Staying Grounded through Difficulty

A practice for creating space so that we can bring our best selves to life's challenges.

Last class, we started to use the 3-minute breathing space practice in relation to something that’s a challenge for us in our lives. This class we’re going to dig into that a little more.

The responsive version of the practice requires that we purposely identify and turn toward a situation that has or carries with it a certain amount of difficulty for us. But what we’re doing is mobilizing our natural capacity to be grounded and present, no matter what shows up in our lives. As we all know from experience, encountering a difficulty in this manner is far different from feeling blindsided by it and relying on reactivity or reflexive behavior patterns to deal with the event. Or maybe we’ve noticed our tendency to avoid a certain event; maybe we see it, anticipate it, and find a way of sidestepping or suppressing it.

In a nutshell, this practice truly invites curiosity, and that’s a very useful approach when it comes to aversion.

As with all 3-minute breathing space practices, this responsive version operates with the same inner workings. We use contact with two different forms of attention: the open, receptive attention in Step 1, the narrower, focused, concentrated attention in Step 2, and then, again, the receptive, open attention in Step 3.

In the third step, we’re noticing, watching, observing the sensations that may show up in the body. And we’re doing this in such a way that’s utterly untethered from expectation. That is, we’re not expecting from this any sort of resolution, not trying to draw any causal links, as in, “I’m thinking about an argument I had last week with a friend of mine, and now I have this pain in my left side. I wonder if they’re connected?” We’re not trying to make such connections here.

What we are doing, however, is using this practice to engender a curiosity-filled approach toward the experiences that our mind may find aversive. And we’re doing this in order to have another way of exploring and working with those experiences, rather than, say, older, habitual patterns that might involve avoidance or amplification or a magnification of the stress we’re feeling around these events.

This is an effort, then, to simply see what shows up. And the guidance we talked about last class. “It’s OK for me to feel this—it’s already here,” that guidance is supported by the steadying practice of the breath, and the steadying practice of present-moment awareness and curiosity.

Staying Grounded through Difficulty

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Staying Grounded through Difficulty

  • 10:31

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1. Find a way of sitting that allows your body to feel comfortable and supported. Allow your eyes to close, if that feels right for you, or hold a soft, steady gaze on a spot in front of you, about four feet away.

2. Return your mind once again to a situation that conveys a sense of difficulty. (A situation that is more like a three than a 10 on your personal stress scale). Simply allow this to rest in your mind.

3. Connect with the sensations of sitting while holding your situation in mind. Then, when you’re ready, simply notice what your experience is in this moment. Note any thoughts that might be present, any feelings or emotions that are here, any bodily sensations that are making themselves known. If there are emotions, try lightly labeling them to yourself: There is fear. Anger is present. Sadness is here. Just continue as best you can to watch, observe these elements from one moment to the next, without the need to fix or alter them in any way.

4. Try letting go of the contents of your mind when you’re ready to do so. Bring your attention now to a single-pointed focus on the breath at your belly. Allow your focus to be here, in your body, with your breath. Feel the belly rise as you breathe in. Feel it fall as you breathe out. Focus on the sensations of breathing as best you can moment by moment and breath by breath.

5. Now see if you can expand your attention around the belly, around the breath. Allow your attention to radiate outwards into your entire body. Feel your whole body sitting; feel your whole-body breathing. As you do that, take note of any regions of intensity you find. Are there sensations of any kind revealing themselves to you? If there are, see whether you’re willing to move your attention into that part of your body. Perhaps investigate or observe these sensations by noticing their quality. Are you noticing any changes or movement in the sensations as you watch? If it’s helpful, you may choose to say to yourself, “It’s OK for me to feel this—it’s already here.” Just stay and breathe with these feelings as best you can.

6. Turn your attention more fully to your breath when you’re ready. Allow your eyes to open gently.

When it comes to aversion, difficult moods, negative emotional states, troubling thoughts, our minds may find ways notto engage with this material. In fact, our minds have likely developed routines for avoiding or maybe even amplifying and keeping us locked in thought and behavior loops around such content. Add to that, our minds may approach these difficulties with a “fixing” agenda.

By contrast, this practice we’ve explored together in this course suggests another way of approaching the prickly stuff in our lives—not turning away from it but encountering it from a place of being grounded and a place of knowing the present moment. It also helps us familiarize with the difference between the narratives that our mind might suggest to us versus the actual experience of the situation we find ourselves in.

What we’re trying to move towards is an accommodation of sorts. That is, our goal with this 3-minute breathing space practice around experiences that are challenging—We’re trying to bring our best selves to these difficulties. And we do that by creating space for the difficulties and for us. That way, we can live side-by-side with life’s challenges and approach them in ways that are meaningful and valuable for us.

One of the things I’d like to leave you with is that intentionality is extremely important when it comes to this 3-minute practice. This is much less about fixing or feeling better after you’ve practiced, and far more about looking after ourselves when faced with challenges. That’s what this practice is designed to do: offer you another tool to use when engaging with the tough stuff of life.

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