My personal experience with mindfulness practices and meditation is one of deepening and strengthening, not only self-awareness, but also a strong sense of inner resilience that slowly chips away at the grip that fear has had on me. I truly mean “slowly”. At times it tightens up again, most recently at the onset of the pandemic when I experienced a sort of death gripping panic as the world was sent into a health crisis and then followed by a financial and social crisis. There are so many funny memes about 2020 that try to bring some humor to the madness, mostly geared at wanting it to end with the hope of being replaced with better times. I too look forward to better times, yet I am not willing to wait for the outward changes…I am starting within.
After getting COVID and being slowed down considerably by the virus and the need to rest, I was given so much extra time to simply rest, to be still, to reflect, and contemplate. There was nothing I could really “do” to feel better, other than to rest and allow my body to battle the virus. Fortunately my immune system won the battle and I am happy to report I have fully recovered. Challenges and hardships often have a silver lining, and this encounter with COVID had many for me, most significantly the time to rest, to strengthen my loving presence, and deepen awareness. The very thing that set off my recent death gripping panic in March of 2020 was what finally broke me free from its grip. Seems crazy, right? I don’t think so. I believe that all the inner resilience that was built up over time and the experiences of knowing some freedom from crippling fear was within me, yet I was jolted by the crisis and disconnected from it until I was still, quiet, and reflective. I found my way home. I am “less” afraid, more hopeful and no longer waiting for the outward world to change in order to feel peace, love, and compassion because I can I feel it again…it is right here, right now.
Often students will come to Sangha and report frustration when their practices are no longer “helping” them feel peace. After moving through another personal challenge in my life and my practice it occurred to me that this is quite naturally part of the journey. Even if one experiences a direct path to freedom or enlightenment, as long as we are living in the world, the forces of nature and civilization will toss us to the ground again and again. For most the path is as the Bhagavad Gita says, “for even those who tread the path, the stormy senses can sweep off the mind……..but when you move amidst the world of sense from both attachment and aversion freed, there comes a peace in which all sorrows end, and you live in the wisdom of the Self.”
The storms will come, you get swept off course, and then when you are still again the deeply planted practices will resurface and wake you up again. For me what arose were so many of the teachings from my first teacher, Eknath Easwaran, and his Timeless Wisdom. The Illumined Man and St. Francis de Sales, Do not Look with Fear on the changes and chances of this life, rather look to them with full faith……be at peace then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations. These passages, along with mindful awareness and self-compassion gave rise to feeling restored, awakened, and renewed and once again less fearful.
May all beings be safe, protected, and free!
With Love and gratitude,
Dr. Patty and The Sacred Treehouse Faculty
Patty Thomas Shutt, founder of Sacred Treehouse, is a licensed psychologist and co-owner of Therapeutic Oasis of the Palm Beaches. Dr. Shutt is passionate about helping others discover the benefits of mindfulness and meditation. She offers Beginner Meditation & Advanced Meditation classes at Sacred Treehouse, in addition to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Mindful Self-Compassion and various book studies throughout the year.