When we are really noticing our thoughts we can see where we shut down, where we find road blocks in our way. Maybe we say we want to do something or go somewhere, but we keep procrastinating. What is the message that sets up the block that keeps us from doing this thing we say we want to do?
Meditation practice creates a spacious mind where such noticing becomes possible. We can set aside time after meditation to ask in and see if there is some concern or issue that feels important to look at right now.
Perhaps there is some lifelong dream that we keep putting off. What is the story that gets spun every time we think of that dream? The story we tell ourselves may be spun in words, images, sensations or emotions. We may show ourselves examples of past failures in the area of the dream. We may be dredge up harsh judgments with rude labels that make us feel disempowered, unable to accomplish what it is we feel drawn to do. The story may not seem to have a direct correlation yet we see that it is automatically triggered by the thought of the dream, so we can explore the connection. We can develop curiosity about how that leap happens.
We may notice a variation in levels of energy around the idea. At 4 AM if I am awake I am likely to have a whole series of interconnected creative ideas that culminate in grand schemes that seem totally do-able at the time. By 4 PM these ideas seem absolutely impossible to accomplish and leave me feeling weighted down with yet another creative idea I will not fulfill. So I have learned to write my ideas up in level-adjusted versions, starting with the grand scheme and ending with the key component or thrust of the basic idea, the thing I can definitely do. If there are aspects that are not something I can do on my own but it feels like a worthy idea, I make note of who would be the right person or community of people to do it. I sometimes have ideas that are simply not mine to fulfill. Apparently we all do because there’s a site called halfbakery.com where you can put up ideas that you will never use in case someone else who doesn’t have the idea but has the ability to run with it might find it.
Now I could just tell myself to go back to sleep at 4 AM, tell myself, ‘You know you’re never going to do any of this, why are you wasting this time?’ I have gone that route but have found that when I shut down the thought process, I am in effect capping the font of creativity that I seem to have more access to at certain times.
Noticing our energy cycles, when we are most alive, awake, cookin’ and when we are more likely to be tired, unable to concentrate or make a decision, is important and skillful awareness so that we can make use of our peak times and be compassionate with our low times. (Since my lowest time is four in the afternoon, it was a challenge when this class was for years at 4 pm. That’s how I got in the habit of reading my dharma talks rather than speaking them. I really couldn’t think on my feet very well at that time of day. Now the class is at 10 AM and I feel much fresher and more able to lead discussions and answer questions. But students are in the habit of listening to my written talk, and they say they feel it’s like being read a story. I realize I am more of a writer than a teacher, so I do read the talk, then we have a discussion. But when I give speeches to larger groups I don’t even rely on notes.)
If we can notice our patterns of energy we can schedule our lives more skillfully. If the dips are very low and disruptive, we might also adjust our eating patterns. But if the levels are not sending us into extremes, we can simply schedule high energy periods for creativity and low ones for rest and relaxation. Understanding our own rhythms and cycles is an important part of self-discovery and the ability to live skillfully. And seeing the levels of energy we can understand why at times we are inspired by a dream and at other times discouraged.
Sometimes we are actually holding other people’s dreams and we feel the responsibility to act upon them. Self-exploration helps us to see the source of our dream. It’s not uncommon even at a late age to still be holding a parent’s expectation or dream for us, feeling guilty if we haven’t fulfilled it. Once we discover that it isn’t even our own dream, it is much easier to let it go.
Sometimes we are hanging on to dreams we once had that have gone stale and no longer have meaning for us. We hold on out of habit. Sometimes we really need to clean out our wardrobe of dreams that just aren’t working for us anymore!
To assess whether a dream is vibrant and alive or stale and in need of discarding, we sense in while holding the dream in our thoughts. Where do we feel it in our body? Is there greed or aversion involved? Is this something we want in order to be seen in a certain way by others? To gain approval? To exist? These dreams are born from a shallow-rooted fear-based place. For example, the desire to be fabulously rich, famous or adored as an object of desire is the fear of disappearing, not being seen. We can ask ourselves what amount of money would be enough to satisfy this need? What amount of recognition would satisfy this hunger? What amount of adoration would make the mirror any kinder? What amount of accomplishment would make us feel we deserved to take up space on the planet?
We can look to past longings in this area and find in many cases that we have fulfilled what we had thought would satisfy us. Yet here we are still hungry! There is an image in Buddhist teachings of the hungry ghost. It has a very small mouth and a huge belly, so it is constantly hungry but unable to satisfy its hunger. We can notice the hungry ghost within us --that fear-based desire that can never be satisfied no matter what we accomplish, no matter how much money we accumulate, no matter how many awards we receive and no matter how much we are loved.
We can see this in ourselves and we can see it in others, how little even major achievements or large bank deposits seems to satisfy the hunger for something that feels beyond naming. We can see how this hunger dulls our other senses, how little joy is possible when this longing is ever present. This is just the nature of a shallow-rooted fear-based dream. It can never be satisfied.
When we recognize this, it is cause for celebration. Celebration? Yes, because we are developing the skill of awareness to notice what is true. But often when we make this discovery, we don’t feel like celebrating. We are too embarrassed to discover we had such a shallow dream.
This is where our intention to be present and compassionate comes in to help us be with even something very ugly and uncomfortable, and to hold ourselves in a loving open embrace. We have made a great discovery and we need to be present to reap the rewards of the discovery, not rush away from it, afraid of what it says about us. The only thing it says about us is that we are human, and if that is new news, it can feel painful, but it is also a sense of communion. We are not alone in this. We are an expression of life in all its manifestations, and these convoluted fear-based thoughts and emotions arise in all of us. This understanding helps us to be courageous in staying present with our discoveries.
So sensing into the body, noticing what arises when we think of a dream we have been telling ourselves, gives us rich vital information, even when it’s painful.
If this dream we have been telling ourselves is born of love and generosity, sharing of our skills, experience and talents, or a desire to know the world in a deeper more meaningful way, we will have quite a different experience with it. We might feel a joyousness of inner sureness, a sense of absolute yes that fills us with a feeling of being in the right place at the right time and empowered to do whatever we need to do.
If we feel blocked, we can recognize the fear-based voice full of reasons why we shouldn’t undertake this dream, why we shouldn’t take a chance and why we would fail if we tried. Once known, the blockage may disappear or we may need to work with it, to negotiate a settlement that assuages the fears expressed. Or the block may be pointing out something that needs to happen before we can actualize our dream.
For example, I had a fear-based aspect that believed I would make myself sick if I did any public speaking. So I joined Toastmasters, an international organization that helps people overcome the fear of public speaking and develop speech and leadership skills. The practice of speaking in a supportive environment has helped me overcome the anxiety. This is an example of working in a very practical way with our blockages, developing the skills and acquiring the needed knowledge or experience to meet the dreams, rather than wasting our time telling ourselves we are not up to the task, if it’s something we truly want to do.
We need to know what are the messages, what are the excuses that keep us from doing what we want to do in this our precious gift of life. So take a few minutes now to quiet down inside. Then see if there is something in your life you want to do that you have put off again and again. It could be a small thing or a big thing.
Whatever it is write down what the dream is. Sometimes it is enough to just make the dream known. We can be so busy in our lives that we don’t even know we are feeling drawn to do something of value for our lives and perhaps the lives of others.
Now stay with this thought of the dream, and notice if anything gets in the way. This will be a reason why it is not possible. Maybe there will be a stream of reasons, but for now let’s stay with the first one that comes up. It may seem like a very practical reason and will be very convincing. After all, it has convinced you over and over again. But this time write it down. If there are other reasons that arise from it, write them all down.
Read over the dream and sense in to the body, noticing how it feels to envision this dream.
What did you notice? If you felt an opening or a sense of greater aliveness, this is an active dream, even if it is edged with a little tension because the fear-based aspect feels threatened at the very mention of this dream.
If there is no felt sense when you think of this dream, perhaps it is no longer true for you. Perhaps you are just used to saying this is something you want to do. Perhaps the dream has shifted in some way and you need to spend more time actively questioning and renaming it. Or perhaps you are already living your life in a way that is meaningful to you and the dream you have named is nothing that would significantly enhance your sense of aliveness.
If the senses feel deadened, then the dream has died. How does it feel when you think the dream has died? Is there regret? Denial? Anger? Relief? Acceptance? Resignation? Explore the reactions for valuable clues. Do they rise up around a lot of thoughts or just this one? If just this one, it may be time to take that dream to the Goodwill! Let it go! Let yourself love this moment and not be dragged constantly into some other potential moment. You are fine just as you are. Your life is just fine as it is. If that doesn't ring true for you, explore some more.
Notice physical sensation associated with any thought. The thoughts themselves might be challenging to address because fear-based aspects get activated and dominate the conversation, denying the quiet wise inner voice access. Addressing physical sensations that arise with a relaxing breath, some metta (loving kindness) and a willingness to be present and notice the sensation, helps us to be more skillful and less frantic, so that we can access that inner wisdom and have a valuable inner dialog.
Notice image, sound or smell memories that seem to arise out of nowhere. What is the association with the subject at hand? We often answer our own questions through these means but we rarely pay attention to the answers!
If through your noticing you have found that this life dream is very much alive, and yet you continually procrastinate, making excuses why you cannot do it, then a skillfully conducted inner dialog is useful to discover what is holding you back.
So listen to the messages you are receiving in whatever form they come. Listen, notice, respect and honor these messages. These are the skillful means to discovering what is blocking your way. Judging, accusing, denying, paving over, ignoring, pushing aside, killing, sympathizing, glorifying, justifying, feeling victimized, put upon, etc. are the unskillful means that most of us use all the time when we realize that we aren’t doing what we want to be doing.
The first most skillful thing to do is to question. Is this true? The insertion of a question opens a whole world of possibility that we were unaware of previous to paying this close attention. We thought we had it down. We knew the answers. We believed everything we thought because we are often so vested in being right, in knowing ourselves. The suggestion that we don’t know ourselves as well as we thought can feel threatening to the fear-based aspects within that have been ruling the roost. The wise inner voice is fearless in the face of a question. A question is like a wonderful breath of fresh air that makes possible clarity and understanding.
‘Is this true?’ Apply this to every excuse or judgment that arises. If an insistent inner aspect says ‘Yes, yes, of course it’s true, dummy.’ Then we ask, ‘How do I know this is true?’ The inner aspect has not done its homework and is not used to being questioned so doesn’t have a ready answer. You can feel the stumped quality that can stir up shame, anger, embarrassment, and other emotions. But this just helps to clarify that it is indeed a fear-based inner aspect that is voicing this excuse.
This can feel like an uncomfortable place to hang out, but in fact it’s very juicy and fruitful if we can stay with it and access our inner wisdom, our sense of kindness and compassion that isn’t threatened by all this acting out and stomping about going on inside our consciousness.
Throughout the process, we may need to continually re-access the wise inner voice, to remember the qualities we have discussed before that indicate this is deep-rooted inner wisdom and not shallow-rooted fear speaking. Remember the wise inner voice will be calm, patient, loving, kind and have a timeless sense, while the fear-based aspects will be urgent, caffeinated, opinionated, demanding using words like should, must and have to. They will be unkind and resort to name calling. It is pretty easy to tell the difference once you are really paying attention and creating a quiet space for the wise inner voice to be audible.
If you are afraid you don’t have a wise inner voice, relax. That’s just some fear-based aspect terrified of the consequences of your accessing your own inner wisdom. It is there, quietly waiting for your attention. It is an ever-present constant. It isn’t going anywhere! We just aren’t in the habit of listening in. That’s why we practice meditation, to develop the muscle of hearing our inner wisdom and being guided by it, instead of being ruled by a chaotic bunch of fearful inner aspects.
So if this has been a useful exercise for you, if you feel you have found a vein worth exploring, please take time throughout the week to do so.