February 24, 2014 at 7:17 pm #51681
This is my first time posting and I’m afraid I may have miscategorized this post, but I’m not sure where else to put it.
I have been practicing meditation on my own for nearly 14 months now, using books, podcasts, and the internet to figure out the basics and enhance my practice. At the moment I live in a small town that doesn’t have any Buddhist or meditation groups so I rely entirely on online sources. My problem is that now that I’m aware of so many self-destructive patterns that have been conditioned from childhood trauma and a lifetime of depression, I can recognize them while they are happening, but I don’t know what to do about them.
None of my sources mention what to do with these old, outdated patterns, and I’m feeling really overwhelmed by them and confused on how to handle them. What is the next step after you identify your patterns of thinking and behaving and become aware of them in the moment as they happen? I feel really horrible and maladapted all the time and I don’t know how to fix it and feel better. I would appreciate any advice or suggestions.
JoFebruary 24, 2014 at 9:21 pm #51696MarkParticipant
I believe that we cannot cure ourselves or if we can then it takes a lot more time and skills that most of us have. Meditating is a great foundation to deal with life in general. I believe that therapy is the other half of what you need in order to address issues of such magnitude. I am reminded of the Albert Einstein quote, “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.”
I just came across Mark Epstein’s books who is a Buddhist and a psychotherapist and writes about applying Buddhist philosophy as a therapist. So from his writings further reinforces my assertion is that we need both our spiritual practice and outside help.
In answer to your question on when you are mindful enough to recognize your “bad” behavior as it is happening, I would think that if you are mindful enough to catch that feeling, thought or behavior at the time then you can be mindful enough to stop and breath and let it pass through you as if you were meditating. Make sense?
MarkFebruary 24, 2014 at 9:54 pm #51698The RuminantParticipant
Like Mark said, take a moment to reflect before you take action. I’m also a bit overwhelmed by the amount of suffering and confusion that I witness in myself and in others, but I don’t think there is anything else to do than to be confident in your new approach to life and cultivate well-being instead of ill-being. When that fails, and it probably will at some point, then be compassionate towards yourself. Choosing compassion instead of anger and frustration yet again puts you on the path of choosing well-being instead of ill-being.
By the way, I don’t consider myself being a Buddhist, so my response isn’t based on any particular teachings 🙂February 24, 2014 at 10:00 pm #51699MattParticipant
I’m sorry for your suffering, and can understand the confusion at seeing the pieces, but being unable to fit them together. Consider that you have most of it put together already, in that you’ve become more aware. That’s great! Of course, when we feel like we’re stuck its a pretty cruddy feeling… but that can be overcome with time, patience, and courage. A few things came to heart as I read your words.
Consider that these patterns are held together by habit… sometimes called habitual cycles, but they aren’t inherent or even all that potent. They’re like paper tigers, thin veils that look scary before we approach one. However, once we turn toward it, breathe it in, make space for it, and breathe it out, it evaporates little by little. Sometimes in big chunks, but usually like a river erodes a mountain.
In practical terms, it depends what the pattern is. For instance, perhaps your dad acted critical and angry, so he blasted you with powerful emotions when you made mistakes. The pattern that might blossom from such a seed could be a fear of trying new things, fear of not being good enough, shame or panic at our errors and so forth. We see the fears, perhaps, but its tough to simply “not be afraid”….we just end up trying to wrestle a bull. Or, we try to breathe with it, and feel like a little kid holding a really big kite in a strong wind. So much struggle quickly expends our light, our concentration.
Instead, when we’re on the cushion, we can approach the girl Jo that lives within our awareness, breathe in that moment with her, see her confusion and pain, and give her a gentle hug. As we breathe out, we can talk to her, sing to her about how she is loved. How its not her fault her dad did such things, and that she’ll be OK. As we make space in this way, sit with her, we can see how natural the pattern is, how normal, how it just is what it is. Dad was doing his best with the pieces he had, and deserves our compassion. We know how sticky patterns can be, so have deep understanding for Dad and his unskillful blerting. And for Jo, of course she would become scared, jolted in such ways… just for being a kid. Making inevitable countless mistakes as she stumbles along her path like the rest of us… and then being blasted for them as well. Whew! Maybe one more hug to her. 🙂
This is one way of growing self compassion, or making space for our suffering to settle. As we sit alongside the younger, more ignorant, more vulnerable and confused version of ourselves, breathe and make space, let ourselves give love to all involved, the pattern breaks free, erodes. Of course, it doesn’t help if you’re just getting swamped with emotion, or getting angry or whatnot. If that happens, just switch back to the breath, let your body rest, perhaps picture an open field with the emotions scattering like butterflies, lots of room for them to fly home.
For the depression, or feeling of heaviness, consider switching to metta meditation for awhile. It doesn’t help that much to have a deep vision of our patterns if we don’t have much of our light glowing. It makes the paper tigers far more convincing, more permanent, looming. When we do metta meditation, we bolster that inner light, making our mind smooth, peaceful and rested. Then, we can choose to unpack what we wish, rather than bopping around aimlessly, overwhelemed. Buddha taught that metta grows concentration quickly, which is how we find our aim. Consider “Sharon Salzburg metta meditation” on YouTube if interested.
Finally, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and Jo ain’t gonna erode her habits overnight. Go slow, patiently, let your confidence build, your roots grow thick. Many of the “problems” or “patterns” will just go away on their own as you rekindle your inner light. There’s no need to rest in the swamp, ruminate on old habits and so forth. As we go about our daily do, what we need will blossom in front of us. The more we can accept that, the freer we become. Said differently, the less time we spend regretting the past or fearing the future, the more space we have for inspiration to come and resolve the problem in front of us. If we can’t on our own, then we find the tools that do (asking questions, synchronicity, serendipity) along the way.
Namaste, Jo-Buddha, may you find contentment and curiosity.
MattFebruary 25, 2014 at 4:34 am #51713HelenParticipant
In addition to the other heartfelt responses, here is a book recommendation: Buddha’s Brain by Rick Hanson (http://www.amazon.com/Buddhas-Brain-Practical-Neuroscience-Happiness-ebook/dp/B003TU29WU/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1393330571&sr=1-1&keywords=buddhas+brain).
I personally found this one very helpful as it gives step to step instructions on how to change old patterns as well as why they occur. Sciency, useable, incredibly insightful especially for someone who is already on the path. The appendix also has useful information about diet and supplements that help the brain clear so to say in order to be able to make subtle changes and see things as they are easier. The diet and supplements work; I have been following the regimen for a year and a half and can see the difference in my mental patterns.
If you still find it difficult to recognize certain patterns or apply the teachings on your own, a sangha, online or in person (or a therapist as Mark suggested) can be very beneficial. And finally, I wholeheartedly agree with Matt that these things need space and with time, patience, compassion towards yourself, the clouds will settle, be scattered away, and your beautiful inner sun will shine brightly 🙂
May you have joy in your heart and clarity in your mind.
HelenFebruary 25, 2014 at 8:29 pm #51792
Thanks, Ruminant, for your understanding and honesty. It’s nice to know I’m not the only one in this boat. :o)February 25, 2014 at 8:39 pm #51793
Ah, and that’s why I’m seeking advice from a larger consciousness. :o) Unfortunately, my experiences in psychotherapy over the past decade or so have been unhelpful at best, and, on a couple of occasions, outright hurtful. Meditation has helped me so much in the short time I’ve been practicing, and I believe that meditation, relationships, and good teachers hold all that is needed to reach the peace and equanimity that I seek. Thanks for the recommendation, I think I will check my library for the book.February 25, 2014 at 9:21 pm #51797
You seem to know exactly where I’m at and I am truly grateful that you took the time to write out such an insightful and helpful response. This made my day so much better.
I actually have Sharon Salzburg’s book on metta meditation, and another thorough journey through that is a brilliant idea, and I will work it back into my daily practice. Thinking of eroding my problems makes more sense than trying to vaporize them or drowning in a deluge of hopelessness because they seem so insurmountable.
There’s so much in this post that I’m going to let it sink in before I respond any further (and I promise that I will!). Thanks so much for the gentle reminders to practice self-compassion, metta, and patience. Namaste.
JoFebruary 25, 2014 at 9:27 pm #51798
Helen, this looks like an interesting book, I put a copy on hold at my library and I’m anxious to check it out.
Thanks for the recommendation and for sharing your hope and optimism! Your experience and faith in the process is inspiring.
JoMarch 2, 2014 at 11:20 pm #52135MichaelParticipant
You’re on the right track! The hardest part of all of this is to coming to the realization that you have already made. Now you just need to know what to do with this keen insight;
Expand your capacity for self-acceptance. (This is what Matt from above was saying.)
This capacity for self-acceptance is like a vessel. The larger the vessel the easier you will be able to process these emotions/feelings.
While you’re doing this continue to observe your negative habits – like you’re the director of a documentary, starring YOU.
When you actually carry through on one of your negative habits, write down (keep a journal with you) what your last thought was prior to the action.
So for example; if you smoke you might think “I’m more productive when I smoke”, right before you smoke. Now look at that thought and ask yourself if it’s true?
After the fact (whether you smoked or not) try to answer that question in a way that will take you away from smoking (or whatever your bad habit is). Come up with a more healthy response to the assumption.
Eventually you will learn to replace the impulse for a cigarette with something more beneficial. Or, in some cases, the recognition of the dynamics of this process will be enough to draw it to a conclusion.
This takes work and bravery. But you can do it.
peace and love!March 7, 2014 at 5:15 am #52452
Thanks again, everyone, for all of your kind words and suggestions.
Self-acceptance and self-compassion seem to be the consensus. I have been doing daily metta meditations and trying to think of healthier ways to handle situations, and while I understand rationally that these are the things I need to be doing, I’m still having a hard time figuring out how they will help. I guess I’m struggling with patience. It seems like after a year of meditation I should be further along. How long does it take to get everything figured out and gain self-confidence and to live with ease?March 7, 2014 at 10:23 am #52469
After I submitted the last post I had a HUGE realization. It seems that, as Matt said, self-compassion and self-acceptance give you roots, a foundation that grounds you. Then, as everyone else suggested, it’s easier not to get carried away by insecurities and beliefs about yourself that lead to behaviors that confirm these beliefs. Other options emerge when the feelings calm down.
I dated a coworker last weekend, and he’s been cold and kind of ignored me at work this week. I realized that I was wanting things to be different, but I didn’t know how to change them, so I started exploring my own feelings and beliefs. I was feeling old (I’m only 30 but I live in a college town), unattractive, and inadequate and believed that no one as wonderful as this guy would ever want to be with me. This affected my behavior because I was acting insecure and looking to him for validation, which he wasn’t giving me and that exacerbated the feelings. My insecurities kept me small, and rather than trying to talk to him, I just kind of hid and avoided him. Had I felt more confident and accepting of myself, this week might have gone much more differently because I wouldn’t have been so affected by his behavior even if everything else had remained the same.
So that’s where the awareness and choices come to play. If I’m aware of my feelings on the foundation of self-compassion, I can choose to respond to situations in a way that will be easier for me to accept and that will add to my confidence. Then I’m moving forward instead of treading in the middle of the ocean. I won’t need other people to validate me because I will be able to do it for myself, and that will change the way that I relate to and interact with other people.
This is a really big deal for me and I wonder if I’ll be able to remember how important self-compassion is and keep building it up.
I am so grateful to everyone who responded to my initial post, I’m not sure I would have made it to this point without your insight and encouragement. For the first time in ages I feel free and unencumbered.March 7, 2014 at 11:04 pm #52490MattParticipant
I’m really happy for your breakthrough, and applaud your blossoming insight. As that confidence grows, remaining within a state of compassion becomes much simpler. We know we have the capability to rekindle our peace, and so our challenge is seen as a puzzle rather than an unworkable mess. For instance “Hmmm, i feel off. Lets open the space and take a close look. Oooh, I’m ruminating because he hasn’t texted me. Hahaha, again. Sheesh! Alright, Jo-buddha, what do I really need? Connection? Metta?”. And we move back toward self contentment. Why cling to it? Why bother?
Next up, the laundry! 🙂
MattMarch 9, 2014 at 11:52 am #52524
Thanks Matt!March 11, 2014 at 2:35 am #52627Ryan ViolaParticipant
Take a peaceful place where ever you are living and do meditation in a single peace. It will be quite beneficial to you at some level.