To continue this exploration into things in common between ISD and Buddhism, today I have picked the concept of “softening.” Many spiritual disciplines, perhaps all, encourage the practice of spiritual principles. Beyond that, you can exercise practices that are tools to access your sense of higher spirit or your spirituality. At ISD, practices might be working with healing modalities, developing your intuitive sense through doing exercises, taking metaphysical classes, meditation, affirmation, etc. There are many tools for spiritual awareness. In Buddhism, there are some central practices. The purposes and approach to spiritual practice in Buddhism can be applied to any serious endeavor. They are directly relevant to spiritual practice at ISD also.
Meditation is one of the central practices in Buddhism. I explored the nature of some of the principles of practice in yoga at the same time as practicing Buddhist meditation, so I correlate the two and have a hard time separating them. So I will be treating yoga as if it were also a Buddhist practice in this writing, but yoga is not considered a Buddhist practice by everyone.
One of the first most useful aspects of meditation I discovered was the idea of “softening.” In yoga, this has to do with stretching. When you stretch forward into poses, you reach a point where the muscles tighten. You simply hold there, and in 30 seconds, the muscles will relax and release and sometimes you can stretch further. The hold is just a “being with” the tightness, holding it, paying attention to your body, and breathing into it, letting it soften and let go. The release that happens is relaxing. You let go of tightness that constrains you in favor of a flexibility that lets you flow, glow, grow and stretch into something bigger.
This softening can happen on a physical level, but also on an emotional or spiritual level, which also increases flexibility and expansion into a larger self. I’ve found meditation to be a helpful practice in softening emotionally. And eventually, the practice leads to an expansion of a universal sense of “loving kindness,” which is the soft spot on a spiritual level. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
Many aspects of life are invitations for spiritual practice. I have found my teenage daughter provides lots of immediate motivation for spiritual practice. There have been plenty of tense emotional moments where I have found the practice of “softening” immensely helpful. When some issue comes up that brings up anger or annoyance or frustration, I can just hold the tension. I can just be with it, breathe deeply, and let it relax and release. Then it makes it much easier to be present and get down to a solution to whatever the problem is. It avoids a lot of yelling, which generally is not helpful to moving things forward.
This emotional “softening” is a great way to expand a sense of compassion. When someone does something that is “hurtful,” holding the hurt and breathing into it, rather than reacting (either by attacking back or withdrawing) gives you more space to be who you want to be in the situation. You can next choose forgiveness, which is another way to release the hurt and allow you to be present. The most powerful example of this is the prayer of Jesus on the cross to the Lord to “forgive them: they know not what they do.” Forgiveness is a powerful tool for softening, release, and accessing higher spirit. In our more mundane lives, this softening gives you the opportunity to choose your action, rather than acting out of reaction.
In meditation, you hold stillness like you might hold a yoga stretch. Meditation is the practice of getting quiet, calming and stilling the mind and all the thoughts whirling through it. (I read somewhere that we have 1,000 thoughts a second. That sounds about right to me.) When you sit in quiet meditation, you “anchor” in your body, often by focusing on your breathing. You explore your sense of yourself, moving through your body and sensing any places of tension and “softening” them by holding the tension, focusing on relaxing it and letting it go. So you can relax physical tension.
You can also relax your mind and emotions. As you sit quietly, you can let the thoughts go through and just watch them, observe what happens, let them go, and return to stillness. It is pretty interesting to watch your body react to thoughts, notice it, and then let it go. This practice, also, can be deeply relaxing, give you a greater ability to be present in any given moment, and give you some freedom from the play of emotions that allows you more choice. You can choose instead to connect with a sense of the divine, that universal consciousness, or feeling of loving kindness. At ISD you will often hear the mantra, “Let go and let God,” which comes down to the same thing. You let go of whatever drama is tangling you up, relax, release, and let in your higher nature, expand into your sense of larger spirituality.
All these practices are completely compatible with what we practice at ISD. Buddhism just provides another perspective and additional tools to achieve the same goals: freedom to choose how you want to be, greater access to and sense of higher spirit, expanding sense of loving kindness, and larger compassion for the self and others. After exercising spiritual discipline, it is much easier to practice what we preach at ISD, “Let only words of love be spoken here.”