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Submitted by Meg Agnew on November 18, 2016 - 8:33pm
If you’ve had some experience with insights, you know they can’t be called up on command. The best we can do to encourage the arising of insight is to create hospitable conditions. Reflecting, meditating, journaling, attending a silent retreat and walking meditation are some activities that are frequently associated with the arising of insight. Our relationships, too, are rich sources of insight. Once an insight sprouts up, we do have a wonderful opportunity to nurture its potential to create positive change.
Insights come in many varieties. One insight might invite us to alter our behavior or adopt a more compassionate attitude, while another may encourage us to view our past from a fresh new perspective. More rare is the insight that shifts our entire take on reality, like when Krishna revealed his true identity to Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita. Whether heart opening or mind blowing, an insight is a precious gift that springs from our own deep wisdom. How can we honor this offering? How do we nurture this seed of wisdom into a full flowering so that it serves the highest good?
Sometimes an insight is such a strong experience of knowing in every cell of our body that it doesn’t require much cultivation. This happened to me once when I was practicing walking meditation on a silent retreat. The insight---about the negative way I was occasionally communicating with my partner---was such a complete body-mind experience that tears sprang to my eyes before my brain fully understood why. My knees felt like they might buckle under the intensity of this sudden revelation of the harm I could be causing. After I returned home, I completely abandoned that hurtful behavior and it was almost effortless to do so. I have heard Phillip compare this kind of dramatic insight to the experience of picking up a pot that is too hot. Our entire being knows that we need to set it down.
But how do we work with an insight that is not in the hot pot category? What would be a skillful way to cultivate an insight that doesn’t have that level of clarity but is calling us to further investigation or heart opening? One approach might be to consider which Brahma Vihara our insight is pointing us towards. The Brahma Viharas are qualities or heart-mind states that are revered in both the Buddhist and Yoga traditions. Sometimes referred to as the “heavenly abodes” or the “four immeasurables”, they are: loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. The Buddhist tradition teaches that these four are the only states that one experiences after becoming fully enlightened. If our insight is truly a wise realization, it will be pointing us toward one (or more) of the Brahma Viharas. When we recognize which one, we can set an intention to support the full unfolding of our insight by focusing our metta practice on that particular quality. For example, say we’ve had an insight that seems to be calling for greater acceptance around a difficult issue. In this case, we might deepen our metta practice around equanimity. We might say metta phrases that are more general, such as “May I have peace.” or “May I live my life with ease.” Or we could create our own phrases that speak directly to our difficult issue, like, “May I feel calm during this challenging time at work.” or “May I hold my illness with equanimity.” Whichever phrases we choose, the important piece is that we speak lovingly and intimately to our own heart.
Another approach to foster the full blossoming of our insight is to do our yoga practice with this intention. If our insight is calling us to deepen our heart’s natural capacity for kindness or sympathetic joy, we could choose to do postures such as backbends that physically open the heart center and have been shown to increase feelings of happiness. While practicing standing postures we might connect with our intention to increase our equanimity as we connect with the Earth’s unwavering support at our foundation. Compassion for self or others pairs readily with forward bends or restorative poses that quiet and renew. These are simply some suggestions. Stay open and notice what speaks to you. There may be a particular pose that suggests itself as the perfect symbol of your insight-in-progress. Practice it as a heart offering to your arising wisdom and growing capacity for love.