In her newly released book Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection, Sharon Salzberg poignantly writes, “[M]editation does not eradicate mental and emotional turmoil. Rather, it cultivates the space and gentleness that allow us intimacy with our experiences so that we can relate quite differently to our cascade of emotions and thoughts. That different relationship is where freedom lies.”
It has taken me almost two years of practice to understand this about meditation. I remember when I first started to meditate I would get so frustrated. “I can’t do this,” I would yell at myself, “my mind keeps wandering.” It took a while to realize that meditation is not about stopping thoughts as this is impossible. During meditation, the moment of mindfulness is when we realize that our mind is wandering and we bring it back to the moment, whether that be focusing on our breath or our lovingkindness statements, etc. Additionally, it also requires us to release ourselves from the death grip of judgement. There is no “right” way to meditate. Once I accepted that my mind will wander, some days more than others, I was able to try and practice for longer periods of time. For me, breath focus and lovingkindness/compassion meditation are my preferences.
My path has been to cultivate this relationship, and in the process, I have shed layers of covering only to become keenly aware of my deep sense of unworthiness. This may sound unpleasant, which it can be, but it has been a profound moment of awakening. As I have become better able to respond to negative emotions with tenderness and care, I have learned that I struggle in receiving love from others and myself. When a friend of mine told me bluntly that I am standoffish, I was offended because I have always seen myself as helpful, caring and loving. This is not what she was saying at all. She felt my wall, my inability to be open to receiving. I started to review my relationships with others and noticed often in the past when I’d get angry I tended to shut down, put up a wall and hide within a cocoon of anger, self-judgement, pity, etc. I would fall into a spiral of unworthiness and it was too painful that separation seemed easier. Separation from self and others is not easier, it is lonely and perpetuates the false perceptions of an unworthy self.
Due to my meditation practice, I am more skillful at recognizing feelings of anger without identifying with them. I have begun to truly understand the practice of R.A.I.N (recognize, accept, investigate and nurture). In other words, I notice the physical sensations and the thoughts, but am less likely to cling to them and create a story around this emotional and physical response. What has been beautiful is now that I have a better handle on creating space and being kinder to myself, I have been able to take more layers off to notice how my identification with negative feelings has separated me from others. I unintentionally rejected others and even myself only to feed the beast of unworthiness. Acknowledging this has brought tears and sadness, a grief that I spent so much of my life yearning for connection and love yet rejecting it out of the belief that I was unworthy or simply not good enough. Kristen Neff’s work on self-compassion has taught me that this experience is so common. Most of us (read Brene Brown’s research for more on this too) have some degree of “not feeling good enough.” Therefore, it’s so important for us to show love and kindness to others regardless of their openness. I am grateful that my friend wanted to show me love, and she did through her honesty.
While I admit, sometimes someone else’s lack of openness can trigger my insecurity or someone’s need for more openness can trigger it too, I remind myself that we all want connection. Connecting is being human. Many of us have been conditioned through no fault of our own to reject ourselves. I did not even realize the extent to which I cut myself off from my wholeness, from living life fully. Meditating, specifically compassion meditation, has supported my ability to accept my humanness, my flaws, without it defining my worthiness. Mindfulness and meditation is about how we relate to experience. For me, it has uncovered my dysfunctional relationship with life and helped me enter a space of forgiveness and love so that I can change this relationship. As Sharon Salzberg teaches, “The strength of mindfulness is that it enables us to hold difficult thoughts and feelings in a different way—with awareness, balance and love.” May you, the reader, find strength in meditation and in knowing that you are worthy and loved.