One of the things I do when I start every single life coaching session is a simple one: We take a moment, just to breathe.
“Try to take the kind of inhale where your shoulders go up a bit, and then when you exhale, make a bit of a noise as you release the air,” I invite my clients. “Move past the prim and proper breathing.”
And we sit like this, in perfect stillness, for just the first few moments of the session. I do this in part because for many of my clients, this is the first time all day that they’ve had a moment to stop and just breathe. My tribe tends to be pretty driven, intelligent types–the types who have usually seen themselves as too logical to be doing any self-help work; the types who kinda-sorta-a-little-bit think (like me) that the term “coaching” is…well, a bit ridiculous. They have full lives, and full days, because they’re full of ideas and are very purpose-driven.
Again and again, they tell me the same sorts of things: that the breath helps them relax. Or that they look forward to it, all day. Or that they’re amazed by the power of this simple tool and how little time it takes.
But then there’s that one time–the time when the breath doesn’t relax them and instead, something (beautiful) comes up.
I’ll hear the emotion wavering in her voice as she shares with me that the stillness actually made it harder to keep some of the tough stuff at bay. I’ll think, “How courageous she is, to bring this here, to give voice to her experience.”
I’ll say, “Tell me more.”
Meditation Tells the Truth
I am a lover of truth. I grew up feeling like I couldn’t tell the truth, that there were consequences in my family for truth-telling, and I remember leaving home at eighteen, fiercely independent, and thinking to myself with relief that I no longer had to worry that if I told the truth, my character or behavior would be trashed.
I had left home. I could hang up the phone. I could leave the restaurant. I could, if needed, order someone to get out of my house. Typically, after leaving home, it usually never came to anything that dramatic, but just that knowledge was enough for me to feel like perhaps I could…breathe.
There was just one problem. I, too, would come to meditation, and instead of feeling the nice, fuzzy, relaxing feelings, my “stuff” would come up. Anger. Rage. Replaying conversations in my head.
Meditation brings us to the truth. People say they want concrete ways to move past their blocks, but we’re not sure “how” to do it.
Meditation, in my experience, is “how.”
No More Running
At first, I wanted to run from the sadness. This wasn’t what was supposed to happen in meditation! Wasn’t meditation supposed to bring enlightenment? Compassion? Calm?
Somewhere along the way, someone more experienced than myself suggested that I just “sit with” the sadness, as if the part of me that was sad was a friend in need–a friend who needed someone to sit beside them, to be with them without trying to “do” or “fix.”
So that’s how I sat, and that’s when I learned that meditation was helping me to practice, and slowing down to get some breathing space is a practice, in a very pro-active and practical way, this whole “make friends with yourself” thing that so many self-help books are talking about.
We read all of the time about how we’re supposed to accept ourselves, make friends with ourselves, love ourselves, as if it’s as easy as turning on a switch.
Sitting with my sadness–sitting with myself in sadness, in the way that I would hope for a dear friend to sit with me–was what taught me about befriending myself.
In sitting with my sadness, with no intention to do anything and with no intention to “fix,” I could offer myself the truest kind of acceptance.
This is an empowering kind of acceptance, because it doesn’t require anything external. You’re always the one breathing with yourself, and no one else can do the breathing for you. When you find your way to the other side of sadness, after having sat with it and accepted it, it’s a triumph.
No one else did this for you; you created your freedom, all on your own.
Back to Center
Nine times out of ten, my meditation practice is nothing but pure stillness and noticing. Then there’s the tenth time, where I get to practice being with sadness, or antsy agitation, or something else that feels uncomfortable.
I’ve learned that at such times, it can be helpful to remember that whatever I’m experiencing during a sitting is exactly what I’ll experience, “out there,” in the world.
As living, breathing humans, we’re all going to get sad, or agitated, or uncomfortable. We have choices–release it, or hold it in. Most of us choose to hold it in. We bury it under work or martyrdom or addiction or drama or something else. Then, when it does come out–as the feelings almost inevitably must–we feel as if life has spun out of control, the tears endless, the frustration magnified, the discomfort so acute that you might start to question everything.
People say of meditation, “it brings me back to center.” The center of what?
The center of your feelings. It’s the center of “being with” feelings–and “being with” them is a form of releasing them–that doesn’t go to such an extreme as venting them out onto other people or losing your grip on your life when depression visits.
This one deceptively simple practice of being willing to breathe in, breathe out, looks so innocuous and passive, yet it’s the doorway to actually dealing with the truth of who we are.
Back to center, indeed.