It’s mportant to be kind to your mind when self retreating.
At some point you may notice while on retreat or during a meditation session, that instead of feeling calmer and lighter, you are beset with discomfort and frustration. Something interrupts the peace. An itch, a noise, a worry (maybe a very big worry), a loss of interest, or general sensse of malaise. Meditation seemed like a great idea a minute ago, but now…
Whether the disturbances are minor or gigantic, as simple as a recurring thought, or a barking dog, or as dramatic as your life’s purpose, just know that what’s happening is natural. We have these experinces all the time, whether on retreat or not. But when we’re on retreat the thoughts that often run in the background in our daily lives, can seem a lot bigger when we are quietly alone with them.
I recently was hijacked by a mind caught up in conflict with a co-worker. In my mind I argued with them, fumed, felt guilty, intimidated, resentful and anxious. It felt very big, and very important. And all these big emotions took place as I sat quietly alone in my livingroom.
So what to do? Pretty much the entire Buddhist Cannon (link) offers advice on working with what we might broadly describe as “suffering” or “discontent.” There are many ways to be kind to ourselves when we’re caught in really difficult emotions like that. Or even the less difficult ones. Here are some techniques I’ve found especially helpful over the years:
- Be kind to yourself. Kindness can be called in just by remembering the word “kind.” Wish yourself wellness and ease. Be with yourself as if with a friend in distress. “Listen” to your emotions, feel any tension in your body, and aknowledge other uncomfortable sensations that are occuring. Everyone and everything wants to be seen.
- Pretend what’s happening to you is happening to someone else (your next door neighbor, e.g.) and “look” at that situation from more nuanced bird’s eye view. Often it doesn’t look nearly as problematic when it’s happening to someone else.
- Similarly consider that all over the world there are people who are going through something very similar to what you are experiencing right now. In other words, this is a universal experience of discomfort/distress. The first nobel truth in Buddhism: “There is suffering.” We all suffer.
- Remember that “all things that arise pass away” and that the current discomfort/distress won’t last forever. Nothing does. Today’s stressful experience will receed. The third nobel truth: “There is an end to suffering…”
There’s a lot more advice to offer – the “RAIN” technique, noticing the inner Judge and remembering the inner Fairy Godmother to name a few. But for now, just be kind to your mind!