It had been a long day. One which didn’t improve when I fell asleep during my meditation class that evening after a twelve-hour shift at work. Feeling embarrassed afterward, I had a hard time meeting the teacher’s eyes as we put the chairs away before dispersing for the night. But true to form, there was no judgment shown on his face as walked over to me; his eyes radiating that calmness I had always known him for.
” Another hard day at work? ” he asked in a sincere voice.
“Another day in paradise” I replied with a hint of sarcasm. For a moment I wanted to vent all my frustrations to him; tired of having to deal with the headaches and long hours that my role as a plant manager brought with it.
“That’s the voice of your ego speaking,” he replied quickly before I could say anything else.
I knew he was right. My frustration wasn’t created by my circumstances but instead formed in the resistance created by my thinking. Recognizing the harsh voice of ego in our thinking was the base of the mindfulness practice he had taught us from day one; that we are not our judgmental thoughts but instead free to see that our thoughts were simply an aspect of ourselves, not the totality of our being. My type A personality wasn’t happy with my having fallen asleep during the class although I had watched this happen to others. I didn’t judge them for it but at the time felt success in life meant controlling your environment and actions. Although I was loath to admit it, it was plain to see that my work environment was beyond my control. The stress from thinking I had to control an uncontrollable environment is what brought me to his doorstep to begin with.
“Remember the words of Swamiji;” he said in reference to his teacher, Swami Rama, the Himalayan master whose teachings our meditation practice embraced;
“Be in the world, but not of it.”
He paused for a moment to allow that to sink in before leaving me with a final thought;
“Every second of our lives allows us a choice for both our awareness and actions; what choices are your thoughts leading you to today?”
Watching his back as he walked away, I knew he was reminding me to maintain healthy boundaries by examining my thinking. That was the way he taught, steering us back to the tenants of our practice when our uncontrolled thinking began to run rampant. Direct and to the point, he hadn’t continued the conversation beyond that because there was nothing more to say.
Getting Off The Roller Coaster of Our Emotions
For the Highly Sensitive, life is a reactive journey. Our ingrained capacity to deeply feel the environment and people around can cause us to think and feel as if we are constantly reacting to something which then causes another reaction or judgment within us. This constant cycle of reaction followed by judgmental thinking can victimize us if we get caught up in it. The key, as my teacher pointed out is that we always have a choice not only in our actions but in which thoughts to embrace as well.
In our Yoga tradition, the term Monkey Mind is often used to describe the non-stop uncontrolled nature of our thoughts. Instead of condemning our undisciplined thinking we are taught instead to observe; in other words, rather than getting caught up in the flow and reaction of our thoughts, step back and watch where they are leading us. This is where recognizing the voice of ego comes in; while the function of ego is needed to organize the details of our daily life, its dominant voice in our thinking can become very harsh over time as we make judgments as to the right and wrongs in our lives. For the Highly Sensitive, it is even more so simply because of the increased amount of energy we perceive and then react to. Often when feeling overstimulated, I stepped back and watched my thoughts and saw how overstimulation began in my thinking, leading to a physical reaction.
Driven To Distraction
Our choice of environments is another area which drives our thinking. I always enjoyed going directly to my meditation class from work simply for the stillness and centering of the Ashram’s environment which balanced out the hectic environment I had just left. Walking through the door, the quiet stillness of the environment surrounds me like a warm bath; washing away the energy of the ego-driven world I had just left behind.
As I started watching my thoughts, I noticed how reactive I would get if watched or listened to the local or national news. I also noticed my smartphone made it even more of a challenge to control my Monkey Mind as its carnival of attention trapping apps reminded me of the beautiful female Sirens depicted in Greek mythology. Seducing my attention with their mesmerizing voices, they would drown me if I let them wrap their arms around my awareness.
Hanging A U-turn Via The Voice Of Intuition
After learning to watch our thoughts and to recognize those which served our highest good, our teacher taught us the practice of Contemplation. Contemplation is a review of sorts; while sitting in silence one reviews their thoughts and past actions to see where they led. I love the practice of Contemplation because it brings out the quiet voice of intuition which is often overlooked in our thoughts as the booming voice of ego prevents us from hearing or recognizing it. Experience has shown me that Highly Sensitive people have a gift for contemplation and hearing the voice of intuition which accompanies it. The starting point however always has to be awareness.
Become aware of your thoughts, your reactions, and always of the energy of your environment. Watch yourself as closely as your dog watches you when begging for a snack as dogs are champions in the art of one-pointed attention From there, make it a daily practice to seek out 15 minutes of silence where you can review your actions simply from the viewpoint of an observer. As you observe, pay attention to anything which creates a feeling in your gut immediately followed by a neutral thought or a feeling of “knowing” something to be true. That quick neutral thought is the quiet voice of intuition which will dissipate like smoke in the wind if we start to think too much which then allows the harsh voice of ego to rush in with judgments. Contemplation doesn’t necessarily have to be done in a specific setting; it can be done while walking, hiking, washing dishes or cleaning the house. Oddly enough, I find some of my strongest contemplations have occurred when I shower which I attribute to the cleansing effect water has on my energy field.
Intention, Energy And Contemplation
During the writing of this article, my ninety-one-year-old father passed away. His passing wasn’t unexpected however the voice of grief has dominated my thoughts. Grief contains a very heavy dense emotional energy which sits in the gut like a bad meal and makes it very hard to concentrate. For the Highly Sensitive grief can hit like an emotional tidal wave, leaving us floundering for a solid footing. The key here is to recognize that once again we are dealing with energy; the energy of our emotions and the effect that emotional energy has on our thinking. Experience has shown me that grief is best dealt with through any physical exercise which stimulates deep breathing. I have always found that deep breathing or breath work releases the trapped emotional energy which resides in my midsection. Then as always comes the practice of contemplation; a review of all the memories of our time on this earth together.
Death may separate us from those we love but it can never take away the memories held dear to the heart. As is my tradition, after receiving the news of my father’s passing, I lit a white candle. Taking the candle upstairs to a enclosed porch located on the southeast corner of my home, I faced east and said a short prayer for him and thanked him for the values he instilled in me. I had no sooner thanked him when the wind chime hung outside next to the window gave a single distinct chime. Startled, I looked at it hanging perfectly still although the wind had been restless all day. In the ten years its been hanging there, I never heard it sound such a distinct single note. My monkey mind immediately jumped in and attributed the sound to the wind stirring the chime. as my ego tried to explain an experience which may have no rational explanation. Many years ago, I had given him a wind chime as a present and have always been taught by my spiritual teachers that the departed love the sounds of chimes and bells. Quieting my mind, I listened in the stillness and only then, did I hear the quiet voice of intuition whispering in my ear that he had just given me a sign. I could feel it in my bones; it was his way of letting me know he was ok. His compassion communicated through a single note; a quiet truth spoken in the silence of my contemplation as the sounds of a restless wind, echoed in the woods around me.