Tara Brach taught a marvelous workshop at Omega Institute that I had the great pleasure of attending this summer. The weekend was full of

meditations, stories, and concepts to reflect upon.

One of the questions she posed to the class in regards to mindful presence was “What am I unwilling to feel?”

Two wings of presence

Each moment of our day, we have the opportunity to live our lives from a more present place. One concept Tara discussed was dropping into the present moment like a bird with two wings, where instead of feathers, these wings consist of awareness and allowing.

The wing of awareness

The first wing is awareness. When we take our attention inward, what are the feelings that come up? We can ask ourselves these questions:

  • Am I aware of the emotions I’m feeling?
  • Where in my body am I feeling these emotions?
  • Is my throat constricted? Is my jaw tight?
  • Are my pelvic floor muscles gripping?
  • How does my belly feel? Tight? Nauseous?

The second wing: allow

The second wing is to allow.

  • Can I be with this?
  • Can I allow myself to name and witness my experience?

I’ll offer a simple, real-life example of how to apply these concepts into daily life. (Note: do not try these exercises with trauma or emotional pain that is too intense.)

Applying the two wings of presence

After the Friday night teachings, we left the hall in the cold rain. Having enjoyed a few weeks of appropriate early summer heat, I was underdressed. My teeth were chattering as I walked down the gravel, now mud, path in my flip flops. I found myself constricting and being irritated that my two-hour class, having ended in a blissful meditation, was given a chilly grand finale.

It was a perfect opportunity to take a moment without emotional weight and practice the concepts of the two wings of presence.

Applying awareness

I made the following observations:

  • My feet were cold, wet, and getting dirty.
  • My flip flops were making suction noises in the mud.
  • My shoulders were up around my ears.
  • I was mad at myself for screwing up my reservation, having to stay off campus, and dealing with this chilly downpour.
  • I was irritated that the three hours I spent “undoing” the stress of the week all returned with lightening speed.

Can I allow?

I recognized the thoughts in my head and sensation in my body. I then asked myself (and yes, I was talking to myself in the cold, dark parking lot)

  • Could I be with this?
  • Could I allow myself to be cranky?
  • Could I allow that the weather wasn’t exactly the way I wanted it to be?

I could. I did. My crankiness passed and was rewarded with the knowledge that I was able to put the teachings into practice immediately.

What if I’m in pain?

If you are having pain, recognizing it and allowing it to be there does not mean you are saying yes to being in pain.

By applying mindfulness in painful moments, you are noticing sensations and have the opportunity to deepen your breath or soften your body in non-painful areas.

For example, if you are experiencing pain at the tailbone while sitting, you can notice it and allow yourself to be in the moment with it. After recognizing, you might find that you can soften your jaw and tongue. You might find that you can relax your shoulders and soften the belly.

This might result in your pelvic floor muscles softening. But they may not, and that’s OK too. The point is that you are not pushing against what is, and turning pain into suffering.

I hope this simple example of how to apply the concepts of mindfulness off the mat inspires a renewed enthusiasm in your meditation practice!