Inspired by the beautiful Netflix documentary, My Octopus Teacher, which everyone is watching, I sat and thought about who, or what in life, are my teachers.
Every pet to grace my life has been a teacher. Animals are the best. My friends and families have been some of my greatest. I had some terrific ones at school. I have been one to myself. And meditation has also been a wonderful teacher.
My Octopus Teacher is a beautifully filmed and heartfelt story of a broken man and an octopus. A filmmaker and a soft-bodied endearing mollusc who wins over his heart. The setting, the undersea world of the octopus, the cinematography and storytelling are all exquisite. It is a film about friendship, the healing power of connection and the harsh realities we cannot escape in life. Gently told in the soft and melancholy voice and through the loving eyes of a man piecing himself back together.
I am astonished at how accurately this also describes one of my favourite teachers in life. Meditation. When I meditate, I go into what is very much like a beautiful undersea world. It often feels in my body, like I am floating underwater. My perception changes like it does underwater. And depending on how deep I go, I can still hear what is going on above the surface, but I am separated from it.
In meditation the cinematography and storytelling is often something I would describe as exquisite. And meditation is very much about friendship. Over many years, sitting in the gentle rise and fall of my breath has been a wonderful place to cultivate friendship with myself. To afford myself the same compassion and unconditional love I give my friends. Connecting with myself during meditation, and something bigger than all of us - the collective unconscious, nature, something unnamable - has been extremely healing. The healing power of connection is in every sitting, as are the harsh realities of life we cannot escape. My meditation is at its best when it is told in the soft and melancholy voice, and through the loving eyes, of a woman piecing herself back together.
‘What this moment requires of us, is that it calls for pause.’ Rev. angel Kyodo williams
Power of the Pause
Life can become such a rush, there is something to be said for taking a moment and sitting quietly for a while. As children we do this naturally. As adults we fall out of the habit and often need to make it a formal practice. An opportunity to day dream. A place to reflect. Contemplate. A moment to pause. Life, and our limited ability to describe it, to wrap it in language in order to understand it, is full of dichotomies. Dualities. Opposites. This is one of the beauties of the human experience. And harmony is achieved in life, when these dualities are in balance.
All things in moderation, I can hear my father saying. He was right. And that is what balance is. No extremes. An equilibrium. When everything floats. Evenly. We cannot have stillness without movement. Day without night. Outside without inside. Yang without Yin. And like this beautiful symbol, it is so important to have a little bit of one thing in another. A little bit of Yin with Yang. A little bit of movement with stillness. Like when the moon reveals herself on a clear blue sky day. She is always there. Night is always part of our day.
To moderate our rush, we pause. To achieve a balanced state. Harmony. Within ourselves and outside of ourselves. In our person. In our lives. And just as a little bit of our rush very easily becomes part of our pause, we can also include a little bit of pause into our rush.
More beautiful words from Rev. angel Kyodo williams come to mind. Where she unfolds for Krista Tippett how pausing is far from ‘not being relevant and not attending to what is urgent’.
What happens in ‘sitting and pausing is not about not acting, it is a different move.’ A different move.
‘There is so much momentum to every aspect of what drives us. What moves us. What has us hurling through space. Including all of our thoughts and even our own sense of our emotions. How we interpret any given feeling any experience of discomfort. Where that discomfort sits in our bodies. It's not just that we have a feeling of pain or awkwardness, it is that we then interpret that. And those interpretations, much to our chagrin, we come to understand through a process of observing them, are not clean, or not free of all of the things that are impacting us outside. And so even our sense of what pains us and what makes us feel shame, feel guilt, feel awkwardness, feel put upon by people, feel disempowered and has to do with the external information and cues that we have received.
And they are moving at an incredible rate of speed. And, for the most part, we almost never get the opportunity to observe them and sort through them. Kind of like that draw that collects everything in your house. Where you say, “oh, but wait a minute, someone lived in this house before me in essence, and some of that stuff is not mine. Actually, this is not mine, that’s my mum’s. This is not mine, that’s the inheritance of white supremacy. Or that’s the inheritance of generations of oppression and marginalisation, that subjects me to habitually feeling less than. Even if, the current situation has no intent to make me feel that way.”
And we have no real way of being able to discern what is mine, what is yours. What are we holding collectively? What have I inherited? What have I taken on as a measure of protection, as a way to cope at some point in my life, or past lives, that I no longer need?
And sitting lets us begin to do that.’
Rev. angel Kyodo williams exquisitely wraps our experience in language and unfolds the power of the pause on so many levels. There are an incredible number lessons in this short excerpt from her interview with Krista Tippett on OnBeing. I highly recommend listening to the entire podcast episode: The world is our field of practice. (And perhaps, just take a moment to pause on that title…and all it holds).
Being there for whoever shows up
I had a very external and practical experience of this lesson to begin with. The ribbon of this lesson has subsequently continued to unfurl for me in my meditation sittings, as my body leaves a night’s slumber and greets the day, and in my day-to-day life.
The lesson first showed up very early on in my teaching practice, not long after I had moved to online classes.
I had arrived at the last class of my first month of running online classes and was enjoying the company of between eight and twelve others, who joined me each week for a practice meditation. This particular day I sat ready as I always did, with my list of class bookings open, to make sure I didn’t start the meditation practice before everybody had arrived. And only two people logged on. Two out of the expected twelve.
I was initially shocked, I had not experienced this before. And my mind, my ego, immediately started to wonder where everyone was, why they hadn’t turned up. And my doubting self, the self critical voice in my head immediately started making up all sorts of stories about me not being good enough to teach meditation. About people not enjoying my classes. The stories, coming from conditioned and collective doubt, were building in momentum. Becoming louder in my head. And in that moment I made a choice. I made a choice to ignore those stories and be there for those who had turned up. And not just be there. Be there fully. In totality. Give them my all. My undivided attention. For that is what they deserved. And what I deserved. It was a wonderful and beautiful class.
I promised myself, from that moment onwards, when teaching, I would always be there for those who showed up. I wouldn’t focus, during class, on those who hadn’t. And of course, the stories my self critical self told me were proven incorrect. There were a myriad of reasons why people could not turn up that day. It was such that a number of things happened to a number of people at the same time, which resulted in a small and intimate class. How lucky were we.
I decided this would be my mantra as a meditation teacher. Be there fully for whoever shows up. A simple reminder. A small ask before each class.
It didn’t take long for me to realise that being there for who shows up, includes me. And not just during class. Like most good mantras, this one filtered into the other parts of my life. At first my mantra arrived during my own meditation sittings. I realised how important it was to be there for me, and whoever it was who showed up, whoever I am in each and every meditation practice. To give myself my undivided attention. To be there. In full. For me, when I meditate. Regardless of how difficult it might be to face the part of me who reveals herself in the moment.
And then this mantra started waking up next to me each morning and walking beside me in life. So now, I try to always give my full attention to who shows up in my life throughout the day. Who is with me in the moment. And to be there, fully present, for them and for me. In that moment. This has made an incredible difference to my relationships in ways I never imagined. I don’t always succeed. And I really notice the impact, when I am not present, when I am not being there for whoever has shown up. And I try to always reflect on what I need to do and how I might be there, fully present, next time.
When I wake up, I take the time to notice who has shown up. How I am feeling. What I need. Do I need to write first? Meditate? Or stretch? Do I need to be gentle on myself today? Have I woken up full of an energy, which needs to be answered? Or, perhaps, tempered? Do I need to be careful or carefree today? I don’t need to look in the mirror to know who has shown up. And occasionally I will ask myself how I want to show up today. And then I make sure I am true to my answer.
‘When someone shows you who they are, believe them, the first time.’ Maya Angelou
Another great quote from another great podcast. And such wise words from an amazing woman. Maya Angelou is so right. People will always show you who they are. And each day all day, we also show ourselves and others, who we are. An important reminder to carry with us through our days.
Meditation is my little octopus. My teacher. Alongside showing me the power of the pause and the importance of being there for whoever shows up, meditation has taught me to be brave. To take a leap of faith. To trust. To listen to my calling. And this has led me, and those around me, into a beautiful underwater forest of possibilities. For that, I will be forever grateful.