As a psychotherapist~~and human being myself~~I’ve grown familiar with our tendency toward anxiety and other fast tracks to suffering. Like scratching an itch until it bleeds, we seem particularly skilled at grabbing on to unhelpful attitudes or behaviors and not letting go.
A classic antidote to this tendency is the safe place relaxation exercise. Let’s do it now.
Envision yourself in a place of beauty and peace. It can be any soothing spot~~a beach, alongside a mountain stream, amid wildflowers in a field that stretches forever. Allow yourself to enter this place fully, filling in as many sensory details as possible. Tune in to the visuals, sounds, smells, a myriad of tactile sensations. Close your eyes for a few moments now, and fully immerse yourself. Marinate in the particulars of this space.
If you were able to fully enter this experience, you most likely found a palpable calm. Not such a surprise, since we all know, for example, the agitation that arises from recalling upsetting events. In this exercise, we merely choose to direct our attention for the purpose of relieving unease and imbibing that which is good and wholesome.
Consciousness is amazingly pliable~~and powerful. It shrinks or expands to fit any vessel we choose. We can also leave all containers behind, letting go into what a dear friend calls “an expanse of light, luminous ocean.” Let’s try that now and let's begin by returning to the imagined scene above.
Let yourself move into this place, experiencing it from inside. See the slant of light and the colors it gives rise to. Know the smells and sounds, feel the sensations on your skin. Yet more than any of these things, note that sense of peace and calm awareness. Now let all the particulars fade, floating in a space beyond it all. Consciousness without boxes, awareness without borders.
Of course, it's not necessary to enter this state through any imagined place. That light and luminous ocean is always present, thrumming beneath and within every moment of our lives. Most of us haven’t yet learned to live in such openness always, doing the dishes and communicating with others while steeped in pure Awareness. That’s why specific practice periods are so helpful, as are reminders to awaken at various moments throughout the day. As with any underdeveloped muscle, repetition is key to strengthening this capacity.
In my meditation area, I have a sketch of a shaman sitting alone in a desert, surrounded by the tools of her trade~~rattles, drums, earthen bowls filled with colored sand, images of spirit guides and mandalas. This is a person skilled in attending to what’s appropriate in each situation, someone adept at freeing herself from life’s upheavals long enough to intuit the most helpful next step. She likely submerges herself often in that vast ocean of Consciousness, light and luminous, and returns knowing the best medicine for what ails.
We are all shamans of our own lives, apprentices to that larger Awareness. We are learning to travel to places of our choosing, and to employ and develop our own unique tools. And as we become more proficient in weaving that larger Consciousness throughout our small lives, we continue to do our part in growing light and luminous Awareness here on Earth.
Apprentices all. May we learn our craft well.
And as spring returns once more, may the gardens of your lives set forth new and bounteous growth!