Meditation for Difficult Times
By Susie Harrington
In challenging times, personal or collective, we have the opportunity to feel deeply and experience the wisdom or our emotions. Emotions are the way our sensitive systems process, acknowledge, and work through the conditions of the world. We are very sensitive, vulnerable beings, and emotion is our way of receiving that and working it through us. We can refine our practice and ability to work with emotions as part of our sitting practice.
In emotion, there is often great wisdom and great power. To release this wisdom and power, we need to find the middle path between suppression or avoidance and acting out. We can acknowledge, be with, and experience our emotions, and through this process of coming into contact with ourselves, we connect deeply with our truth, our hearts, and ultimately with others. Doing this can then bring us the capacity to respond, and to do so wisely.
The mediation below is in two parts. Do both parts as often as you find helpful. You may find that it is helpful to stay with the first part for a while before you do the second part. Take your time, and allow yourself to know your own experience deeply.
Come into a comfortable seated posture and feel your feet or legs on the ground. Feel the heaviness of your body, the weight of it. Feel your torso in contact with the cushion or the seat. Feel the hardness of your bones. And let the weight of your bones connect you with the earth.
Let yourself feel the earth below – vast, dense, abundant — this earth we are a part of. This is our home, this earth. Let this connection to the earth be your ground. Know this to be home. Feel it spreading out from under you, out to the land, the trees and the other beings.
Now scan your body. As you do this, find any ease that is there and available for you. Beginning with your feet, feel them in contact with the ground. Let your attention be in the felt sense of your feet. And then coming into your ankles, feel your lower legs, your knees.
Notice as you move up the body if there’s any tension that might naturally flow out of you into this earth. The earth will receive it. Coming into your upper legs, feel inside your upper legs, the bones, the flesh, the muscles. And then coming into the pelvis area, feel the viscera inside. Settle deeply into the pelvis and notice the sit bones contacting Earth.
Let the lower belly soften. Come into the mid-belly area, then the upper belly. Let the whole lower part of your torso soften and connect with the ground. Coming into the lung area, take a few deep breaths and on the exhale let yourself settle a little more. Let the shoulders soften. Feel the arms, the hands and then the neck and the surface of the scalp.
Move your attention to the face and feel the area around the eyes. Soften the eyes, letting them rest in their sockets. Let the jaw soften. Again, take in the whole of your body sitting here, feeling the contact with the ground. And then begin to allow yourself to really attend to what else is here — what emotion or mood — and recognize as you do this that the emotion and mood is present in your body. Can you notice the felt sense, the experiences, the sensations in your body? Notice if you go up into your head and if thoughts start to proliferate. It will happen.
Gently allow yourself to feel your experience in the body, realizing everything is acceptable. There is no particular experience that you should be having. You may notice that there’s fear or anger or simply a contraction of the heart. Perhaps there’s sadness and pressure in the eyes.
You might notice if there’s resistance to feeling what is present for you. Include that. There may be resistance because it feels like too much. Allow yourself to gently feel the resistance. As you do this, begin a process of inquiry that’s referred to by the acronym R.A.I.N.
As you feel the impact of the election, first simply Recognize. This is the R in R.A.I.N., to recognize what is here. Recognize what you’ve been carrying around with you, the impact, the visceral feeling in your body. Notice what is here now. At this moment, you might be experiencing waves of different things coming and going.
Allow yourself to Recognize and then move into the A in R.A.I.N., Accepting and Allowing. Not trying to make your experience other than it is, not trying to fix it or make it go away. This is a quality of really settling back and being willing to be with your experience. And notice as you move into Accepting and Allowing any place that there’s resistance. Watch for any sense of trying to be spiritual or good, or judging that your experience isn’t the right one. If you see that, just notice it, and see if you can move into the experience itself. There’s no right or wrong. There’s space for all.
And as you do this, you’ll naturally move into the I in R.A.I.N., Intimacy, becoming more and more connected to your experience and feeling it wherever it shows up in your body — perhaps your heart center or belly, perhaps as an antsy-ness or heaviness in your body. Notice if you’re worried or anxious. What is the felt experience of that? If you’re angry or sad, how does it show up? Let yourself touch into it. Sometimes as you do this you may find that your experience becomes more intense. This is okay. This is, in fact, a good thing. As you give yourself permission, you’re creating sacred space to allow yourself to fully feel what’s here. You might find increasing clarity, or a sense of the anger morphing into hurt or sadness, or a feeling of not being safe. You may also just feel a confusion in your system. Notice what is there. There may be numbness. In which case, let yourself feel the numbness; how do you know this numbness?
The last aspect of being with your emotions is Non-identification. This is the N in R.A.I.N. This is the willingness to be with your experience completely without defining yourself that way, realizing that it’s coming and going, and that just because you experience anger or hurt or fear, it does not define you. This will not be your permanent state. To allow it to be felt completely is to not limit you. By allowing yourself to feel into your emotions completely, you allow your experience to be known and to flow through.
Now, as you feel into this kaleidoscope of experience and sensation, take a moment to let your attention spread out wider, realizing that you are not alone in your experience. Whatever emotions you might be feeling, there are others too who have been or will be feeling this. Others too may be feeling anger, hurt, fear, confusion, sadness, grief, resignation, numbness, overwhelm and many other emotions in response to the personal and shared challenges of this time. Allow yourself to sit, allow the feelings to be known, and flow through you. Know your experience and know you are not alone.
After you have completed this first meditation, if you have someone to share your experience with, take some time to do that before continuing on to the second part.
Once again feel yourself in contact with the ground. Feel the earth below you. Now feel sitting here on Earth with others, those nearby and those far away, and acknowledge what you have felt, realizing that the breath we breathe we share with each other and with the earth we are part of — the trees breathe, we breathe, the algae, the birds, the breath moves through all of us. Feeling our breath.
Feel again our earthiness, our earth on Earth. All of us come from earth and all will return. So too the trees, the birds, all people everywhere and all beings. There is nothing left out of this. We are all in this together.
You can see and feel this…this movement that there is some other, someone on some other side, someone somehow not included, ourselves or someone else. But we know this is a figment of our imagination, an expression of our confusion and others’ confusion.
Feel the breath, feel the Earth, knowing that any distance, any separation, is an illusion, a story in the mind. Sense also into your heart that knows this, perhaps even realizing that it is the heart that knows this, that feels the pain. The goodness in our hearts feels our connection, feels the suffering of others, and knows and understands the truth that no one, no being, no aliveness is left out.
In whatever way it is present for you right now, recognize when you feel and know this connectedness. What does it tell you about how you would like to meet what is happening, what may happen, what is here?
Coming from this truth of connection and goodness in your own heart, and knowing nothing is excluded, share what comes up, offering words. What arises in you as your way of meeting the world — courage, empathy, resilience, creativity, understanding, compassion, strength, forgiveness, peace, love, faith, trust, sangha, family?
Allowing yourself to take in all of these words, feel the resonance in you, perhaps feeling the connection between the depth of your feeling and the truth of these words, that they exist together, not separate. This wisdom comes from the same place as the challenge, as the emotion, the pain. All are true.
Allowing yourself to rest in your heart center, settle back and soften. Acknowledge the possibilities — the strength of your heart, your responsiveness, your capacity, of our strength, our capacity and our openheartedness. So much is possible. Rest in this. Rest in this truth.
Susie Harrington teaches meditation nationwide and is the guiding teacher for Desert Dharma, which serves many communities in the Southwest near her home in Moab, Utah. She has trained in the Insight tradition since 1989, practicing primarily with Guy Armstrong, Jack Kornfield, and Joseph Goldstein. She was invited to begin teaching in 2005. She has also received teachings from many others, including Tory Capron, Adyashanti, and Tsoknyi Rinpoche. She often offers retreats outside, believing nature to be a profound teacher, and a gateway to our true nature. Her teaching is deeply grounded in the body and often emphasizes the expression of mindfulness in speech and daily life. Susie brings the skills of inquiry, relational dharma, and the psychological/spiritual interface to her teachings, informed by her ongoing study of the Diamond Approach by A.H.Almaas and as a graduate of Hakomi Therapy (a somatic psychotherapy modality). She offers a two-year intensive program, Dharma in Daily Life, where she delights in mentoring the innate qualities of heart and wisdom in everyday practice. Her practice is rooted in periods of long retreat both indoors and outdoors, which offer nourishment and inspiration for her teaching. She was an outdoor professional for over 30 years, including years as a river guide, mountaineering guide, and backcountry ranger, and now finds her greatest delight in sharing her love of the Dharma and the natural world. Susie completed the SRMC/IMS/IRC 4-year teacher training in 2016.