I’m in the bath feeling a sense of anticipation about the year to come. Suddenly I’m gripped by what I can only describe as a tightening, a constriction, that I feel from the inside. I decide to explore it. It feels like a stopping. All my cells, waiting, wanting to stop. I find a word that fits – ‘caution’. The image – a red traffic light.

It’s opposite naturally arises – go! Green light. This feels urgent, hurry, move, do it! The word that fits? ‘Impatience’.

Neither feel particularly comfortable.

I’ll hold both, I decide, actually visualising the red light in one hand and the green light in the other. I hold them, and wait.

It feels like a light switches on in the middle of my chest. It spreads, grows, glows. The word that fits? Excitement! Somewhere between caution and impatience, I find excitement. It feels good, balanced. I recognise my caution and my impatience as the outlying indicators to help me stay on track. To recognise that when they arise, not as mistakes or errors, but as way markers or messengers. I realise it’s pretty impossible to just be steering in the excitement lane without straying. But there they are, my messengers to help me find my way and stay on track.

The wisdom in all of our experiences

There’s a wisdom in all of our experiences. As we make our way through life we ‘learn’ that certain reactions are ‘wrong’ or unacceptable. When they arise they’re accompanied by a ‘should’ or a ‘shouldn’t’ that prevents us from fully understanding or hearing the message that they bring. Refusing our experience robs us of the wisdom these messengers are offering. Sometimes, we think there’s something wrong with us when a particular visitor stays around for a long time and doesn’t seem to be moving along. Maybe we just haven’t got the message yet?

Slowing right down

Prompted by several wise voices in the world at the moment, I’m experimenting with slowing right down when undesired reactions arise. Rather than attempting to sweep them away, shut them down or rub them out – which has been my automatic, ‘natural’ response, I’m getting curious. I don’t want to miss the meaning, I want to capture the wisdom that would be lost by refusing my experience. I’m not suggesting it’s easy, or exact, it’s an experiment. And, it seems to be proving useful.

I’m learning that our quick automatic reactions are a really good indicator of when we’re caught in an habitual response. Slowing down provides an opportunity for me to see what is driving me. I can get really interested in what is operating in me. It’s tricky territory though, those quick protective responses are there for a reason. Encountering, and slowly getting on friendly terms with what we’d prefer to deny, to repress, to refuse, is work. Cultivating curiosity and interest takes attention and practice, it isn’t automatic.

The keys to ourselves

What we’re refusing holds keys to ourselves. All of it is useful, precious. We may habitually shut down certain emotions when they surface – fear, shame, guilt, doubt – surely I don’t need these? They don’t feel good. I must get rid of them! But, strangely, they just keep coming back.

It’s ALL welcome! Even when I notice my judgements arise, I meet these too with love and understanding. My strong habit is of course to want to stop them because they are ‘wrong’.  Curiouser and curiouser (to borrow the Alice in Wonderland term in recognition of how confounding this can be), little by little I’m getting to know and befriend these unwelcome visitors. It is liberating…… and scary.

Safety first

Safety is paramount, anything that floods or overwhelms our nervous system doesn’t aid our digestion. Only little nibbles that feel comfortable and digestible will. Balance is required, gradually exploring the subtle terrain of these long held resistances born from previous experience when it did serve my safety to deny them. It’s important to recognise the intelligence in our defense systems. The way we’ve learned to shut off certain emotions or feelings did serve a purpose at some stage. Our question is whether it still does?

Now that I’m all grown up I can take a chance and gradually revisit these closed down rooms of my house and see what treasures they contain. I know the work is gentle, not by force, just a gentle, persistent curiosity and interest to understand. Not fighting with myself.

The gift of radical acceptance

Mindfulness offers the gift of radical self-acceptance so that bit by bit we can welcome home all our lost and abandoned parts to find the fullness of who we are. Neither refusing or getting hi-jacked by whatever we’re experiencing. Rather, finding some friendly middle ground where it is all ok and recognising that trying to change what is, always fails. The ‘what is’ applies as much to our internal environment as it does to our external circumstances.