Early this morning I sat on a platform made from dark-stained wood, overlooking a valley of Colombian heartland. My feet, kept warm by wool socks, dangled over the edge without fear of the distance below.
On February 20, 2017, I celebrated thirty-months of sobriety and my commitment to the daily, life-long process of active recovery from addiction.
In reaction to my post from yesterday, a dear friend asked me how I came to the decision to return to the States in March. Not Why. But How.
Well, for the last two months I’ve been glued to Tara Brach’s True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart. This is one of the first books I’ve read that addresses a concept I’ve become all too familiar with in Izmir: false refuges.
False refuges are behaviors, many times addictive, that we instinctively use to cope with conflict, trauma, loss, etc. In the wake of adversary, rather than creating practical, tangible strategies which cultivate loving presence and awareness, false refugees serve as temporary outlets for satisfaction and relief. My false refugees are a myriad of over-eating, obsessive thinking, sexual escapades, physical activity, materialism, anger, etc. While these conditioned behaviors and activities alleviate my discomfort in the short-term, they intensify my suffering in the long-term, leaving me feeling more isolated and troubled than before.
I have sought false refuge in everything ranging from minor issues – stress at work, a disagreement with a loved one, body image issues; to major sources of sorrow – health concerns, death, threatening financial matters. This beautiful book has illuminated what I actually need to manage hardship, heal, and cultivate genuine happiness. Rather than being found externally, it’s all inside of me. All that we need is everything we are.
One of the mindfulness tools – the how- I’ve found particularly useful when dealing with difficulties, is a four-step process developed by Buddhist teachers and adapted by Brach. Represented by the acronym RAIN, I’ve used this system in everything from complications with my Turkish visa, to car accidents, to concerns of serious illness. It’s described below:
R – Recognize what is happening.
A – Allow life to be just as it is.
I – Investigate inner experience with kindness.
N – Non-identification.
R – Recognizing what’s happening appears far more of a simple task than it actually is. Honest recognition is seeing what is true in your inner life. If you have a disagreement with a friend, rather than recognizing the anger or frustration that results, become aware of the individual sensations that compose these overarching emotional themes.
Emotions and behaviors are subjective; that is, my definition of anger and frustration may be different than yours. When you experience anger, what is happening inside of you? What is your “felt sense” of the situation? Anger for me signifies erratic thoughts. It creates tension in my chest, causes my feet to sweat, and my shoulders to rise. It’s important to notice these individual sensations and thoughts rather than blanketing them with one word that seeks to simplify our dynamic experience as “anger.”
A – Allowing life to be is accepting the individual sensations and thoughts we experience rather than pushing them away. Notice what’s true within you and rather than becoming preoccupied with judgement or the need to control, accept what is. We cannot escape our troubles, but we can free ourselves from them.
If you’re a young professional like me, then you likely make “rookie mistakes” at work all the time. When I’m overwhelmingly embarrassed because I didn’t know a particular EU agreement, or shamed because I hardly understood an important policy paper, I find it incredibly helpful to visualize clouds floating away in order to let go of feelings of incompetency and self-doubt.
There was also a time when being in a state of love made me feel intensely nervous, vulnerable, and out-of-control. I gave little attention to my positive experiences and allowed vulnerability and fears of inadequacy to lead me away from a major source of happiness. Now, reciting “I surrender” has been particularly successful in giving in to these emotions rather than pulling myself away in unease.
I – Once you’ve recognized and accepted what you’re experiencing, call on Intimate Attention to Investigate your Inner Experience. When done in kindness, a natural curiosity about our inner life will illuminate where our experiences are most pronounced. What about your experience most wants your attention? Your acceptance? Your doubt?
This past week I was exhausted after returning to Izmir from two weeks of holiday. While I blanketed my exhaustion as “jet-lag,” I knew there were much deeper issues underlying my behaviors. I recognized that I had been irritable, short-tempered, and unmotivated, which was combined with the aroused physical sensations of headaches and persistent lower back pain. While it took several days for me to accept what I was experiencing and kindly begin investigating it, I eventually unlocked the reasoning for my state of being.
I asked myself, What do you believe? and it became evident that my irritability and short-temper were in response to the hollowness that resulted from being in Izmir. I believed that I was unable to advance spiritually, that I would become disconnected from the things I love, that I would lose my yoga practice, and that I would fail as a daughter and a friend. Upon investigation, I also discovered that the persistent lower back pain was what I interpreted to be my first chakra, the Root Chakra, calling out. The Root Chakra, located at the base of our spine, represents our feelings of being grounded, our foundation. My recent uproot from the U.S. and the people I love had deeply aggravated this chakra
Through intimate, kind meditation, the answers to my next set of questions: What do you want from me? What do you need from me? became clear. The answers not only formed the basis for my decision to return to D.C., but also provided incredible insight into how I can use the rest of my time in Turkey to benefit myself and those around me.
N – Non-identification has allowed me to find comfort in the natural awareness that results from the emotions and sensations, decisions and answers discovered throughout this process. I feel liberated in new spaces of honesty and mindfulness and grateful to myself for being receptive to a profound cycle of mindful awareness.
The following excerpt from the Indian Mystic Sahara, delightfully describes the how – All that we need is everything we are.
Here in this body are the sacred rivers:
Here are the sun and moon, as well as the pilgrimage places.
I have not encountered another temple as blissful as my own body.