“Mindfulness, cultivated even for a few minutes, draws the heart toward itself. It invites the intimacy we yearn for and that is calling to us because, ultimately, mindfulness is intimacy – with ourselves and the world – underneath any apparent separation between the two.” Jon Kabat-Zinn
I think about why I have a daily commitment to my mindfulness practice. It has something to do with what Jon Kabat-Zinn says in the words above. It is about this yearning for intimacy. We all crave intimacy but sometimes, we walk around in our daily life pretending like we don’t need this closeness, this connection to ourselves and with the world around us. We are just fine in our independent selves, thank you very much.
Or we have an idea of what we think intimacy is. We might think of it as being in love – the ecstatic feeling that we have when attraction and connection meet in just the right way and we feel extremely close to another person. Where we feel seen and heard and understood – that feeling of wanting to be together all the time, the bliss of gazing into each other’s eyes and feeling like no one has ever looked at or seen us in that light before.
But the intimacy I am talking about is not the intimacy of young lovers. That is indeed intimacy, but only sometimes does that early bliss transform into a deeper level of connection, the kind of depth of understanding that sees the darkness as well as the light in someone and holds that with compassion. Intimacy that grows with the difficulties and stresses in life.
I am speaking about intimacy that begins with our own self. The ability to be with our inner experience, to not shy away from the uncomfortable feelings inside, the ability to sit with what doesn’t feel good and not distract ourselves or push away the discomfort. There is no way to move through our inner storms – our anxiousness, our fear, our judgements about self and others, our shame, our grief – without intimately experiencing them.
Being able to be with what is uncomfortable in ourselves is the path toward intimacy. Many of us move through life distracting ourselves from feeling what is really going on inside, and when we spend years doing that, there is a sense of feeling disconnected from both ourselves and from the world around us.
“Mr. Duffy lived a short distance from his body.” These are words from James Joyce that are often quoted in the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program that I lead. Many students in the beginning of the MBSR program don’t feel terribly connected to their bodies, to their own selves. Some report not being able to feel certain parts of their body when asked to pay attention to sensations. Through the course of 8 weeks, though, many feel reconnected to themselves, and have a deepening of their ability to be with this inner world – the difficult parts included – in a more compassionate way, with equanimity, patience, and presence.
Our yoga and mindfulness meditation practice offer us a doorway in. A doorway in to this intimate connection with ourselves. We begin, sometimes sitting, sometimes lying down on our mat, and we tune in. We look inward – sometimes simply feeling our body on the ground, the connection to the earth beneath us. We might notice our aches, our pains, our tension, the places in our body that are not at ease. We might drop beneath our skin and muscles and bones and joints and notice our mind and our heart. We notice perhaps on the surface the chatter in our mind – thinking, planning, figuring out, trying to control an outcome by thinking enough about it.
We might notice emotion – anxiety, restlessness, agitation. But oftentimes, emotions are the most difficult for us to open to. We spend so much time disconnecting from how we are feeling, and so much time in our thinking mind, that often we are not even aware of emotions that we are feeling until we take some time to slow down. Once our inner swirl slows a bit, we can then start to see and feel what else is going on.
Over time, though months and years of practice we get to know ourselves in a whole new way. The more we practice, the more that intimacy – that awareness of what is going on beneath the surface – becomes the reality of how we move through our life. In any moment, we can tune in and see what is happening inside. We can be honest with our self and really experience what is happening without needing to change it or mute it or distract our self, we can live with a bit more aliveness. We wake up to what is here rather than what we wish was here.
What then starts to wake up is intimacy with what’s around us. Intimacy with other people in our life, with situations, with the greater world around us – the whole mess and the great beauty that our world is – without turning away or closing our eyes or distracting ourselves. If we can wake ourselves up to this intimacy with the world around us, we can then take compassionate action inside and outside of ourselves.
As Jon Kabat-Zinn reminds us, it can take only a few minutes to cultivate this intimacy. But it does take regular practice. It takes commitment.
I always find it easier to commit to something if I am doing it with others, which is why I invite you to participate in our 21 Day Commitment – The Kindness Commitment. This is an opportunity to commit to your practice for 3 weeks, creating a commitment that feels kind and compassionate to yourself. You get to choose your commitment. You can participate by coming to the studio, by practicing at home, by practicing while you are traveling, taking your practice with you wherever you go this summer.
Source teacher Lori Ferry will guide the weekly meetings on Tuesday evenings at the UP studio, bringing yoga, meditation, and compassion practices into each weekly check in. Learn more about our 21 Day Commitment here. It starts tomorrow!
And I invite you to continue to practice on your mat and off – cultivating intimacy with yourself and with your life. I would love to hear how you are committing to yourself.
May you be well,
Source Yoga Studio Director