On Nourishing Connection

Feeling connected leads us to our best, most expansive self.

Last Friday, June 22, 2018, I was interviewed for an episode of the Casually Baked Potcast by my lovely colleague in cannabis, Johanna Nuding. She asked questions about my work in the cannabis industry and beyond with iRest® Yoga Nidra. That potcast — iRest and Chill — drops today.

We talked about how crucial it is that we all have tools to help us observe, to help us nourish non-reactiveness, and to de-stress. The themes that surfaced in this interview echoed those I’d been exploring in a blog post that has sat in my drafts folder for quite some time…

Many thanks to Jo for helping me elucidate what I was trying to get to in this post — and eventually (this morning), finishing it. 

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I am a meditation teacher. I teach something called iRest® – Integrative Restoration, a Yoga Nidra protocol. Nidra means “sleep.” iRest® is a body-sensing, guided meditation created by my teacher, Richard Miller, based on a lineage from as far back as 4,500 years ago. These teachings have survived because they resonate. Let me explain.

The concepts of iRest® Yoga Nidra are in the Non-Dual tradition. Here’s what wikipedia says about Nondualism. (Though I’ve been experiencing and teaching iRest® for nearly seven years, I’m not that so great yet at talking about it. I’m getting better, though, and hope to be great at it one day. Because it’s frickin’ cool A.F.)

“In spirituality, nondualism, also called non-duality, means “not two” or “one undivided without a second”. Nondualism primarily refers to a mature state of consciousness, in which the dichotomy of I-other is ‘transcended’, and awareness is described as ‘centerless’ and ‘without dichotomies’.”

By the way, I love that Wikipedia calls it a ‘mature’ state of mind. It makes me feel like I’m aspiring to something awesome. So the practice, in a nutshell, invites us to experience thoughts, emotions, beliefs, as sensations in the body. To peel off the labels of our story — the whys and hows of our past that caused us to come to feel the way we do — and keep feeling whatever it is in the body. It also invites us to feel into our edges andbeyond our edges. Then, to feel out into the reality that there are no edges to us. In our nature, we are expansive.

Okay, it may sound like a lot of hoohah, I’ll give you that. It’s a bit overwhelming to intellectualize it, because our ego/mind can only thrive from the perspective of separation. But I’m here to tell you that touching in on nonseparation or nonduality feels completely natural and yummy. And here’s the kicker: fear – you know, that place from which we are EXTREMELY reactive – only exists from the perspective of duality.

In duality, we perceive ourselves as separate, which creates the illusion of “otherness.” When we live in duality, we feel fear of the “other.” Our edges knock up against the edges of others – ouch! – and we feel threatened. We strive and scheme in oneupsmanship. We cultivate the feeling of scarcity and victim or victor mentality. We feel the need to minimize or tear down others to get ahead, or we feel inadequate in relation to others. We become a small shadow, forgetting our abundant selves and our infinite gifts. We forget that, as a child of the infinite universe, we’re here to aspire to greatness. We forget that there’s room for everyone. We forget compassion.

Like anything worth pursuing, touching in on this experience of nonduality is practice — a lifelong practice, I’m just starting to understand. Everything around me tries to convince me that I am separate from. Seriously. Even typing nonduality right now, my spellcheck keeps changing it to non duality. But I also am beginning to understand how worthy this practice is.

Even the tiniest bit of this experience during iRest® meditation practice is the most expansive feeling I’ve ever had — and I’ve had some very expansive feelings prior to studying and practicing iRest®.

The first time I smoked THC-rich cannabis, I felt a sense of connection to all things, almost immediately. It kind of blew everything apart. I was twelve. Of course, I immediately went back to listening to Andy Gibb and roller skating and kind of forgot about it until I smoked cannabis the next time. And there it was again — this sense of connectedness. Don’t ask me what the strain was. I grew up in the midwest and the strain was whatever-you-could-get, or what I now like to refer to as “St. Louis Schwaggy Diesel.”

Since first experiencing that feeling getting high with my friend off her dad’s weed in the vacant field near her house, I have continued to use cannabis and also have sought out other ways to feel connected in that similar way — in my training as an actor, in writing plays, and performing in solo pieces.

I’ve also found that being surrounded by trees gives me that experience. And looking at the stars and the moon. I get the feeling listening to a choir of voices. I get the feeling practicing yoga, looking into the wise eyes of a baby, tasting a good, dark chocolate, smelling fresh ground coffee, and holding a puppy or kitten. It’s difficult to describe the feeling. But if I had to, I’d describe it as a resounding Yes.

Again, I realize, this could seem like hoohah, perhaps unattainable (separation likes us to feel like we’ll never get ‘there’). The good news is, your brain is ready to get you there — or, rather, here. All you have to do is show up.

The brain has several networks that oversee all of the body’s — and mind’s — functions. We tend to operate in the Default Mode Network, (DMN). This is the network we are in when we are daydreaming — the network that carries our autobiographical info, as a separate entity from all the other entities. When the DMN is online, we are replaying events over and over with better (or worse) outcomes. We are constantly creating and recreating the story of who we are, and how we were shaped by these events and circumstances. Operating from the DMN, we are the hero, or victim, of life. A tape is constantly replaying how we’ve told people off — or should have — how we’ve helped people, accomplished things, been cheated out of things, been victorious, missed out, regretted, etc.

Functioning from the DMN also puts us in worry mode about the future, and about others. It causes us to be suspicious of others’ motives and how they threaten our livelihood. The mind kicks in, doing everything it can to figure out what will happen, when, and how. The fact that we can’t see the future can cause anxiety and make the mind crazy fearful — or can cause us to be constantly plotting our master plans for dominance over others.

The Task-Positive (TPN) or Present-Centered Network (PCN) comes online when we are in our bodies. When we are involved in a task, exercising, or when we are purely in sensory experience. Try smelling a lemon and thinking about the future simultaneously. It’s really difficult to do. The PCN is what comes online when we do iRest® Yoga Nidra (or any body-sensing) meditation. When you’re feeling into the body, the thinking mind/DMN starts to quiet, and the PCN comes online. We drop out of time and space. We drop out of our biographical sense of self and the story we carry around about who we are and why. We drop out of any conditioning we carry in that autobiographic self — including trauma. In as few as about ten minutes of body sensing, the DMN switches off and the PCN switches on. We drop out of a sense  of separation. We are present. We are connected. And we are expanded. 

When things took an emotional turn for me at my last job as a budtender, I redoubled my focus toward the patients who came to my window, and in finding that which connected us. This was a magnificent experience. My engagement with patients deepened. I felt less and less a sense of separation in all my interactions. And I began to literally see myself in everyone who came in. Or see everyone in me. More and more understanding and acceptance flowed, and I came to comprehend that someone else’s suffering is my suffering. An understanding developed in me that we can hold the space for healing for others while we pursue our own bliss. Conversations were easier and more rewarding. I began to feel thrilled about others’ accomplishments and rejoice in their successes.

This feeling of expansiveness — even in the smallest doses — is a tremendous gift. And did I mention this feeling lasts beyond the practice? My esteemed teacher, Richard Miller, likens it to a perfume on the wind, an essence of the feeling that remains and keeps calling us back to who we truly are — children of an infinite, ever-expanding universe.

Now.

Microdose and read this again. 

Author: Jaene Leonard

Cannabis educator/Current Offerings: Cannabis 101 and Microdosing & Mindfulness. Patient consultant and advocate. Practitioner & Teacher of Yoga & iRest® Yoga Nidra Meditation/Current Offerings: Guided iRest Meditation and ongoing iRest workshops. Writer of plays and screenplays. Actor. Solo performer: "Call It Cannabis," performed in NYC at Peoples' Improv Theatre, Solocom '16.

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