In a recent weekend of my Teacher Training program, I attended a workshop with William Jackson, a former monk-turned-meditation teacher. The workshop began simply enough; William encouraged us to find a comfortable position and allow our drishti, or gaze, to travel over our surroundings.
I let my eyes scan the walls around me, the wood floor below my feet, the nooks and crannies of the room that I often glaze over. My eyes wandered out the window to the street below. Then, William instructed us to shift the attention to our feelings.
“As you observe how you’re feeling,” William offered, “notice if there is tension. Allow that tension to exist.”
My mind went through the kind of stop-start that I liken to a spinning record hitting debris.
Allow tension to exist? What on earth for?
The idea, William explained, is that when we resist what is happening in the moment – even if it feels like it’s bad, like tension – we allow the mind to get wrapped up in that thing.
We hold on to tension as we try to ignore it.
In the yoga room, we often hear a gentle nudge away from tension. Teachers offer directives like, “notice tension and soften”, or “if you feel tension arise, let it go.”
These cues have the best of intentions. I’ve used some of them myself. And yet, the subtle messaging is that tension – a common experience – is bad or wrong.
I’ve reflected on that lesson many times over the past few weeks, and it has changed the way I speak as a teacher, and view my own practice of mindfulness.
To allow ourselves to exist fully in each moment – to observe and accept the full picture of ourselves and our context – is the absence of resistance.
We don’t have to act on what we’re feeling, and we don’t need to wrestle with it. Instead, we can see what is happening, acknowledge it, and move on.
Everyone wants to be heard and acknowledged. Feelings, thoughts, and sensations are no different.
If we can offer ourselves empathy and a little space to be exactly how we are, perhaps we can find some peace of mind.
The practice: spend some time today observing the moment.
Take a look at your surroundings – what colors jump out to you? What colors are subtle?
What sounds, smells and tactile sensations do you notice?
How are you feeling? No need to dive deep, just notice what comes up first, or what lingers. Can you offer that feeling a little space to exist?
What does it feel like to allow that emotion, sensation, or thought, to happen?