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Binary: Fragmented Self

April 7, 2016

Being present, some meditating yoginis would have you believe, is equivalent to being positive. Let go of the past, only carry positive feelings towards the future and all will be well in-the-moment.


Admittedly, I’m someone most comfortable sitting in zones of grey, rather than at any one end of an extremity. This includes binary divisions of positive/ negative, good/ bad, happy/ sad etc. If I heard someone express hope towards, let’s say, a better future, then I automatically hear undertones of someone who may have tasted a lesser past, or at least would like to avoid reliving something. This isn’t good or bad, it just is what it is.

To reject a feeling I deem negative, say hurt or concern, is to narrow my self-awareness, to confine myself to an imagined way of being rather than embrace whatever the present actually has to offer. If not, I risk dividing myself into fragments, some of which I keep and others I creatively reject, ignore or numb through whatever means. Reality will come back to bite in the backside. Mark my words.

It just is what it is, amounts to: I am what I am, and all that I am, right here, right now. 

And it’s not all about me/  you, because this rejection extends to others.

Typically, perhaps predictably, if I reject something in myself then I am very likely to reject it in others. This narrows my ability to really be with someone, to listen to them on a deeper level and to accept them just as they are. Particularly applicable to accepting those we perceive as different to us, or rather, who and what we think we are.
If I cannot experience my pain of loneliness, believing myself to be too popular and keeping myself busy, how can I listen to my friend expressing her loneliness? Or if I refuse to accept my vulnerability when ill, how am I to sit with my partner when he’s ill? I may be able to do practical things for him, like make soup or help him wash, but to really be present with him, I’d need to be present with my own sense of vulnerability, and mortality. I know I limit myself when present with those who only present a positive picture of themselves, even people I care deeply for and have (unwillingly) accepted that our relationship is petrified in niceties.
Zen Buddhism and Tao philosophy embrace polarities within an individual, accepting these as equal, as part of the ‘perfection of a nondiscriminatory wisdom’, to ultimately integrate and rise above all through enlightenment. Sufism uses chants from God’s 99 Names, which often embrace polarities of the Hidden الباطن/ the Apparent الظاهر, the First الاول/ the Last الاخر, the Avenger المتقم/ the Forgiver العفو, the Harmful الضار/ the Preventer of Harm المانع. God is all of these, and everything in-between. To be present with Him, I need to embrace these aspects within myself. Not to superficially judge any one dimension as positive or negative, and willingly disown them from my self-awareness.
I’ve no intention of becoming a Sufi or Zen master- am far from it!- I meditate because being in-the-moment can offer a feeling of bliss, as there’s a deep knowing that all my concerns in life are tied to the past and the future (expectations, concerns, hopes and fears etc). In actual fact, surrendering to any given moment, after a meditative exercise, all seems well. As the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says: “The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.”
Now, how to transfer or re-integrate this joyous state into real life is another issue. Is there a value in leaving a meditation workshop blissful yet too fragile to experience real life?
Outside a mediation retreat, being present, for me, whether centring before a performance, or grounding before meeting with a client, is listening to my heartbeat, noticing my breathing pattern, and accepting whatever I’m aware of in that moment. Even if that’s shallow breathing, for example, rather willingly enforcing change, I try to accept all and trust change will come (see Paradoxical Theory of Change). If I cannot make rational sense of what I’m experiencing, I still trust its value, as all is part and parcel of what this unique moment has to offer in the here-and-now. Fear or anger can become gifts of insight, no more/ no less a projection onto an imagined future than hope or excitement.
I breath all in, breath out, and see what’s left. I may choose to sit with and contemplate whatever is most present with me, and (quite likely on a functional level) acknowledge and set aside for later, to get on with my day/ performance/ workshop etc. My intention is to accept, not reject, nor indulge to the point of excess. I don’t want to wallow in self-loathing for having missed a tax deadline, for example, nor refuse to accept that fact and risk penalties. As my Sufi teacher says, in his usual cheeky way: ‘Always moderation. Even moderation in moderation!’
Whether in a meditative space or a stolen moment on the tube, this tuning into the moment invites the possibility to feel whole and at at peace- I am everything that I am- Rather than fragment into bits we choose to present (to ourselves and others) and bits we try to chew off and hide. We accept our present reality. It’s a messy, more complex and potentially painful truth, and as various battles ease, a blissfully vibrant present awaits. And if you are fortunate (and courageous enough) to share a present with someone else, then you have the unknown of pain and bliss to experience together.

From → Therapeutic

  1. zuzaya permalink

    you need courage to face oneself, to accept all that makes us who we are; YOU are one of the few that have that courage.

    • many have the courage, not just me, and i also think there’s value in avoidance. it’s a self-protection mechanism that shouldn’t be undervalued either- as a temporary measure at least 🙂

  2. Ayesha permalink

    Lovely article. Similarly in the ashram where I trained in yoga philosophy considered what it is to let go of all expectations, including that of positivity. In allowing the moment to be and accepting what comes we can then experience true Bliss. But if we hold onto ‘Bliss’ as a concept at the expense of what is happening in the moment, we fall into the trap that many yogis fall into- making aspects of their spiritual practice an ego led journey. It is rooted in good intentions and it comes from the desire for the union of a healthy mind and body (as that what yoga is; union). But holding on to a false sense of Bliss or ‘positivity’ can obscure your path to truly understanding yourself- warts and all, which can only be achieved through acceptance of yourself (including all your feelings) and others (including feelings they may have that may make you feel uncomfortable).

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