The Grand Opening
As I write to you, I am way up in the clouds, both literally and figuratively. I am only a few short hours away from landing at the Toronto airport after a long flight back from India.
I feel inspired to share insights as I reflect on the past few weeks spent holding space for others as they move through their own unique journeys -both inward and outward. I have been hosting this adventure retreat in the South of India consecutively for 5 years now, revisiting the same venues with a similar, if not exact, schedule and every time it is vastly different. It always baffles me that I can enter into a seemingly familiar and predictable experience and emerge from it as if it were entirely new and never explored before. We can never fully predict or control our lives due to the infinite amount of variables that lay outside of our control. But, what we can control is how we experience it.
In order to truly experience the ever changing nature of oneself (and the world), one must be willing to let go of control and rigidity.
I am aware that this is not always available, accessible, and or even possible at times. If this feels true, then we can start right there: check in on your level of openness to receive what life is presenting to you. In this way, we can use our very own resistance as the doorway towards having a new experience of ourselves and the world. For instance, your friend invites you to a dinner out. She chooses a place that you have never been before. You are willing to try it out, but a part of you feels skeptical: what if the vibe doesn’t resonate with you? What if the food isn’t up to your standards? What if it’s too expensive? These are common questions that can arise when we feel a lack of control over our environment and experience. We get rigid and tight, ready to defend ourselves from the unknown. These worries might even take over and lead us to decide that we are no longer willing to try out something new. The risk is just too much to handle. What if we could slow things down and lean into even just one of these deterring thoughts with curiosity. So what if the vibe doesn't resonate with you? What are the energies that do resonate with you? What is the felt sense that arises when you encounter energies different than the ones you prefer? Is that feeling familiar to you? If so, when was the last time you felt it and what happened? What are all of the possible outcomes available for this evening? This kind of questioning opens up our ability to view the scenario from many different angles, which takes us away from a closed state of being.
I named the first part of our trip ‘Attune’, after an inspiring acronym by John Gottman. I feel it really sets the foundation for self exploration and expansion, especially when we are in situations that take us away from our familiar ground. I believe this acronym outlines the skills that are necessary to cultivate if one is seeking an open attitude towards life, evolution, and learning. I have added my own insights and alternative words to unpack the process as it resonates with my experience and my offering out into the world.
It all starts with Awareness. The amount of attention we bring to any given scenario affects how it is experienced. If information or a stimulus is coming in from the internal or external world, we must be present enough to be aware of it. If we are under stress, closed, or battling with a busy mind, we can easily allow for life’s messages to pass us by. I add the words: Attention and Awake to this one.
Turning Toward which I call Tending To, is next. Once we become aware (and or awake) to what is, what do we do with it? Our usual tendency is to dismiss or to latch on, depending on our attraction or aversion to the input. If we are willing to turn toward whatever it is with curiosity, (after determining that we aren’t in danger, of course), we begin to invite in new possibilities and the opportunity to learn about ourselves.
We can stay with experiences for more sustained periods of time when we are able to broaden our ability to Tolerate newness. This can be quite uncomfortable at first, as new experiences are unknown and therefore challenge the ego. The ego's main purpose is survival and, is therefore, heavily reliant on past experiences to determine through predictions what our level of safety is. If we can grow our tolerance to wade into the uncomfortable, the unknown -we might just have a breakthrough.
Understanding ourselves leads to an ability to understand others and the world. To invite, contact, and stay with our shadow parts is to understand the whole self and leads us to a broader understanding of others and the world. Understanding that we are the world and the world is us -a saying by Krishnamurti, is to experience life without judgement.
Which leads us to the word for the “N” in Attune: Non-defensiveness. When we can truly understand and unpack our limiting belief systems, habitual patterning, and inhibiting mental programming, we can soften our body armour which can only bring more love into our lives.
The last tool is Empathy. I also add Expansion here. I believe that we are living our whole truth when we are extending our practice out toward others and into the world. Through empathy, we can relate in harmony with our surroundings and merge with the natural rhythms of life.