Thursday, May 20, 2010: Lesson from a nightmare
I’m a “vivid dreamer”, both in my conscious life, and in my sleeping hours. Ninety-five percent of the time my dreams are exciting and fun, sometimes humorous, often unexpected, and usually remembered.
Infrequently, I will have a “bad” dream: a dream that feels uncomfortable, or sad, or embarrassing. And perhaps once a year, I will have a nightmare: a dream that fills me with fear, or that I wake from in tears.
Last night, I had a nightmare.
I won’t share details here (I don’t want to put negativity out into the world); suffice to say, the dream was graphically violent, and sufficiently “scary”. (And for any narcissists out there, no, the dream did NOT involve anyone I know in real life [except for me].) However, last night in the deepest, darkest, most upsetting part of the dream, my mind had an epiphany: This is just a thought.
My mind looked at the scene being played out before my eyes, and said to me: This is just a thought. It’s not real; it is just a thought. And in that microsecond, an insight came to me: I have a choice. I don’t have to participate in this horrible scene any longer; I don’t even have to witness it. I can just let go of it, and be released from it. It’s not real; it’s just a thought.
So with that, I let go. I simply dropped the thought, the dream ended mid-action, and my mind went to a completely new, unrelated space. With one shift in awareness, my life literally changed: thoughts are just thoughts. They have no power. They are not real, they contain no action, they can’t cause anything; they are just, well, thoughts.
Now, this isn’t to say that I’m “cured” from thoughts. My mind generates multiple thoughts every nanosecond, probably tallying millions of thoughts every day. But now, at least once in my life – for the very first time in my life – I got to experience how a thought can’t bully me, can’t compel me to do anything, unless I choose to let it do so. Sometimes this “choice” is the result of literally decades of habitual reinforcement, so please don’t misunderstand – I’m not saying it’s easy to not react to thoughts. Someone asks me a question, for example, and my mind immediately says, “Oh, say this!” – and before I know it, I’m talking.
The choice of letting my mind tell me what to do can serve me very well – being able to engage in conversation, for example, is generally a helpful skill. But. Last night I got to see how often the thoughts that pop into my mind are not helpful; AND I have a choice in how they impact my life. I can’t stop unwanted thoughts from popping up; but I can recognize them as unhelpful, and see them as just thoughts, nothing more. Not facts, not truths about who I am, not reality, just thoughts. Transient, powerless bubbles of mental air that I can pop – and then poof, instantly, they can be gone.
Talk about an amazing benefit from Vipassana. A true insight, indeed.
Tuesday, May 18, 2010: Oh ego!
Two opportunities surfaced at work today that let me notice my ego: namely, that I have one, and that it gets scared very easily. And when it gets scared, it gets impatient, indignant, frustrated, annoyed, angry… and all of this blustering is simply to hide the real emotion it feels, which is – yup, you guessed it – fear.
Opportunity #1: Remember that cool, successful, well-being fair I mentioned last week? (See the post below if you need a reminder.) The upside is that lots of new people have expressed interest in the meditation group I started at work (which is cool!); the downside is that these new people have lots of opinions about how the group “should” be run – and some people even want to do things with the group that are different from what I think should be done. And boy oh boy, does this ever threaten my ego! A few people have been especially persistent and vocal (and they have been super-polite and respectful, so this is in NO way a negative reflection on them, this is 100% all about me and my insecure ego), and as these folks shared their ideas with me, I could feel myself bristling, and closing in on myself, and getting tense, and starting to put distance between myself and them… and it was really, really interesting to observe. I consciously made efforts to remain as open, and calm, and patient as I could, but I’ll be honest, it was a real struggle trying to rein in and calm down and soothe the indignant (read: scared) ego. But at the same time, wow! What an amazing opportunity.
Opportunity #2: My workplace has an open online platform where anyone can write an article and contribute to the collective company knowledge. (Think Wikipedia.) At the end of each article, there is a line that states “This article is based on the work of Person ABC.” I have been writing many articles over the past few weeks, and a few people have been making some minor edits to them as I’ve been going along (style tweaks, formatting adjustments, etc. Nothing big, no significant changes in content, just some online “cleanup”.). Today, I noticed that on the pages I wrote, credit is being given to the individuals who have been tweaking the articles, and not to me. What the hell?! *I* am the one who has spent literally DAYS crafting these things, and *other* people are the ones who get the credit?! Talk about a slap across the face of my ego – it was pissed! And why did it have such a strong, immediate reaction? Because it’s afraid people won’t know how good it is, how smart it is, what a hard-worker it is, how smart it is (intelligence is a big trigger for this ego)…and again, this was a powerful opportunity for me to observe exactly how the ego reacts to perceived “threats”. I got to see the arising of fear, and the unfolding reaction of anger and righteous indignation; and then I got to experience how this chain of events felt both psychologically and physiologically… it was interesting, and uncomfortable, and humorous, and quite wild. Again, another amazing opportunity.
As I continue to engage in meditation, I’m becoming more and more aware of the very, very subtle thoughts, feelings, and processes that take place inside of “me”. And while this awareness can be uncomfortable, even scary sometimes, ultimately it is incredibly helpful. When I’m aware, I no longer have to be the “bitch” to my emotions, to my irrational concerns, to my ego fears. Instead, I can realize, “Oh, hey! That’s just my crazy little ego; I can soothe that little guy, and let this go, and continue along a happy, contented path…” The “trick” is to be aware in the moment the perceived “issue” is happening; today, I got two of those chances to practice in-the-moment awareness – and I think I did pretty good. : )
Wednesday, May 12, 2010: Meditation is catching on…
Yesterday, the meditation group I started at work (see the Jan 12, 2010 post) participated in a company-wide well-being fair. (Basically, different groups that integrate into and/or support well-being initiatives [from Wii Fit, to saving for retirement, to healthy eating, to meditation…] each got a booth in a big conference room, and company employees could walk through the conference room, pick up any info from any of the groups present, ask any questions they wanted, etc.) At our booth, I offered two handouts (one on the logistics of the group, and one of a “30-second meditation”), and provided a place for people to write their name if they would like to be added to my group’s email distribution list. At the end of the fair, approximately 1750 people had walked through the conference room at some point during the 4-hour event; and guess how many people had signed up for the distribution list? Oh, go ahead, guess. It’s fun to guess…
Got a number in your head?
Here’s the answer – ready?
One hundred twelve.
One hundred twelve people signed up to (at the very least) receive a weekly email about the group’s comings and goings! One hundred twelve! Over 6% of the total event attendees expressed interest in my meditation group! One hundred twelve! That is freaking fantastic!
I couldn’t believe it; this interest truly knocked my socks off. When I started the group back in January, I honestly, truly, sincerely thought that it might just be me sitting in a conference room by myself, meditating all alone. With these newly added 112 people, the number of group members is now around 325 people. Three hundred twenty five people! Shut up! Who woulda thunk?
Certainly not me. But man, it makes me super, super happy. It delights me, actually. Meditation is cool. I’m not a freak for having an interest in it, for wanting to do it, for wanting to share it with others. Other people have at least a tiny bit of interest in it, too. And that totally makes me smile.
One hundred twelve. Rock on!