In May I was lucky enough to attend a weekend retreat at Omega with Pema Chodron. She is an American Buddhist nun and meditation master. She has written many books about dealing with fear, pain and uncertainty in everyday life. She teaches on how to cultivate acceptance and compassion for yourself, others and the world around you.
I was so excited leading up to it. I didn’t really know what to expect. Of course she was amazing, even in a room of 500 people her energy totally set the tone and could be felt throughout the entire space.
We dove in to the idea of touching the present moment. That in fact was the title and theme of the entire weekend. She covered a lot of material and this blog post would be way too long if I did them all. So for this month I picked the concept of labelling and being present. The concept of ‘labelling’ is universal. We all do it. I feel that it applies to so many things in my life.
The teaching explores the fact that we all label things as soon as they are happening to us, sometimes before they even start to happen. We label people, events and experiences and then we fixate on them as a way to keep control of our lives and resist change – even though change is inevitable.
A quick example: We meet someone new and based on the way they look, a few things that they say or what we may have heard about them, our mind creates a label of who we think that person is or what their intentions are. We stick that label on the person and then it becomes very hard to take it off. We do this with new people and we do it with people who have been in our lives for a long time. Sometimes we do it to those we love even more. We also do it to ourselves when we say things like “ I could never do that” or “I’m not good enough for that”. Or we label situations too like “today is going to be awful, I hate going to that place”. In a way we have already set the stage by giving a label to something that hasn’t even happened yet.
Once we have labelled something we tend to put it in a box and not allow it any room to change. For example “ She always does that” or “ I won’t even bother because he doesn’t care”. Then instead of seeing that person, place or event as fresh and new each time, we see it through the lens of our label. That is ok, that is human, we all do it. However our labels keep us rigid, the more we want control of our lives the more we use our labels, the more tight and wound up and fixed we become.
Over the weekend Pema was asking us to look at this process and think of how our labels can make us like hard like ice. She challenged us to try and find the water in the ice. Try and become aware of when we start to label and then instead of letting ourselves become rigid and wrapped up in how we think things should be, explore becoming fluid instead. Notice when it is happening, become aware, then allow yourself to be in the moment to see what is truly in front of you instead of the concept you have set in your mind about it from previous experience.
“ You need to be present with yourself and not give yourself a fixed label. Our stress comes from having a fixed idea of ourselves and how we want things to go.” – Pema Chodron
So what do we do with this?
Being mindful and returning to the present moment as often as you can is a really good place to start the process of becoming more fluid, more open to what is truly happening around you. Once you become more open and caring towards yourself it becomes easier to start doing the same for others.
“Feel tenderness for your human-ness and everyone else’s human-ness” – Pema Chodron
Try experimenting with the idea of letting yourself and others exist in open space. Space that is full of possibility and empty of judgement and pre conceived notions. It’s not easy to do. It really is a practice that we can work on every day, several times a day. The more you pause to be aware of the present moment the more you get out of the story in your head and into the reality of life around you. Meditation is one of the best ways to find space within you.
In addition to sitting down and meditating here are 3 quick, simple ways to get into the present moment:
- When you feel yourself getting worked up – stop whatever you are doing and go look at the sky. Enjoy that sense of spaciousness all around you.
- Use your breath – stop what you are doing and just take 3 slow, deep breaths. Repeat as often as needed.
- Look around the room you are in and try to see 2 things that you have never noticed before. Using a beginners mind.
I have been playing with this concept ever since the retreat weekend. Some days are easier than others but the more I do it the more I love it. When I feel myself getting worked up or starting to label so I can keep things in a box and under control, I just pause and breathe, even for a moment, in awareness. I give myself some space. I try to be a little more fluid, a little less rigid and see the world without my agenda overlapping it. It is a work in progress and it gets pretty interesting once you start to notice your emotional habits.
Life will always be full of wonderful experiences and incredibly difficult ones. That is just how life works. Change really is inevitable. Having a few tools in my back pocket to ride those waves instead of resisting them seems to be making a difference in my life. It feels like a good start. Thanks Pema.