“When the stories of our life no longer bind us, we discover within them something greater. We discover that within the very limitations of form, of our maleness and femaleness, of our parenthood and our childhood, of gravity on the earth and the changing of the seasons, is the freedom and harmony we have sought for so long. Our individual life is an expression of the whole mystery, and in it we can rest in the center of the movement, the center of all worlds.”
― Jack Kornfield
At the center of our experience in this life is our own story. Another word for this might be our own identity. Putting these two words together like this, we can see how important our story is. I love what Brene Brown, Ph.D. says: “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.”
As much as it is essential to develop a good and functional life (and the healthy ego that goes with it), it is also essential to feel accepting, relaxed and spacious with our story. So often something confuses or even hurts us and we tend to take things personally that were not meant that way. This can lead to many misunderstandings, complications, and really difficult situations in our life and relationships.
This is a huge topic, not just regarding our spiritual development, and I’d only like to focus here on one aspect of it, which is on bringing a bit more relaxation and spaciousness into our story. This is about the many chances we get on a daily basis to enjoy a more relaxed and spacious way of responding to our life and emotions. Similarly, last week on the topic of hope and fear, I touched upon the possibility of trusting and letting things unfold while staying aware and responding from an open, witnessing mind.
The more we fall out of our own resiliency because of heavy challenges and our reactions to them, the less we might be able to respond from such a place. It can also be true for us that we don’t really have a place like this well-established within our own being and life. But the more we are open to and reflect on our lived life, our story or identity, the more it can be that we feel like we have choices and can move our inner and outer life in a direction that feels natural, spacious and uncomplicated.
The less we have had a chance to reflect in this way, the more we might still feel caught up in undigested stories about ourselves, with an accompanying lack of choice and freedom. But we can change that. It’s not necessarily an easy process and for some of us it might be very supportive to approach this with competent outer help, but it is possible and can be life changing. Especially during life transitions and also with the appearance of loss, it can be a good chance to go on a journey like that. We can find ourselves there naturally in those times, wondering who we really are and what is most essential.
I often work with elderly or dying people and have met many who would have liked to have started much earlier making peace with their story and finding a broader and more spacious identity. Especially, older generations grew up during at a time when such reflections would have been considered navel-gazing compared to life’s urgent requirements. These days we have both more support and more relevant teachings available than our grandparents had.
A Supportive Method
I’d like to share a helpful and deep method for finding more spaciousness and choice within our emotional life. It has worked well in my own experience and is very similar to an exercise called “Emotional Wisdom” in a wonderful book by Loch Kelly called Shift Into Freedom: The Science and Practice of Open-Hearted Awareness. I love how simply and intelligently he describes a process that we can feel, learn from, and return to, and I recommend that you check it out. My own method goes like this:
- When we sit down to meditate or reflect and an emotion comes up we usually feel, and even say to ourselves, “I am … (emotion).” That usually feels heavy and narrow, as if our whole world is that.
- As a next step we can see what changes if we think instead, “I notice that I’m … (emotion).” That usually gives us a bit more space with the experience and brings more of an experience of presence and awareness.
- As that space opens up, we can be aware of that emotion being present and then choose to rest in that awareness. This again loosens our identification with it a bit more and allows awareness to grow stronger. We might notice that the heaviness of our experience changes slightly and more space, maybe even some curiosity, some readiness to be surprised comes in.
- In the end we can know that the energy of the emotion and the energy of awareness are the same. We might be used to holding an emotion and awareness as something separate, and so this might be a strange step for us, but it’s just another aspect of their truth.
For me, this method has been a key support many times in my life when things became really difficult, when I felt claustrophobic in some emotion and I couldn’t find any space in my story. I wonder how you feel about it? The path here is learning how not to fall into, nor run from emotions, but to experience them just as they are. Emotions have space inside too.
Have a nice week of summer with maybe some experiments along these lines,