Last night as I sat in meditation with a small group at sunset, I led a guided meditation focusing on the Heart Chakra, Anahata, and the Root Chakra, Muladhara. Doing heart chakra work often awakens old pain, grief, frustration, anger, and we sometimes experience this as pain or emotional upset. Meditation is a practice that allows us to awaken to our true selves, and to grow and experience life beyond some of the boundaries...boundaries kept in place by what psychologist and Buddhist teacher, Tara Brach refers to as "the trance of unworthiness".
Unworthiness and self hatred, as it appears in self criticism and judgment, appear when we do inner work on the heart. For many of us, we store a great deal of pain in our heart chakra, and when something, like a trauma triggers a release of the pain, we tend to believe there is something wrong with us. We fall into the default mode of thinking that when something goes wrong, we must in some way be responsible. When we live with the idea that whatever happens to us is our fault, or somehow under our control, we suffer, and we also live in an illusion, or as Brach calls it, a trance. We cannot seem to move beyond our patterned responses and reactions, and so we keep reacting and responding in patterns that fit our self image...a self image that is often focused on our need to prove ourselves worthy.
Why is it so difficult for us to love ourselves and feel compassion for ourselves? At the end of meditation last night, I gave some simple suggestions to those who attended to pay attention to whatever residual pain, feelings, thoughts, or experiences came up. I suggested that those who had done some deep heart and root chakra work, drink plenty of water and get some rest. When we do heart chakra work, we need to replenish our body with fluids and flush the energetic toxins that have been released in our system. When we do deep root chakra work, and heart chakra work, we awaken, release, and set free energy trapped in our body as emotions, memories, physical imbalance or pain, and psychological needs and expressions. We release spiritual energy that may have been trapped in our repeated need to control our responses to our life, our own gifts and challenges, or very often, to our own needs and desires. When we meditate, we go beneath the surface of our habitual patterns of behavior and thought, and if we are willing, often come face to face with our fears.
One of the things that I believe drives many of us away from healing practices like meditation when we experience the upwelling that puts us more in touch with our true feelings, emotions, thoughts, needs, and desires. When we don't feel serene and calm, but instead feel pain radiating as it seeks release from our body, it may seem antithesis to finding inner peace and calm. Meditation is about being more aware of who we are, and when we continuously try to control our emotional and physical lives, by berating, punishing, pushing, or suppressing our feelings, we eventually have to deal with the consequences. Consequences of living beneath the surface of our true being include illness, pain, living inauthentic lives, all ways we live out of a sense of unworthiness rather that our of unconditional love and compassion. When we come face to face with our fears, we respond as if our very lives were in danger, and react to the increased threat to our well being.
The fight or flight response, is a term used to describe our body's Autonomic Nervous System. Composed of two parts, the Sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system, it is our body's way of responding to any threat, perceived or real. What happens when we feel some kind of threat? The Sympathetic nervous system originates in the spinal column (at the base of the Root Chakra and up through each of the seven main chakras). It functions by activating physiological changes in the body in response to threats that lead the body to automatically go into fight or flight, releasing norepinephrine. Norepinephrine acts as a hormone and neurotransmitter, and sets off a series of responses in the body.
The Parasympathetic nervous system also originates in the spinal column as well as the medulla. It works in tandem with the Sympathetic nervous system, and seeks to create balance in our system, seeking what is referred to as the "rest and digest" response. When our Parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, it releases the neurotransmitter, acetylcholine.
What happens when we feel fear, a threat, or experience stress? The reaction begins when the Amygdala triggers a response in the Hypothalamus. This response then activates the pituitary gland and the release of the hormone ACTH (Cortocortrophin). This hormone is released when any threat to our biological well being is present, and also is released with other stress responses. Next, the adrenal glands are triggered, and the neurotransmitter, epinephrine. This results in the production of cortisol. Cortisol increases result in the increase of blood pressure and blood sugar, and it suppresses the immune system. The initial boost of energy caused by this entire reaction, gives us the energy we need to move and take charge of a situation. It gets our whole body and being ready for a violent encounter, and makes a number of major changes in our body. Some of what happens includes:
- Increased heart and lung action
- Digestion slows down or stops
- Flushing or getting pale or both
- Constriction of blood vessels
- Dilation of blood vessels for muscles
- Relaxation of the bladder
- Loss of hearing or vision (tunnel vision)
Our Autonomic nervous system serves us well when we are in danger, but when we live in a persistent state of fear, worry, anger, frustration, or worry, our system is overtaxed and worn down by stress. When we are in real physical danger, we depend upon this system to work to help us deal with real danger. How are we affected when we perceive different kinds of threats to our well being? We experience stress responses on a number of different levels and in a different ways.
Emotionally, we can do some things to regulate our responses. We learn to get along in difficult and stressful situations. When we are self punishing or feeling unworthy because of our need to control our environment and experiences, we are acting out of that trance-like state that is based on our own sense of unworthiness. We're not good enough to succeed at a task, or we're susceptible to accepting beliefs, behavior, punishment, or abuse in the name of 'maintaining control' and proving our worthiness. We are not capable of controlling our emotions simply by identifying that we are experiencing them. Emotions are linked to behavior, our cognitive processes, our psychological make up, and our spiritual beliefs and perceptions. Emotional reactivity refers to how we respond to conditions and experiences, as well as unconscious fears, memories, or thoughts that arise in the course of daily life. We may find ourselves in situations, relationships, encounters, or conditions that trigger responses lodged in unhealed or unconscious memories or thoughts.
Depending on your level of emotional reactivity, you may respond to situations differently. Some people experience more anxiety or anger, while others seem to have a higher threshold to the same or similar stimuli. It used to be that some of us were told we were 'too sensitive' and such a response was about our level of emotional reactivity. Being sensitive to different types of situations and conditions is not necessarily something beyond our ability to regulate. While some people need to become more sensitive to the feelings of others to social mores and behavior, others need to be desensitized to a certain extent. Meditation is one tool for learning more about your own emotional responses and reactions, and learning how to help regulate and control emotional and cognitive energy that sets off stress responses.
Meditation is something I do by and for myself. I might sit with you as we meditate, but my experience is independent, to a certain extent. Moving beyond the sense of feeling trapped in feelings, thoughts, life experiences and choices, physical abilities or pain, we can learn to awaken through practices that enable us to experience loving kindness, compassion, and forgiveness, for ourselves and for others. Loving myself is difficult for it requires that I transform and heal pain by directing it into loving kindness...for myself and for others. There is an ancient thought in Judaism about how we love God. The very pragmatic approach of the ancient peoples seems to apply to us as much today as it did before we 'knew' so much about the world we live in. In the ancient community, loving God began first by respecting and honoring oneself. Taking care of myself, and then sharing what I have with others...my family, the community, and as we express and share love, kindness, compassion, forgiveness, and peace with others, we love the Divine. We connect with the Divine Creator through our ability to awaken from our trance of unworthiness to see that we are created in the image of the Divine (not the other way around), and therefore, have divine gifts and purpose. We are meant to share, to love, to express beauty, to forgive, to care for, and to honor all life. We must begin by accepting and loving ourselves, as we are just as much a link to Divine Love and Truth as anyone else. We have the capacity to awaken to the seeds of love that are at the heart of our being, and by waking up to our desires, our needs, our gifts, our challenges, and our capacity to live fully and freely, we honor the life we have been given.
In a meditation of the heart, we are reminded that our Anahata, our Heart Chakra includes our entire cardio-thoracic area, including the thymus gland, the shoulders, arm, elbows, wrists, hands and fingers. Our hands in particular, link directly to our hearts, so what we do with our hands and the health of our hands reflect our heart health. Experiencing pain in our hands indicates energetically, that there is some level of imbalance between what we are doing and what we want to do. We may be overworking and not getting enough rest, or we may be doing work we do not like or that is harmful for us in some way. Our heart chakra indicates to us that which we truly desire in life, and when we are avoiding living according to our desires, we suffer in some way. When we hold feelings and emotions in, suppressing our natural human responses, we load ourselves up with stress that will eventually come out in some way.
When you meditate focusing on your heart chakra, you might use a question or to for contemplation:
- What emotional memories or concerns do I need to heal?
- How are my emotional wounds controlling me or making me try to control others or situations?
- Who or what do I need to forgive? What do I need to forgive myself for?
- What relationships need healing?
- What do I really desire, and what is stopping me from that desire?
Directly connected to our Heart Chakra, Anahata, is our Root/Base Chakra, Muladhara.
- How do we connect to the world where we are, where we live, and where we feel at home?
- How does my home, my daily life routine, and my walk on the Earth nourish and support me?
- How am I hungry and longing for love, support, affirmation, abundance, and a sense of security and safety?
- What is stopping me from living freely, open to receiving my good, and willing and able to release and let go of that which no longer nourishes and supports me?
- How am I taking care of the precious gift, myself?
- How am I expressing loving kindness, forgiveness, acceptance, understanding, and peace in my relationships?
The connection between how we walk our daily path, and how we experience and express our love to ourselves and others, is vital for our health, and allows us to live more out of a place of love and less out of a place of worry and fear. By directing our lives, our thoughts, our emotional responses, our actions, and our sense of self in positive, loving, kind, and thoughtful ways, we actively counter the effects that fear, anger, worry, and anxiety cause us to feel. We cannot keep putting our hands into the hornet's nest and expect not to be stung. We need to make changes in the way we live, and put our attention and intentions on more life-giving, life-affirming ways of being. We do have control of much; we can use our power to make choices that are healthier; that free us from living behind the fog of not living for our highest good and excellent health.
Meditation is something each of us can do, for even a few minutes. We can stop, pause right now. Stop reading and just sit quietly, letting yourself be. Suspend all activity, quiet your spirit in this moment. Pull your thoughts back from the future where you've allowed it to travel (what should I fix for lunch, when will the noise outside stop), and be present in this moment, now. Disengage, and let yourself simply be present in this moment, and then in this one, and then in the next. Pay attention to your breathing. Just notice how it flows in and out. Take a breather, a walk, a rest to do no-thing. Let the meditation be a few moments, minutes, or let it become part of your doing. Bring yourself into that quiet, peaceful place within. Take in the beauty around you and feel at one with all that is surrounding you. Simply being present with myself sitting here right now bringing this piece to a close, with one thought. Wishing you a lovely, mindful day being present with you. Namaste.
Commit to waking from the trance of unworthiness, fear or whatever place you may feel trapped or stuck. Take some time for yourself right now, every day, and include meditation and a practice of loving kindness and forgiveness into your daily practice of living. You are meant to be whole, happy and loved.