take it in.
I mean really take it in and savour the experience, focussing on your emotions and body sensations. Dwell in the experience for at least 5-20 seconds. The longer it is held in your awareness, the more emotionally stimulating it is, the more neurons will fire and wire together, making a stronger memory.
Imagine the experience sinking deeply into your mind and body like the warmth of the sun. Stop, breathe, calm, rest and relax your body so that the experience can be absorbed and integrated in the form of emotions, sensations and thoughts.
Basically, my New Year’s aspiration is to practice stopping. An act of non-action. Stopping to breathe, to calm, to rest, to heal and to internalize to nourish. To become aware of, and to subdue my strong habit energies in order to transform them. To take in life’s beauty and to let it grow in me.
I invite you to do the same, what are some of life’s beautiful experiences that have touched you and that you have welcomed to become a part of yourself?