Create the Life You Imagine
"Joy is the happiness that doesn't depend on what happens." Brother David Steindl-Rast
We have all been living through difficult and challenging times. Three months ago, we couldn’t have imagined life under stay-at-home orders, working-at-home, students of all ages learning-at-home, feeling crowded at home with others or isolated at home alone, restaurants and stores closed, wearing masks in public, hospitals struggling to keep up and many of us or our loved ones facing real peril, both economic and physical, from a disease called COVID-19. This virus has triggered a wave of difficult and disruptive feelings which we are all experiencing to one degree or another: we are experiencing uncertainty, anxiety, and fear as we face conditions that are novel, unpredictable and threatening to our normal way of life; sadness, grief and loneliness as we have lost so many of our expected and ordinary ways of gathering and connecting with family and friends; disappointment, discouragement and despair as we have been forced to forego the important ceremonies and rituals that mark significant life passages, whether celebrating new babies, birthdays, graduations or marriages, or standing close during the illness or death of those we love; and increasingly we are feeling restlessness, frustration and anger as these conditions linger on longer than we like. While this range of difficult emotions are part of being human, when we all undergo these conditions at the same time the collective emotional experience can be more primal, intense and unsettling.
These conditions threaten to chip away at our sense of peace, freedom, well-being and joy. For those that followed my blog in 2019, you will remember that we can think about every experience of life from the perspective of our lower triangle small self or from the perspective of our upper triangle Soul Self. This world-wide turbulence is sending our lower triangle small self into a state of panic and dread. Remember that our lower triangle small self is always focused on the external conditions of the day and on scanning the world for signs of threat and peril. The small self experiences any change as dangerous and will resist moving and shifting for fear of losing control. The small self of the lower triangle often experiences a chronic sense of anxiety about life, always wondering when the other shoe will drop or when life will take a turn for the worse. Under more normal conditions, the small self has a variety of strategies for calming and soothing itself. It clings to movement, busyness and distraction to give it a sense of stability and control. It runs addictive patterns using cleaning, shopping, eating, drinking, sex, work, sleep, exercise, social media, internet surfing, binge-watching or any other kind of pattern to pass the time and to numb the feelings of stress and anxiety. If this is how the small self of the lower triangle operates on a good day, can you imagine the stress it is experiencing during this global pandemic when many of its usual coping mechanisms have been pulled out from under it, and we have all been forced to stop all the habitual moving, coming and going that keep our difficult emotions at bay.
When life gets tipped over like this it is more important than ever to breathe, to stay mindful, to choose our thoughts, and to activate our higher operating system—our upper triangle—to help us rise above this storm and to keep our balance in this sea of deep and turbulent emotion. The secret to maintaining our sense of peace, freedom, well-being and joy is to intentionally shift to our upper triangle Soul Self. You might remember that our Soul Self watches life from a spiritual perspective. Spirituality is nothing more than that feeling of aliveness or awe we have all experienced in life; it is that sense that we are part of something larger than ourselves and that we are participating in a Divine Mystery which is bigger than our life circumstances. Many of us have experienced that sense of aliveness in nature, in deep and authentic relationships, in prayer or meditation, in sacred experiences like birth or death, or in simple experiences of everyday, unexpected kindness or caring from friends or strangers. It is this connection to our spiritual senses that reminds us that we are all connected and that All Is Well, regardless of our circumstances.
One of the simplest ways to connect with our upper triangle is to open our heart through a simple practice of breathing, compassion and gratitude. When we open our heart, we open the channel to our upper triangle Soul Self and gain access to its larger perspective and its wider range of positive emotional states. Here is a practice that will open that channel:
BREATHING: The first step in the process of opening our heart is simply to breathe. Spend just a few minutes each day mindfully breathing, observing your breath moving in and moving out. Drawing your attention to your breath and consciously following your breath as it moves in and out of your lungs, automatically draws your energy into your fourth chakra heart center and begins the shift from the lower triangle to the upper triangle. As you breath in and breathe out, your breath will slow and steady, and the narrow channel that runs through your heart center between your upper triangle and your lower triangle will begin to open.
COMPASSION: Next, hold your lower triangle small self with compassion. Imagine this part of yourself as scared and frantic, and simply wrap your small self up in the energy of compassion and care, the way you might swaddle a newborn baby or hold a young child, to comfort and console the energy of your small self. Holding your small self with compassion, acceptance and non-judgment, understanding that in the ordinary world there are many difficult and worrisome things going on, opens the flow of Soul energy into your lower triangle and allows a sense of calm to take hold.
GRATITUDE: Finally, practice gratitude. The renowned Benedictine monk and spiritual teacher, Brother David Steindl-Rast, teaches that while our day-to-day happiness may depend on the conditions of the moment, our joy is a deep state of being that is ever present and doesn’t depend on our circumstances. We might say that happiness is located in the lower triangle and we feel happy when all the external conditions are right (our job, status, relationships, economics, living arrangements, etc.), and joy is located in the upper triangle and is a steady state of being for our Soul, regardless of our circumstances. While it is hard to feel happy about the ways in which COVID-19 has disrupted our lives, we can maintain a joyful state of being if we can access the energy of our Soul through the practice of gratitude. The practice of gratitude calls us to stop and notice the good things in our life, finding small things to be grateful for even in these difficult days. For example, we might be grateful during this practice just for the simple act of breathing as this new virus threatens this life-sustaining gift that is present in every moment of life but which most often operates outside of our attention. A daily practice of gratitude opens wide the channel in our hearts and maintains a steady flow of energy from our upper triangle Soul Self into our lower triangle. That flow of energy allows us to move through our days with more grace and joy.
Our upper triangle Soul Self is always in connection with the deeper spiritual streams of life-giving emotions. It maintains a steady and stable state of faith, laughter, love, gratitude, hope, compassion, peace and joy. It lives in the ever abundant and creative possibilities of the present moment and allows us to let go of the dramas and traumas of our past and the angsts and anxieties about our future. The Soul Self is calm, patient, peaceful and present, it is flexible and accepting, it is prepared to notice and receive the gifts of life that are available in every moment, it is kind, loving and gentle when the lower triangle small self is spinning and scared, and it knows that whatever is happening outside of us, this too shall pass. The stable, steady, ever-present, and healing energy of our Soul Self is the perfect antidote for these difficult times, and we can practice accessing this energy by using our daily practice to re-member who we are and to connect with our deeper source of inner wisdom.
Wishing you the blessings and light of the soul, as you create the life you imagine.
Here is a guided meditation to use this week. You might want to read through it a few times and then close your eyes and move through it, or you might just soften your mind and your gaze as you read and let yourself feel it move through your body-mind as you go. Let yourself experience your own images as you move through the meditation, listen for the wisdom of your Soul, and journal whatever comes into your awareness when you are done with the meditation.
If you think about the image of the lower triangle, you can imagine all of the difficult emotions spinning around like a torrent of negative energy building up with nowhere to go. Imagine that pressure pushing up against the top of the lower triangle with no place to exit. Now imagine that the peaceful energy of the upper triangle is available in every moment like a soothing balm for our lower triangle small self, if we can simply open that channel in the heart center and allow the energy of the Soul Self to flow into our lower triangle.
In your meditation practice this week, begin by breathing intentionally from your fourth chakra, allowing the energy of your heart to begin to move throughout your body on the breath. Imagine breathing in the calm and peace of the Soul, and breathing out the distress and discomfort of your small self. Continue to breath in and breath out until you notice a feeling of calm beginning to flow throughout your body. Allow yourself to feel anchored in the love and compassion of the heart center and to feel peaceful and relaxed.
Now while maintaining that feeling of calm and staying anchored in the heart center, draw your attention to your lower triangle. Imagine gazing down at your small self from a distance and notice with love and compassion the struggles of your small self. Notice all the worries and anxieties it is holding. Notice the disappointments it is processing. Notice the feelings it is experiencing. Notice all the difficult conditions it is trying to manage and control. Imagine a color associated with the struggle and see that color moving fitfully around your lower triangle like a storm you are watching from a safe distance. As you breathe in and breathe out, simply notice and accept what is happening for your small self, while holding a feeling of compassion and calm.
Now shift your attention back to your heart center by taking a few deep breaths and imagine connecting with your upper triangle Soul Self. Notice the lightening of your energy as you move up into the upper triangle. Feel the calm, peace and quiet joy in the presence of your Soul. Let a smile come to your face as you feel the loving presence of your Soul gazing at you with tender, kind and welcoming eyes. Imagine a color associated with this presence and allow that color to begin to gently swirl around from the top of your head to your heart center, increasing your sense of peace and calm as it moves throughout your upper triangle.
Now imagine a narrow channel in your heart center opening and the beautiful colored light of your Soul moving through that channel and beginning to slowly and gently swirl around in your lower triangle. See the color of your upper triangle blending and swirling with the color of your lower triangle, slowing the movement and the storminess of the lower triangle until that beautiful healing color is moving and flowing from your upper triangle, down through the channel in your heart, and permeating into and around your lower triangle. Feel the movement of that healing light from the top of your head to the tip of your toes, allowing all the energy and color of commotion and distress that was disrupting the lower triangle, to pour out through your feet and into the earth.
Continue to breathe in and breathe out. Feel the energy of your upper triangle, your heart center and your lower triangle integrated and connected by the channel of divine light moving effortlessly up and down throughout your body. Feel your body-mind-spirit system connected and calm. Now let yourself experience a feeling of gratitude for the abiding and eternal presence of your Soul, and remind yourself that when the lower triangle gets agitated and uncomfortable, you can open this channel at any time and return to this state deep state of calm and well-being where All is Well.