Geranium Enjoying Winter Sunlight
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I was leaned back in the chair, a light in my face. I had arrived in much pain. The dentist began a deep cleaning under the bottom left of my gums. My mother, like I, was diligent in flossing and brushing; she had buildup and would have to have periodic deep cleanings. This was my first.
With the metal instrument, the dentist pressed and pushed against my jaw. The grinding was loud, thundering in my head. I did not like this... of course. This was like many dentist visits before... misery. Since having a dentist during childhood that refused to give sufficient pain killer when doing procedures, I had feared dental visits.
Leaning back in the chair, a shift occurred. I had learned from meditation to enter into what is painful or displeasing... let it be, do not resist. I relaxed in the chair. I was one with everything happening. There was no separation among the instrument, the grinding, the sound, and the self. The misery dissipated. I became so tickled by this odd act being done in my mouth, I could barely resist letting out a big laugh - I would have, if the dentist's hand and tool had not been filling up my mouth.
I left knowing I had broken through that old fear of dental visits. There had been a shift from misery to hilarity. A simple letting go had welcomed a fresh, lightsome cheerfulness. Cheering up meant releasing the fear, which I could see was not reasonable. I cannot say I cheered myself up. Really, I just go out of the way. The body, before tense, now was relaxed, not blocking the joy within from arising to meet what was in the moment. The seed of bliss was admitted into bodily awareness.
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November 11.2008 - to a congregation I served as pastor -
An intoxicated man staggers into a Catholic church and sits down in the confessional. He remains silent. The priest, wondering why the man is not speaking, coughs to attract his attention. Still, the man says nothing. The priest knocks on the wall three times in a final attempt to get him to speak. Finally, the man speaks: "No use knocking, there's no paper in this one either."
Okay, for you who think I am a very, very serious person and all the time, the Wisdom Story is for you ~ a gentle, loving corrective. But, really, the story is for all of us.
After any laughs and surprise that I would use it and even call it a WISDOM story, just what is wise about the tale? Well, let me not tend to what is wise in its content, but, rather, in its message as I intend it. I will leave it to you to discern what is wise in it for you.
Humor is a mark of spiritual persons. Stern religiousness has done so much deadly and definitely is deadening. Spirituality embraces the spectrum from hilarity to grieving and sees the Divine equally in it all.
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January 9, 2003 - Damariscotta, Maine -
Today is a good day to cheer myself up. I am exhausted after more physical exertion over the last few days than this body is used to. It is overcast and raining. I am alone. Bitter cold is coming our way here on the coast. We all know it.
I have felt a weird don't-feel-well for hours after waking up feeling great. This has been accompanied by a tinge of anxiety. I went out to get some groceries, knowing tomorrow might be an all-day inside. And while talking with others, I felt cheered and fine - brief encounters like that are good medicine, often uplifting my spirits. Upon returning home, I ate a good meal, hoping that was an answer, that possibly my body needed some nutrition it was lacking.
I sit here again, in my chair, writing these words. I feel less of the not-okay. I recall how feelings flow over and through, never remaining. I remember the capacity to be with what is present. I recall Chogyam Trungpa's teaching on our capacity to cheer ourselves up - I read that some twenty years ago and often recall it.
Sitting here, I remember something heard this morning in an audiobook of Thich Nhat Hanh's Reconciliation: Healing the Inner Child. He taught on four responses to feelings of ill-being.
1) Let the negative feeling rest.
Sometimes, we need a break from the feeling. We take a time-out, knowing we can return to it later.
2) Return the negative feeling to rest.
When the feeling arises, let it be. Letting it be, it will usually subside. When it returns, let it be. Keep with this. There have been times when I was not ready to work with an emotion. I learned to let it go, patiently waiting until readiness arose.
3) Replace the negative feeling.
For example, if a feeling of anger toward someone arises, replace it with a sense of kindness toward them. Or you could replace it with a thought of someone you feel love toward. We, also, can bring a pleasant past memory into the present. This does not mean we are reverting to the past. For example, in the case of anger toward someone, we can recall a time when that person was kind toward us or of a fun time together.
4) Tend to the positive.
Remain with an uplifting feeling. Rest in it. You can bring up a word, like love, and feel it... keep feeling it. Feel it as deeply as you can. Hanh calls this "selective watering." Bringing to mind a scene from the past can be a way to selective water.
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Most important is not to make an ill-feeling enemy. Like today, how I have felt is not a foe. I do not have to examine it. Or I can to gain insight into why the feeling might be present. In being with it, I can choose however I wish to provide an antidote for it.
Sometimes, an ill-feeling will not go away. In that case, I choose not to try to push it away - that only strengthens it. I practice acceptance. I know it, like all feelings, is impermanent and has no self-contained existence. Then, it is likely to go away sooner due to shining the light of compassion on it, befriending it rather than making war with it.
Today is an overcast day, and I have had an overcast emotivity. I talked to friends about how lovely and sunny the day was just days ago. Many conditions come together to make a sunny day. Many conditions arise together to create an overcast day. Each is a collection of many causes. A sunny day is not good in contrast to an overcast day. An overcast day is not a bad day. We can welcome both. We can learn from these weather changes about relating to the shifts in feelings within and among us. This, like much of Nature, can be our teacher.
We can talk to our feelings. We can say, "Hi there, sadness, welcome back. You're welcome here. Rest yourself. We can spend time together." Or, "Hello, my friend, happiness. It's good to see you again." We can relate to feelings in these ways, even without saying anything.
When meditating, sometimes we may feel overwhelmed with a sense of ill-being. There may be times you decide to discontinue the meditation for now. An option is to get up and do walking meditation. You may discover mindful walking eases the feeling of distress.
We can give up the idea that we should be above feelings of ill-being by being on a spiritual path. Spirituality includes all we feel. The Way sacralizes everything we welcome into our lives as part of the wonder of being a human among humans. And we can grow in compassion, remembering however we feel, others are feeling the same across our planet.
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1) Sit quietly. Close your eyes. Breathe in and out mindfully. Follow the breath in and out. Do not try to control your breath in any way. On each out-breath, smile. Do this for at least a few minutes.
2) Sit quietly. Recall a time from the past when you felt joy sharing with another person. Keep that in mind. Allow that feeling to arise now. Keep the image in thought. Savor in this moment the sense of that sharing. After a time, let go of the image and embrace the feeling. If the feeling subsides, return to the image to regenerate the sense. Let the image go again, savoring the feeling.
3) For at least five minutes, sit silently, let whatever image or sensation arises come forth. Do not cling to it. Let it go. Return to the breath.
4) Let out a big laugh and for no apparent reason. If that feels too weird, just put a huge smile on your face for no apparent reason. Actually, there are persons who practice laughing yoga - yes, I am being serious, they do. If prayer can connect one with Spirit, why not laughter? Indeed, why cannot laughter be prayer?
Note: This reading is not meant to provide advice to discourage anyone from getting help who needs it. Even those dedicated to a spiritual path are not immune to needing counseling or medication to assist with mental conditions. I have had such. Sometimes, meditation, for example, can bring up strong emotions that need to be addressed from a psychological angle. The path includes needing help of all sorts, when the need is present. We need never feel shame for needing help.
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*©Brian K. Wilcox, 2022.
*Brian's book, An Ache for Union: Poems on Oneness with God through Love, can be ordered through major online booksellers or the publisher AuthorHouse.