It is wonderful to be back in the mountains of Spain, finishing up my Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) certification. The month of December here is surprisingly more green than the end of September, which is when I was here for the first 100 hours of training last year. Summer and early fall are very dry, but late fall brings rain, and now the mountains are alive with flowers, fruit, and grasses of all shapes and sizes. Absolutely lovely for my afternoon walk along the paths and up to the neighboring town of Benimaurell. This area is very agricultural, bursting with Valencian oranges, of course, as well as hazelnuts, walnuts, dates, figs, olives, and more. Much of the land is terraced, and held into place by stone walls that have seen numerous centuries of use. Quaint. Quiet. Perfect for meditation.
Our group is very international. Singapore, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Lots of Brits. Amsterdam. Barcelona. Munich. Ethiopia. Switzerland. And me- the lone representative of the U.S. Everyone has completed the first 100 hours within the last two years and all are eager to learn more, practice a lot, and teach when they get home. My roommate is a school counselor in Singapore and has lived there with her family for 10 years. She teaches at the International School there, where she offers mindfulness classes to students and teachers. She is originally from Canada and is meeting her family in Frankfurt after the training to head home for the holidays. Everyone has a similarly interesting story. Our group has gelled quickly – offering support along the journey, as well as a story and a hug when needed.
Our daily schedule is quite rigorous. We begin at 7am with an hour of meditation – which is a wonderful treat. I am so often offering meditation, that to be held by our group and lead by Bodhin and Kathy has been an opening to a new level of awareness. We wander over to the meditation room under the stars, and by the time we are done, morning has broken, sunny and bright. Class begins again at 9am and runs until lunch at 2pm – yes 2pm! We are on Spanish time here and although we take two breaks for “ wee and tea “, it always seems a long time until the midday meal. All morning we are students, running through the classes, playing the role of participant, and then breaking down the lesson plan, piece by piece, asking questions and brainstorming possibilities. After lunch we have time to prepare, and from 4-8pm we are practice teaching in groups of six or seven. Dinner at 8pm, and bed shortly after. We all share rooms and bathrooms and meals – so plenty of time to share stories and get to know each other better. Eleven women, and two brave British men. I am the only Grandma in the group and all have oohed and ahhhed appropriately over my adorable Emma Rose.
Today our lesson was “What is stress?” and we practiced a meditation called The Four Steps to Awareness Meditation, that I found very powerful. The intention of this meditation is to invite kindly awareness into the whole of our experience – by bringing attention to both the unpleasant and pleasant aspects of our moment-to-moment experience. As you may have guessed, the meditation has four parts – each divided by a bell.
The meditation begins by opening up to the Triangle of Awareness – recognizing that Awareness is possible when we take the time to notice – in the form of Body Sensations, Thoughts, and Emotions. As the first bell rings, we move into the second part of the meditation, Leaning Into the Unpleasant. Even though we may know that “resistance is futile”, most of us would rather not linger in the unpleasant. This spacious meditation encourages us to lean into whatever we may be currently finding difficult, with kindness, curiosity, openness, and compassion. By softening into discomfort, we recognize its true nature as transient and ever changing. When we push away the unpleasant, it gets stronger. By softening into it, we release ourselves from its grip – holding the unpleasant in kindness and returning to the breath if we feel overwhelmed. I found it much easier to sit with the unpleasant, knowing that the third part of the meditation is Seeking the Pleasant. Ding.
As the sound of the bell fades, we release the difficult and become sensitive to the pleasant dimensions of the moment. The simple pleasure of a warm blanket around the feet, the sound of the birds, the stability of the earth, the memory of my granddaughter walking in the snow, holding my hand. Remembering the pleasant means releasing attachment to the unpleasant, which can be challenging. It is often the movement of the breath – gently rolling in and out – that brings us back to balance.
The fourth part of the meditation broadens our awareness to hold both the unpleasant AND pleasant aspects of the moment, side by side, broadening into a wider perspective that can hold both at the same time. What mindfulness teachers often call “the bigger container”. What I love about this meditation, is that it offers a conscious opportunity to deal with stress, pain, illness, and other challenges of life, without dangling us too far over the precipice. As we lean into the unpleasant, we know that the pleasant will be invited back into our awareness soon.
I had a good cry today during this meditation today. Tears don’t always come easily for me – and I found myself filled with gratitude for the release they offered. The tears were dark and warm. Like they had been waiting for me to recognize them, and let them go. The group held my emotion with great reverence. No one told me it was going to be okay or tried to soothe me. They gave me space to find the grace I needed to acknowledge the pain, and remember the bliss right next door. Not one or the other, but BOTH, AND, in every moment.
UNCONDITIONAL by Jennifer Paine Welwood
Willing to experience aloneness, I discover connection everywhere;
Turning to face my fear, I meet the warrior who lives within…
Opening to my loss, I gain the embrace of the universe;
Surrendering into emptiness, I find fullness without end.
Each condition I flee from pursues me,
Each condition I welcome transforms me
And becomes itself transformed Into its radiant jewel-like essence.
Yes. Gratitude and Grace on every step of the journey. Namaste.
Tina Romenesko, PYT/RYT, is a Professional Yoga Therapist and Teacher at INVIVO Wellness. She has been studying and practicing yoga for over 30 years. Her focus is on the therapeutic potential of yoga to heal body, mind and spirit. You can read more about Tina on her blog, Yogatina.