Recently, I felt shrink-wrapped into a smaller, tighter version of myself. My body was uncomfortable and the ground felt so very, very hard. My usual hip barometer was sending painful messages. I guessed what was wrong, but wasn’t sure how best to help myself. So I did two things that wouldn’t have crossed my mind a few years ago: I asked for help and fed my demons! Demon feeding has become one of my favourite practices when I experience difficulty. What came up was the need for more spaciousness, where I can stay open to all experiences, yet let them flow on through. Open the front door, and keep the back door open too.
I guess it was obvious to everyone else what was wrong, yet I sometimes fall into the invincibility trap. Our little guru-dog Anakin had been squashed under our vehicle during a thunderstorm. He had had surgery on his broken pelvis, femur and hernia, and then his entire side swelled up with a seroma, a fluid-filled sac. We brought him home in time for my 50th birthday, but the sad eyes and occasional wails of a confined, unhappy dog, countered the joy I felt in having my home filled with friends.
Each time I let my mind move back to the past, I could viscerally experience the shock in my body of the moment we heard him shriek. I felt stuck there, until I shifted back to the present moment, where we could get on with agreeing the next step to take. Also if I let my mind wander into the future, either worst-case scenario, or wishful expectations of when he might come home, then I found anxiety rising. The present moment wasn’t that great, but it was the least uncomfortable, even if it was an unknowing, liminal space.
Our Response to Difficulty
When we have a frightening experience, we have three instinctive responses – fight, flight or freeze. Fighting with ourselves, or each other, through guilt or blame, would have helped no-one, least of all Anakin. Running from the situation was not an option. And it is the freeze response that means we stay stuck in trauma. I was grateful to realize that my conditioned response was to take action, and therefore conducive to alleviating traumatic experience.
When I heard his shriek, I jumped out of the car, picking him up from under the wheel, and hugging his thrashing body tightly, until his natural pain-relieving endorphins did their job. I then found that chanting to him seemed to calm me. I could then get the sense of sending calmer, caring brainwaves to him. We then found an emergency vet in Greenside, who treated him, and us, with absolute loving kindness, and referred us to the specialist vet. We also remembered to take care of each other, while we rode out this wave together. I was also comforted to find that little Anakin has a remarkably wide support base. For those of you who don’t know him, he has a damaged nose and sounds like Darth Vader. He is a great pranayama (breathing) instructor, having accomplished the benefits of ujjayi breath quite naturally!
We received many Facebook messages of support during his operation, and I deeply felt the care and empathy from many kind people. When we first learn the metta (loving kindness) practice, it can feel a bit dry or fake, yet when we are the ones receiving kind thoughts, words and deeds, it provides a remarkable wellspring of trust that I kept tapping into.
After the practicalities were attended to, I took time for the demon feeding practice of Lama Tsultrim Allione. I saw the image of my little demon needing to be fed the nectar of spaciousness. I fed it and fed it until it had reached complete satisfaction. And the wonderful result of visualization is that we feel it within ourselves too. I realized that I can cope with quite a lot of difficulty, as long as I feel spacious enough to receive it, and then let it flow through.
I often feel calm in a crisis but get a delayed physical response. After a few days, my body tightened up, and it was important for me to acknowledge that I needed help. I booked a session with the magician Zelda, my chiropractor. Within 30 minutes, she had freed my fascia, traced and released blockages all down my gall bladder meridian and set me back into the world, where the earth felt much softer beneath my feet and the space around seemed to have returned to my insides too.
The Fresh Water Lake
There’s an Eastern wisdom teaching that I often refer to when giving mindfulness courses. If we imagine putting a tablespoon of salt in a cup of water, it is too bitter to drink. When that same tablespoon is placed in a vast, freshwater lake, then the water remains sweet and refreshing. The more expansive we feel on the inside, the more we can let in, as it has space to move. It can then dissolve away, or we can imagine waving goodbye at the back door.
This idea is self-explanatory when we look at the breath. The lungs expand and create space to receive the breath and extract the oxygen that is so critical to our vitality. And then we need to let that breath flow back out again. If we hold onto either the in-breath, or the out-breath, we suffocate. It is the arrival and departure of the breath that creates a healthy sense of flow.
Space allows us to remain open to all experiences, and either savour them, or grow from them. Space is the holding place, yet has no beginning or end; it is connected with a sense of vastness, which is maybe why we feel so spacious and less worried about daily life when we are out in nature, especially in a place with vast views – mountains or the ocean.
So, while little Anakin’s body is going through its magical healing process, I am seeing how it feels to keep both doors open in my mind, and keep connected with the spaciousness that is our natural birthright.
New Year Intentions Retreat
I realize that we are coming to the end of 2017, and we may have welcomed both delightful and dreadful things into our lives this year. Now is the time to stand on the threshold of the back door and wave them goodbye. Then we can walk through our spacious house and stand on the front stoep, beckoning to those aspects that we might like to invite for tea during 2018.
If you would like support in this process, then you are welcome to book for the annual New Year Intentions Retreat, which includes process work carried out through yoga and mindfulness. Click here for more information.