Broken Open: Engaging the Winter of our Discontent

This year as we approach winter in the Northern Hemisphere we are coming in from the cold of a broken planet and systems burst open. We’re trapped in our homes taking safety precautions and worried about COVID-19, our livelihoods and our future. We’re weary from discontent and emotional turmoil, regardless of where we are on the political spectrum. In the US, as the world is watching, we enter an uncertain transition from November to January with a change of presidents and the potential for violence and unrest. The seasonal holiday rituals and gatherings that for some of us bind and warm us hold less promise for comfort as activities will be restricted and family conversations are hard with so much polarization.

Now that I’ve completely depressed you, Shakespeare’s opening lines from Richard III written in 1594 that begin “Now is the winter of our discontent …” express the sentiment that we have reached the depth of our unhappiness and that better times are ahead. Are they? I too feel some hopefulness with continuing the work that has broken through into broader awareness this year especially around systemic racism and climate change, and possible changes in the US. Even so, with the cumulative effect of 2020, I find myself longing to hibernate in a long winter’s nap, a mashed couch potato stupor where I know precious time could be lost. 

Can’t I just go to sleep and wake up in the spring like a bear? Can’t it all be over? Hmm too bad the world has changed and there is no going back. 

So, what helps me find energy and inspiration when it’s dark inside me and all around? How can we all stay with and find strength and ways to hang in there with fear, uncertainty and fatigue? How can we transform Broken + Discontent + Winter into Open + Engaged + Content?   

What helps me is remembering the resources I forget I have, and where I may need support. 

Body Speech Mind Practices For Gentle Support

Something that helps me take stock is the Body Speech and Mind framework. In Karuna Training we train in using this framework in many and varied applications. This methodology was pioneered at Naropa University and is drawn from the Sattipatthana Sutta, the Buddha’s first wheel of teaching, like the four foundations of mindfulness. It is rooted in the practice of mindfulness awareness meditation where we notice and touch our current experience with an unbiased, inquisitive and gentle attitude, and become familiar with the ups and downs of our own minds, and the open space of possibilities. 

The Body Speech and Mind method is a practice of direct observational perception and noticing, without judgement or interpretation, what’s really happening in our bodies and our environment, in our heart and relationships, and in our outlook and mental preoccupations. 

It’s rooted in the view that intrinsic health and resiliency is always at work in situations, even in the darkest and most desperate times. 

In contrast, research shows that we tend to fixate and give energy to what’s wrong about ourselves and situations, and when this happens it is harder for us to notice and align with the wisdom and dynamism that is available to us. 

Body Speech and Mind is a way of reclaiming and reorienting toward the full range of our experience. In Karuna we often use this method in groups but it’s also something you could do in a journal or with a friend right now. Can you keep an open mind and heart and take a look?

A Body Speech Mind Practice To Try

Here is an adapted and shortened version of a Body Speech and Mind inventory for right now. See if you can respond to these questions with an unbiased attitude, without interpretation or judgement, like you were listening to a friend. It’s all in the details. You could do this as a contemplation and jot a few things down, or talk it through with a friend: 

Body – How would you describe yourself to someone else right now, without judgement?  How would you describe your home environment and surroundings?   What is your schedule? What rituals and routines are you using? What is helping you care for yourself during this time? 

Speech – What are you feeling now? What relationships are occurring in your life? What have you been talking about? What/who are you listening to?  What is your heart’s desire? What is your heartbreak? Where are you finding emotional support during this time?    

Mind – What’s on your mind? What are your preoccupations right now? How are you entertaining yourself?  What is dragging you down?  What/who is inspiring you?    

And now, having gone through this:  

How are you feeling?  What reflections are coming to you? Are there any little shifts you want to make? Anyone you want to reach out to?  

As I go through this inventory, I sense my self-imposed amnesia of forgetting the riches of my life - nature, friendships, inspirations, engagement. I see the numbing I’ve been doing from the weariness of constant emotional hijacks. I could scream and cry a lot. I see my need for naps and personal ‘rest for the weary’ and to keep laughing and crying with friends. I see that meditation, dance, movement, creative work and cooking really help me. I am grateful for the training I am doing now around polarization with Braver Angels. I remember and call in the wisdom I’ve received from many teachers I’ve had including the recently departed poet Diane di Prima who was an example and really encouraged me as an artist activist. 

What is helping you to take care of yourself, and to engage?  What teachers continue to inspire you?   

In this winter of discontent, I encourage you to remember to stop and take a few breaths, take stock of where and how you are, and have a fresh perspective on what will really help you through this time. If you are like me, you might be surprised again and again at the resources and possibilities that are available in your life.

Article written by Melissa Moore

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