When did you Stop Breathing?

Last year I was living on campus for three months at my teacher’s home; the Venerable Sangharakshita. When back in the UK I found myself caught up in my family constellation. It had been easy to tell myself while living in Canada that I’d let go of much of what had happened in the past. I had even convinced myself that it was only my siblings who were still in much pain about not having what they may consider a ‘normal’ traditional family.

After a few weeks of being in regular communication with all three sisters, I soon experienced my heart/mind becoming reactive and losing equanimity. My youngest and newest sister, who had turned up unexpectedly in the family 10 years ago, outing our mother about adopting her as a newborn, texted something harsh to me. I found myself wanting to say “get over it or get out of my life”. Of course I didn’t send the text.

The next morning I sat on the cushion for 90 minutes, and rather than push the thoughts of the communication away, I thought “just turn towards the pain”. Every time my mind wandered and spun off into story, I brought the mind back and turned towards the vedena, the feeling tone in the body. I noticed when I moved away from the vedena, thoughts and thinking spiralled out of control. When I turned towards the painful vedena, there was nothing there in the mind/heart. Only excruciatingly painful sensation in the body. And then in a flash I saw clearly. “Oh my God I wasn’t angry with my sister; the aversion towards my sister the night before was in fact aversion to the intense sensation I experienced in the body. I was turning away from sorrow.”

This flash of insight made me see clearly that there is wisdom in the tears. I could see that I needed to turn away from the strong negative narrative and turn towards the excruciating vedena in the body that I label as extreme sadness. Turn towards feeling tone that can strangle the throat, rather than wring the body dry of all the tears whenever I turn away from the sensation.

This past year I have been exploring emptiness of form, vedena, perception, mental formation and consciousness, and seeing how habitually I fix things, infer onto things, and continually create suffering. I have found myself hysterically laughing and saying to myself; what the Buddha was doing was teaching us how to breath again.

When painful sensation arises in the body, let yourself breathe, and turn towards it while opening up the aperture. If you find your mind being pummelled by thoughts, lift your head up and look at the ceiling or the sky and breathe. Know that you can take time out from difficult sensations; you don’t have to be traumatized. You can turn towards it, and when it feels too much open up your peripheral awareness to include your immediate surroundings. Take a breath and pause. And when you have calmed turn back towards the sensation and get curious. Take a breath, and pause.

In  the spirit of Gregory Kramer’s Insight Dialogue: dialogue with the fixed self. Take a breath and pause, relax into the body, open up the heart mind,  and trust what emerges, listen deeply to your heart’s whisper and speak your truth. Know that when aversion arises, you are turning away from an experience in the body and nothing more. The person or thing we project the aversion or craving onto, is  a target for the aversion or craving to latch onto. When we see this, the energy gone overboard (EGO) quietens and the selfing lessens. Identification of thoughts and feelings drop away and we can see clearly that all composite things are impermanent.