Guest Post By: Rahel Kay RMT, RRPr, Yoga Instructor, Gestalt Therapist (Cand.)
Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.
Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.
Within these beautiful words, Bruce Lee is depicting his experience of presence, And how one might find it. In my way, I would love to talk to you about Mindfulness. The act of being present and a method for finding it.
It would be difficult to precisely say where mindfulness originates because it is as much a concept as it is a practice. Yes a practice with a genuine history, but this idea, that empowerment and healing are found through being present, is notable from many schools of thought. From religion/prayer…the idea of “letting go and letting God”. The notion even of choosing good over evil in a given moment denotes it; choice being the operative of presence.
In Buddhism especially, there is an emphasis on choice and presence, of being centered, and quieting the mind or rather the thoughts, through specific practices. The theory and belief is that these practices will not only bring peace but being mindful and committing “right action”, can end an individual’s suffering. It is believed that it can end their energetic karma, and bring the individual eternal peace. In philosophy, phenomenology and existentialism in particular, focus on the significance of our existence, and that a present approach to it may derive the most meaning from life. And now, and in recent years with statistics like “stress being the cause of 80% of disease”, medical science has begun branching out to study less modern conventions and has seen validity to the practices and teachings of mindfulness.
Mindfulness is focusing our awareness on the present moment, without applying judgments such as good or bad. It is focusing one’s awareness as much as possible on all that this particular moment brings. Aside from its history and conceptual beginnings, mindfulness became known and identified in its current incarnation, as a movement. This began in 1978 with a man named Jon Kabat Zinn. Zinn developed what is known as mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) and when people refer to mindfulness now, in most cases, this is what they are referring to.
Since its inception MBSR has been practiced and studied within hospitals, prisons, schools, veterans centres and other locales. It has yielded stress reduction, decreases in blood pressure, and assisted countless many with anxiety, depression and PTSD as well as a great many other afflictions. Practices include meditation, breathing, and education about different ways of observing ones life.It truly is a wonderful practice, and given the difficulties we all share in this life, I personally feel that anyone would benefit from employing it. And many people do. But of course there are challenges. Let’s look at some of the challenges to finding presence.
Outside of the legitimate and often cited issues of time, commitments, and skepticism, in my experience there are two big challenges. These I’ve noticed in my own process, And I believe many others are facing them on the journey to finding presence, ground, and centre. In no particular order, the first is this: We are prevented from being present here and now, by pretext and stuck beliefs. These beliefs span over all areas of human experience. These are beliefs regarding ourselves, about the world, about our culture, about orientation, about gender, about the roles we believe people play in our lives or ours in theirs and the list does quite go on. Our beliefs can also be stuck in relation to personality… All of these beliefs can begin when they are passed along to us from the moment we are born. From parents, grandparents, or caretakers of any sort.
In an example of gender roles, There was an Experiment, a blind study, done years ago where a baby, who’s gender was visibly indiscernible while wearing a diaper, was brought into a room to a study volunteer. There were numerous toys in the room, “girl” toys and “boy” toys. Well they bring the baby in, and dress the baby, same baby, in girl’s clothes, and then with another volunteer, boy’s clothes, and guess what? You guessed it, The volunteer would choose “gender appropriate” toys, and even would use a different tone of voice depending on how the baby was dressed.
This is an innocent and natural way of interacting with a baby. After all, we have had these roles as a part of our society for thousands of years and let’s be honest, babies need examples of identity to reflect upon. This course of action though does have its drawbacks and that is what we are looking at.
Conversely, a couple recently ran a different sort of gender experiment with their child. The experiment was this: the couple made the decision not to disclose the child’s gender for the first 5 years of life, so that no projections would be put onto that child. The child would decide who they were, for them self, and how they preferred to be identified. Seems a little extreme maybe? But given that gender is only ONE of the ways in which we “stick” ourselves and each other, it also seems fair to start looking at new ways of approaching one another and all our relationships.
Another example is, It still happens and I feel sadness when I hear “boys don’t cry” spoken unto a hurting boy who’s expressing his pain, (regardless of what the cause may be). And here by the way, is SOME of the rub in regards to a block to presence; if the boy is crying, then logically that belief or opinion, that boys don’t cry, isn’t even true. He’s crying. boys do cry. So stuck beliefs and perceptions are ways that we deny our present reality. And gender is only ONE of those ways. As an addendum, for maybe a large chunk of that boys life, it’s possible that expressing pain through tears (a natural human method of expressing pain and sadness) will become a shameful experience. And possibly That shame will distract him from being present as well.
Stuck beliefs are given to us by the media. Ideals around the social standard of beauty, cool behaviour . From history; this is a tradition, this is the way things have always been done. There’s always been a queen, there’s always been a leader and his followers.I’m not saying throw the baby out with the bath water and perhaps you may be wondering why all this emphasis on stuck beliefs for an article about mindfulness. This is because I truly feel that our beliefs and pretext have a huge potential (unawares to us), to block our experience of the present moment.
In my final lamenting example I’ll put something forward. As an example of religious stuckness; how many people might honour thy father and mother, even now as adults if thy father and mother were perhaps crossing our boundaries, hurting us in some way, maybe even being abusive? I would say a lot. What exactly is present about that? It doesn’t even make sense. Would they do the same for a co worker perhaps? Not only are we inundated with beliefs but they are reinforced by many facets of our environment. It’s our nature to take on what we experience. And it’s our nature to pass on what we believe, to our children. And even as adults, in our individuality, we are most of the time going to show up to any given situation with pretext informed by our beliefs. And it would be helpful to remain mindful and present in those moments.
But this understanding that we will most of the time show up with pretext, brings me to the next challenge.
That it’s easy for us as people, to become stuck. It is. Somehow it is…
Why is it easy though?
Here’s a consideration which is within our very nature, in quite a dichotomous way actually, I repeat again, to “stick” ourselves. I mean deeply within our nature. Not maliciously. Not apathetically, not in a screw you way, but in a modus operandi kind of way. It is a part of our nature. And why is that a dichotomy?
I’m resistant to use the word healthy, but I will say there are genuinely normal, balanced and beautiful reasons we “stick” ourselves. This might sound crazy for all that has been said up to now, but In truth, it’s actually near impossible to have a continuum of self with out pretext. In his book “the emergent self”, Peter Phillipson Presents the notion that the self, instead of being a thing bobbing around in space-time is actually a process that occurs, in the moment, in relation to its environment. That the self can only exist in a relationship (or in a comparison) to everything else. Without dark there is no light, without big there is no small, and without you or it, there is no me. And if that is what we are, a process occurring in relation to other things, in a singular moment, than what happens to our past? How then, if we are constantly in change, shifting facets of our being, how can people in our lives rely on us, trust us to do the things we say.
The answer pertains to the healthy reasons we “stick” ourselves. That is, that we need to “carry our previous self” in order to maintain a continuum. To have deeper connections and relationships. As mentioned before, to build relationships, wisdom, knowledge, self confidence when we’ve reached goals. To experience the power of change itself. To grow. And, for relationships…well we need relationships to survive. Also we do it for a sense of security. We are technically safer the more we know, which requires a continuum of our past self with the present.
The problem is when, again, we stick ourselves so much, so as to become rigid. Unwilling to accept the reality that is occurring in the here and now, and unwilling to work within it. Pretext, triggers, the stress of the emerging moment as it is: For me, at this time, the practice of mindfulness is again a focusing process. Focusing on a way to think. The way I want to think as the triggers and stress occur. It is deciding even on a way to feel. Breathing, and focusing on my breath when the heart is racing. Choosing not to concern myself with the distant outcome. Focusing on my action. The visual details of it. Reminding myself that I don’t have control over every detail or variable. The only thing I can truly control is my reaction, my beliefs, my breath, my actions in the moment.
Also How I choose to view others…If I show up to every situation with a degree of in-the-moment flexibility, of my entire self, then every situation is kind of an adventure. Every single one. There’s no where else to be but here. There’s nothing else to do but be here. I don’t have to carry the weight of 1000 different possible outcomes, especially when not a single one has yet occurred.
I can see YOU before me as a canvas being painted, and wait to discover, in the moment who you will be. And I won’t need to question if there’s another canvas underneath you. Truth be told there might be, so I’ll take that information and tuck it away as a possibility but not a necessarily. I can then be here with you now, and accept you.
I experience freedom, and peace, excitement, and a refreshing sense of newness when I am present here and now.
Rahel Kay is a Registered Massage Therapist, Certified Reflexologist and Gestalt Therapist who practices at the Pacific Wellness Institute in Downtown Toronto. Her passion is to work with her clients alone or in conjunction with other health care practitioners to decrease stress, and increase vitality and wellness for her clients. She believes strongly in the integrity and strength inherent in all patients own good health.
Her expertise ranges from: Breast massage, combined bodywork, deep connective tissue massage, deep tissue massage, hand reflexology, joint mobilization, manual lymph drainage, myofascial release, prenatal massage, reflexology, remedial exercise, Swedish massage, and trigger point therapy.