Obviously there are more than three qualities that make up being a human, but in the world of mindfulness practices (like meditation) there are three very important qualities that we can get to know better and even employ when we most need them. But first we must practice getting to know them better.
These three qualities are Natural Intelligence, Natural Warmth and Natural Openness. According to Pema Chodron in her book Taking The Leap, “The potential for goodness exists in all beings, that is acknowledging that everyone, everywhere, all over the globe has these qualities and can call on them to help themselves and others.”
Well it isn’t that difficult to acknowledge these qualities exist in ourselves but when it comes to other people, that’s where we begin to get stuck. Especially in the face of so much political opposition and global strife!
Like all good acts though, working with these human qualities begins with us, with the individual. Generally speaking when something triggers us, some experience that generates our anger or fear, it is very difficult to tap into these so called “good” qualities. In fact the sheer force of energy associated with anger or fear can sweep us into a raging river of thoughts, words and actions that might in the moment feel like a relief but ALWAYS leave us feeling the aftershocks. Then we are stuck carrying the memories and deep emotional feelings of the upset, and we can disappear into an endless train of thoughts, replaying the situation over and over and even strategize how we might have done things differently, all the while getting swallowed up by the stress of a past experience.
When we use Mindfulness to access these basic human qualities it is like pressing a PAUSE button, to take a moment, a breath, and notice how we are feeling, only then can we begin free ourselves from the habitual chain reaction.
The first quality is called Natural Intelligence. When we learn to meditate we are using our natural intelligence to make choices, to decide to sit, focus on our breathing and learn to pause and even let go of the stream of thoughts constantly playing in the back of our minds. We also use our basic intelligence when we are caught up in a big reaction to something, if we are able to take that PAUSE, our intelligent mind can say, Whoa, wait, you’re going down a road you’re going to regret, STOP > LISTEN > BREATHE.
The second is Natural Warmth, this is the moment where we use the quality of our hearts to embrace the moment we fall into reaction, the part of us that is starting to feel really lousy that we are getting swept away by anger or fear or any of its tributaries. To pause and be kind to ourselves, gentle, compassionate and even forgiving takes a lot of heart. We do this by first pausing, take in a big Breath, and apply the warmth and willingness of the heart.
The third quality of being human is called Natural Openness. This might be the hardest one, because it is about extending all of the intelligence and warm-heartedness out, toward the person or situation that is setting you off in the first place. That openness is a PAUSE that says, hmm, perhaps that person or situation has these same qualities as I do, that same ability to fly off the handle and judge and fight, but also the same ability to use intelligence to pause, warmth to understand, and as we do that we open to the potential for change and growth in every situation. Giving others and ourselves the Benefit of the Doubt.
So mindfulness meditation is a practice in relating to these basic human qualities first in ourselves through our relationship to our thoughts while we are just simply sitting here. Noticing how many things trigger us, even if it is a fly that keeps buzzing by our nose! As we cultivate the intelligence to see how our thoughts run away and use the warmth of the heart to gently bring ourselves back to the present moment where we can pause and rest in the breathing, a natural part of us opens to our experience and notices that each moment changes. Each moment contains the potential for change.
This is a great practice if you are in a conflict yourself, you can even try it in this practice today, simply think of a person or situation you are in conflict with and notice immediately the thoughts and feelings that start to arise in you. Then use your natural intelligence to say, “hey that’s just thinking” and PAUSE, BREATHE, feel the warmth of your own heart while you’re sitting there and open up a little, imagine that each inhale is an embrace and each exhale is a widening of the space for you to let go, change and grow!
Find a comfortable sitting position, a chair or couch is fine, it’s nice to have your back supported and not be straining in anyway. Let your hands rest in your lap and close your eyes. Start with 3 deep breaths, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth very slowly. This allows the nervous system to slow down and tells the brain you are “going in” for a little while! Then allow the breath to flow naturally in and out of the nose and notice the quality of the breath, is it fast or slow, deep or shallow? Notice the temperature of the air and give yourself permission to let go of control and just become the observer or witness of the breath, like you are watching it from a close distance. You can take a few breaths and label them “inhale and exhale” silently to help refocus your mind anytime during the meditation.
Once you have settled down a bit more, let yourself just sit and feel your experience. Your mind or your body or both will start to get distracted or agitated and this is your big opportunity to use your natural intelligence, warmth and openness! Inhale deeply as if you are embracing the feeling of being distracted or irritated and as you exhale imagine you are giving it space, more room for those feelings to be, just as they are without judging them or trying to make sense of them through your mind. After a few breaths like this, an embrace and making space, that feeling will dissipate and something else will take its place. You will see how transient everything is and that you only feel stuck when you are holding onto it. Allow yourself a little time each day to sit and to learn to just let things “BE” with some acceptance and openness. You will find that your ability to be with even the most irritating situations will get easier, your patience will grown and your willingness to let go will feel as if you have set yourself free!
Wishing you peace along your way. ~ Lori at OM Laguna
Lori Ann Kahn has been teaching self-awareness practices through yoga, meditation and integrative coaching for a total of 16 years in Southern California. Visit her at OM Laguna Beach, 332 Forest Avenue, in downtown Laguna It is a warm cozy studio for meditation classes, private groups, private and semi-private instruction as well as Integrative Coaching (life coaching with a meditation component). Discover more about OM Laguna Beach on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/OmLagunaBeach or visit the website at http://www.omlagunabeach.com.