I had the huge privilege of attending Pema Chodron’s retreat and teachings at Omega Institute on “The Marks of Our Existence” recently. The workshop centered on what she called the 4 Facts of Life: impermanence, egolessness, suffering, and peace. It was a weekend of profound depth coupled with practical simplicity (and a few side-splitting laughs) offered up by one of Buddhism’s most recognizable and venerated teachers.
There is so much I am taking away from this experience. One gift in particular revolves around the concept of constriction. Pema taught that whenever we might feel fear, judgment, displeasure, anger, hatred, or some other “negative” emotion about something we constrict. Not only are our minds constricted and fixated on our opinion of a situation, but our bodies follow suit. We experience tightness in our muscles, our chest, our stomachs, our breathing shortens, we work up a sweat, and so forth. We clench our jaws, our fists, and occasionally lash out verbally or physically in our frustration or pain; the intensity of which is determined by the situation and how tightly we hold our views.
- Don’t just take my word for this, test it out for yourself. Bring to mind something or someone that is irritating you right now and notice what happens in your body and mind.
- Do you feel constriction in your thoughts? Your body?
- Does the world and its possibilities seem smaller? (Something like: “You’re wrong, I’m right, things shouldn’t be this way”?)
In times like these, Pema taught us a simple (not necessarily easy!) and very practical approach to navigating these murky waters. That is, when you feel constricted, tight, and fixated on something, open up and expand.
In my translation, that means you ask yourself:
- “How can I stay loose in this situation?
- How can I stay loose with these feelings or sensations I am having?”
From here you can open up or expand into more possibility, greater peace of mind, and equanimity.
Some ways you can do this practice in the heat of the moment are to:
- physically move
- open your stance
- spread your arms wide
- go for a walk
- breathe more deeply
- gaze at an image that expands your view (nature, spiritual icon, a beautiful object, flowing water, etc.).
- anything else that makes you open wide …
From this space you can stay loose in your experience thereby opening your possibilities, your heart, your ability to respond to what lies before you.
Again, don’t take my word for it… try it. [Read more…]