This is the first piece in a small series that will explore how mindfulness practices can support greater presence and peace on the morning of your wedding day. While these practices are certainly useful for weddings, many are easily applied every day of our lives. These practices enable us to bring all of ourselves with us wherever we go, ultimately empowering us to have a better time when we arrive.
The practice of accepting ourselves exactly where we are creates a more grounded and joyful wedding day, but it is also a foundational principle of mindfulness. (Or, if it jives better with you: it’s my party and I’ll feel weird if I want to). Sounds nice, right? But why can it be so hard to be exactly where we are, especially in extraordinary circumstances and on special days?
“Interior to Vulnerability is Love Itself”
As a student and teacher of yoga, and a reliably nervous person on big occasions and at special events, I have come to appreciate that on the other side of my discomfort is often a tender and true desire for something real. For example, I have a desire to show up and connect with others, a basic need that is often accompanied by fear, precisely because having a place in community is so integral to my well-being. In contexts big and small, the fear that I will not connect with others — or have a place at the table so to speak — can result in over-planning, fretting, and leaving my body and the moment in a myriad of ways. This fear is often amplified during special events.
In yogic and Buddhist thought, a natural human conundrum that we all face is the impulse to over-protect ourselves often blocks us from the deep, nourishing connections that we most crave. In mindfulness, in so many of its forms, there is a core practice of softening these self-defeating tendencies, our fixation on outcomes, our desire to be perfect, and our fight to never be caught off guard. The Buddhist psychologist, author, and teacher Tara Brach often says, “interior to vulnerability is love itself.” It is a brave practice to return again and again to a true presence of mind and heart and to be fully in our bodies in the moment. This authentic presence can be nerve-wracking, but it can also be exhilarating, life-giving, and a great source of joy.
Making Friends With What We Reject
In her beautiful book Start Where You are, Pema Chodron, the Buddhist author and teacher, offers a mindfulness technique called “Tonglen,” in which we reverse “the logic of ego” through the practice of breathing in what we don’t want to experience and breathing out and letting go of what we do. Chodron writes, “The basic notion of this practice is that we can make friends with what we reject. At the same time, we can learn to be generous with what we cherish, what we see as ‘good.’ If we begin to live in this way, something in us that may have been buried for a long time begins to ripen. Traditionally, this ‘something’ is called bochichitta, or awakened heart.’”
Practice: Tonglen Breath
Before you begin, it will be helpful to set a timer for at least 10 minutes. Once a timer is set, silence your phone or put it on airplane mode.
Either seated on a cushion with the hips above the knees, laying on your back with legs extended or knees bent, or laying on the floor with the legs up the wall, find a place where you feel most at ease. This may change during the practice.
Allow your body to receive the support of the floor. Soften your eyes. Soften your jaw. Release any tension in the space between the eyebrows. Let the back of the neck and the full weight of the head release.
Begin to gently turn your attention to the ebb and flow of your breath in your physical body, just as it is. Simply notice the rise and fall of your inhale and exhale for a few rounds of breath, without making any changes.
Next, on the inhale, bring to mind something you prefer did not exist in your current experience. Welcome that unwelcome thought or feeling in on the in-breath, perhaps distilling it down to one word and saying that word silently to yourself as you imagine breathing it into every cell.
On the exhale, bring to mind what is ideal, what you would most like to see, to cultivate, or to feel. As you exhale, release that desire out into the space around you on the out-breath. Breathing in: what you resist, breathing out: what you cherish.
Continue for 10 rounds of full, deep breathing, or for as long as it feels fruitful.
In closing, bring the right hand to your heart and your left hand to your belly. Let your breathing relax. Notice how you feel. Perhaps you find a greater sense of spaciousness in your own physical frame or a bit more breathing room around your heart.
May you move into your day with a gentle acceptance of your own experience. May you remember this truthful tenderness is what you are seeking for yourself and others. May you carry this powerful, courageous presence with you into your day as a way of celebrating love, connection and life.
Lilly Bechtel is a writer, musician, certified Kripalu and Trauma-Sensitive Yoga instructor, and Co-founder of Union Yoga, offering private retreats for weddings and special events.