Last week I experienced what is called in Buddhist Psychology “a river of feelings” as I watched my daughter play field hockey for the final time before she heads off to college in the Fall. I went home after the game and instead of fighting the feelings I let them all wash over me– sadness, joy, excitement for her next phase, nostalgia for all the sports games I had watched her play since she was 4, anxiety over her leaving (and leaving me) and many more. It was definitely a RIVER. I went for a walk, let them all move through and when she arrived home I was ready to be there for her and her “river”.
When we feel a rush or “river” of emotions coming, often we try to push them away or move quickly (in the mind and in life) with the hopes that the river won’t catch up to us. However, instead our mindfulness practice asks two things of us. First is to notice– to feel “all the feels”. Second is to be able to be with what is–to meet it all with compassion. That is the part that can make us feel vulnerable and overwhelmed. Yet, the amazing thing is that if we can actually be with what is we have the chance to move through the emotions–let them wash through us– and continue on.
The experience I had reminded me of one of my favorite passages by Mark Nepo which I shared with my students and have included below. We used it as a guide for our practice as we explored deep twisting and held poses a bit longer so we could “notice” and the “be with” the sensations in the body. We went deep into the hips as well to release the emotions we may have been avoiding or trying to “outrun”.
The mat is a powerful place to practice noticing and being with what is in a compassionate way. When we resist– what we are resisting fights back harder. When we soften and let the wave move through, we often find lightness on the other side. This helps prepare us for the “Rivers of Feelings” we experience off the mat– it teaches us how to notice and be with as a way to be more compassionate to ourselves and have more to give to others.
I suspect I will be experiencing several “rivers” this year as my daughter completes her final year of high school. There will be many “lasts” before the firsts that come in her new life away from us. I am grateful for the gifts of this practice; the practice of noticing and living truly in the special moments we will have this year and the power to let the “river” flow through. Namaste.
The Art of Facing Things– Mark Nepo
Salmon have much to teach us about the art of facing things. In swimming up waterfalls, these remarkable creatures seem to defy gravity. It is an amazing thing to behold. A closer look reveals a wisdom for all beings who want to thrive.
What the salmon somehow know is how to turn their underside– from center to tail– into the powerful current coming a them, which hits them squarely, and the impact then launched them out and further up the waterfall; to which their reaction is, again, to turn their underside back into the powerful current that, of course, again hits them squarely; and this successive impact launches them further out and up the waterfall. Their leaning into what they face bounces them further and further along their unlikely journey.
From a distance, it seems magical, as if these mighty fish are flying, conquering their element. In actuality, they are deeply at one with their element, vibrantly and thoroughly engaged in a compelling dance of turning-toward-and-being-hit-squarely that moves them through water and air to the very source of their nature.
In terms useful to the life of the spirit, the salmon are constantly faithful in exposing their underside to the current coming at them. Mysteriously, it is the physics of this courage that enables them to move through life as they know it so directly. We must learn from this very active paradox; for we, too, must be as faithful to living in the open if we are to stay real in the face of our daily experience. In order not to be swept away by what the days bring, we, too, must find a way to lean into the forces that hit us so squarely.
The salmon offer us a way to face truth without shutting down. They show us how leaning into our experience, though we don’t like the hit, moves us on. Time and again, though we’d rather turn away, it is the impact of being revealed, through our willingness to be vulnerable, that enables us to experience both mystery and grace.