Opening Up and Letting Go

Cill

By Cil Richards

Cil Richards is a professor of Mechanical and Materials Engineering at Washington State University.  She has a committed meditation practice and teaches and leads a weekly meditation group at Aloft Studios.    Here, she shares thoughts about meditation and shares why she meditates.

In this politically charged election year I have been thinking a lot about views and how much trouble they can cause.

View plays such a big role in what we believe, what we think about, and what we experience. It’s easy to say that we should drop our deeply held views and assumptions but that won’t make it happen. Fortunately meditation practice is a means to help us see those deeply held views and their effect.

When we meditate do we really open up to what is there or do we make assumptions about what we are experiencing? “I’m tense, I’m sad, I’m not good at concentrating. I’d be able to meditate if I wasn’t so hot.” Persistent investigation reveals the holes in these assumptions about experience. Anyone who has sat and watched their mind knows that it’s a madhouse in there. Thoughts and moods come and go like crazy. Things are constantly changing. And although sometimes that can be a little disconcerting, it’s a good thing. The fact of change means there is opportunity, possibility. I’m not sad, or angry, or hot. Those states come and go. Further investigation can reveal under what conditions these states arise and the patterns of behavior that play out over and over. For example, when I am stressed I often find that there is also some craving or aversion present. By looking closely we begin to see that we often fabricate our own reality based on views. Accompanying views are associations and memories that the mind uses to solidify and manufacture a way of viewing experience.

A helpful analogy from the physical world is a rainbow. We have all seen rainbows. No one would argue that they don’t exist, but we have all discovered that you can’t catch a rainbow, can’t touch it, and there is, alas, no pot of gold to be had. But what is a rainbow really? Is it a thing? Isn’t it really a process? One that happens when certain conditions are present? The recipe for a rainbow includes sun, rain, and an observer (you or me). Take away any one of these three and you don’t have a rainbow. The rainbow observed depends on where the observer is. That is, no two people ever see the ‘same’ rainbow. There is no ‘true’ rainbow. The rainbow ‘exists’ in relation to the sun, the rain, and the observer. Viewpoint matters.

We all hold some mental model of how the world works. Most often, when confronted with information that violates that worldview we ignore it or deny it. By doing so we miss an opportunity to learn. Through meditation if we really look at what’s really happening we see many things that challenge our worldview. If we can loosen our grip on our views and allow a new way of seeing then the possibility of transformative learning or insight arises. Letting go of views and allowing for different ways of seeing and views is an important part of meditation practice.

In my own practice through the years I have let go of and loosened many of my views. This has not been easy since as a professor I have certainly suffered from the ‘know it all’ disease. However, letting go of knowing how it is and seeing how it really is has really opened up my mind and practice.

The Joy of Less Expectation: Musings on meditation by Carolea Webb

I consider myself to be a reasonably serious meditator.  I’ve taken the time to look deeply at my mind, with varying degrees of intensity, for going on twenty years now.  I’m still no kind of expert, but I have noticed a few significant changes for the better. One big difference is that I find meditating to be less effort and more fun.

I was thinking about that as I drove home today after meditating with Kristine Zakarison and two other friends this afternoon, and I thought it might be a good subject for her blog.

One reason I have more fun meditating now is that I’m no longer imposing so many expectations on what I should experience.  In the early days, I expected that by watching my breath and being aware of my thoughts I should be able to make the thoughts go away, or at least reduce them enough to produce a calm state of mind. If I didn’t manage that I gave myself a mental scolding. “Bad meditator!” I said. “Bad!”

I also thought I should never fall asleep, squirm on my cushion or fantasize about food.  (Honestly, I remember a week-long retreat when I couldn’t seem to quit visualizing bell peppers. Go figure.) I had a long list of things I could do wrong.

Over the years, I have let that go (at least to a large degree).  Each morning I approach my meditation with curiosity.  “What will my meditation be like today?” I ask myself. “Will I relax into the joy of pure consciousness or will I feel like I’m half crazy?”  It’s fun to see what turns up!  I simply try to perceive what is present without identifying with it.  All kinds of mental phenomena (or the lack of it) comes and goes.

I didn’t tell myself to quit having expectations and judgments.  It just happened naturally over time.  And, here’s what was surprising to me: the less I tried to force a sense of well-being into my meditations, the more it arose naturally on its own.  I had made friends with the experience!  Now, whether I struggle to stay awake, fight an urge to plan my grocery list, come up with a brilliant insight, acknowledge some worry, or sit in blessed awareness of the present moment, I consider it a privilege to live the adventure.

Finding Your Quiet Place

IMG_1162Let’s face it . . . We all need a break sometimes.  We need moment to step back, gain some perspective, recognize that we are more than the thoughts and emotions we are having in the immediate moment.  We need a moment to realize that we are more than the physical pain, the grief, the fear, or the illness we are experiencing.  It’s no wonder that, within the traditional path of yoga, four of it’s eight limbs are dedicated to learning to quiet and focus our minds.  In yoga, it’s sometimes called “cultivating the witness.”  We use our breath, our ability to focus and concentrate, our posture, and our intention to become familiar with that part of ourselves that can “witness” our thoughts, feelings, even our discomfort.  We initially learn to recognize, and then gradually to be at home with, this witnessing part of ourselves.  Once found, the witnessing place within us can be a powerful reminder that we are more than the sum of our immediate strong feelings, thoughts, story-lines, physical pain, even illness.  Cultivation of the witness within ourselves empowers us to make choices where before we felt victim to circumstances and situations beyond our control.  We meet the witness as a loving, non-judgmental place within ourselves.  Spending time in this witnessing place creates a sense of sanctuary and peace.

We begin learning this process early on in yoga practice, and then we integrate it into our asana practice.  Once we are able to consistently find it in yoga, it has the benefit of expanding outward into the rest of our lives.

Hands that hurt (a bit), thoughts that heal

So, I’ve been working on the new space (now officially called “Kiva Space,” because it feels like a kiva to me — a Native American dwelling used for spiritual purposes, that one usually climbs into via a ladder!).  Rather than painting the walls, I’ve been using 3 colors of a beautiful product called American Clay.  It’s fabulous to work with, in a labor-intensive kind of way — you put it on with a roller and a trowel, and then you lovingly go over it, many times, with trowel and hands, to compress it and shape it to the wall.  If you were going for quick, it would be an aggravation.  However, I decided awhile ago that touching every part of every wall in Kiva Space would be a loving practice of intention, meditation, and prayer.  So, as I’ve worked, I’ve thought and dreamed to the lively and healing community space I want to bring to life in this funny, L-shaped space.  I’ve thought/held/prayed for many I know who have been in need of . . . well, the things we all need, trusting the beautiful place where we all connect to one another and far beyond our individual selves.  I’ve simply allowed myself to be intentionally open to yes, as I work in this little southeastern corner of Gladish.  As you can see, my hands are a bit weary, but my heart is full of the beauty of many of you.  The rainbow walls hold lots of love, and are waiting to hold the community we will become!  With a heart full of love and gratitude today — Kristine