I had the recent good fortune of stumbling on an amazing 5-part meditative talk by Teacher and Author Tara Brach on the Calm app entitled “Radical Self Compassion”.  This also happens to be the name of her newest book.

I have written about lessons I’ve learned from Tara Brach in other posts (click here to access) and I am never disappointed that I have taken time to listen to or read her words of wisdom.

During this talk on Radical Self Compassion, Tara gets into one of the subjects that comes up a lot, which is “numbing.”  Whatever our anesthesia of choice may be, we all have a go-to vice, because we are human.  Sometimes when I reach for mine, I am panicked, anxious, or scared and it is obvious that I am “self-medicating”. 

But less obvious are the occasional “fairy dustings” of anesthesia, perhaps an unhealthy food choice, a second glass of wine, or just “one more episode” of my current Netflix binge are all examples of more subtle ways that I am checking out of the current moment.

As I listened to Tara speak about numbing, there was no “earth shattering” news or so I thought.  I understand that poor choices are a distraction that sometimes serve the sole purpose of taking my mind off of reality. I also get, that we can start with an action, repeat it many times, and it becomes a habit, even if sub-consciously. So this was pretty familiar content.

Then I heard Tara’s calm, steady voice pose a question that jumped out of my earbuds and planted itself into my consciousness:

“What are you unwilling to feel?”

YIKES!

Tara posed this question, as she was describing a kind of self-sabotage hack which is another theme we often discuss:  pausing between stimulus and response.  This is when we take time to recognize that there are choices. So even if I still impulsively dive into a candy dish, I at least now have some language to challenge myself, which means I am accountable.

In the moment I am about to make a choice that is less than optimal for me (for any reason) getting into the habit of challenging that choice is a MAJOR step in the advancement of our own awakening.  

It doesn’t mean we will be perfect and never go for the anesthesia on a large scale, or on the “fairy dusting” level.  But it does mean we acknowledge our say in the matter.  The very act of asking the question “What am I unwilling to feel?” validates that I, and only I have the power to take a particular action in that moment.

Ideally, if we can identify what we are unwilling to feel, and allow it to be here, we won’t need any more anesthesia. We won’t ever be absolved of the innate work of identifying this as a worthy target. “Mindfulness” is a practice, not an achievement.

The practice teaches us to welcome all feelings, just as they are. Repeat often. And as Tara and the Buddhist tradition both suggest, when “mara” (Sanskrit word meaning “demon”) is lurking about, instead of worrying about it and resisting it take a pause, and simply say “I see you mara, let’s have tea.”  

 

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