|What is it about photographs of women standing together in unity that always draws my attention?
Perhaps it's because they are doing something seldom seen in any culture - taking a strong yet peaceful stand together. When women speak wordlessly through their stance of strength and courage, they speak volumes that strike right at my heart.
Yet having a physical voice is also important. In different cultures, many have been conditioned to believe women should not have a voice. As a result many women today limit themselves when it comes to vocal self-expression. We don't feel worthy or smart enough to have an intelligent opinion. Shame and fear are in rampant in our American culture. How do we learn that we are enough in ourselves, that our opinions are worth sharing?
The first step is to recognize the habitual thought that we have about ourselves. If we don't see what we're thinking, we can't ever change the pattern. Changing deep-seated thought patterns may be difficult but not impossible. We can replace it with new, wholesome thoughts about ourselves. It will take patience and gentle perseverance to change.
My practice of meditation and mindfulness gives me a little space to notice what I'm feeling when I have to speak up in a group. Sometimes I feel great anxiety or even real fear of speaking up. I can notice my heart speeding up and my mouth getting dry. Then I pay attention to the story I'm telling myself that causes these emotions. The thought is that I'm not smart enough to speak up in a group.
Once I get worked up, it usually takes me about 15 - 20 minutes to calm down. That's how long the brain stays flooded with neurotransmitters after an intense emotional experience. And according to neuroscientific research, as much as we try to think our way through difficulties when we're upset - thinking never helps but only extends the flooding of the brain. So being in your body is a good thing and helps cut the story line that feeds the feelings.
Meditation is a process of being embodied. We notice the mind and we keep coming back to the breath and body which brings us into the present. That is the practice. It is also a practice that builds courage and helps us to see that we are enough, that we are each unique and beautiful as we are.
Hula dancers know the wisdom of our bodies. It's such a wonderful thing to experience our bodies dancing! When we are really dancing, we are "in the moment," rather than evaluating or comparing or planning. We're just dancing. What a relief!
We can use a lot of energy playing mind games about shame and personal unworthiness or even blaming others. These are dead-ends and lead to suffering. We can use that same energy to dig deeper and begin the process of changing our thoughts. This is a very brave and compassionate thing we can do for ourselves. And when we can truly be compassionate with ourselves, then we can naturally be compassionate with others.
Malama pono (take care of body, mind and heart),
June Ryushin Tanoue Sensei