Posted by Margaret.
This is not an easy topic for me to write about. I've already vacuumed the living room and hallway, cleaned the breakfast dishes, answered my emails, and eaten some food. I have no doubt I could find even more "worthy" forms of procrastination, but then I would be staying safe and that is what I'm trying to change….. Plus, the whole point of this blog, as Diane so lovingly reminded me, is to share honestly how we're feeling and what we're doing, in the hopes that it can be helpful to others--something that she has already done courageously and beautifully. So in the spirit of that hope and dream, here is a bit of my story.
We all have a "story", or an "imprint", as Michael Singer calls it in The Untethered Soul, something that we learned during our childhood that we have to unlearn as adults--a coping mechanism that kept us safe then, but that works against us now. I love how Michael Singer talks about it because he says it's not really even important what the story is or how it got there, but how we learn to release it as adults. It's this imprint that keeps our hearts closed and keeps us living in a reactionary kind of mode--reacting from this "imprint", rather than from our true nature. For example, one thing that I learned from being the oldest child of an alcoholic (and then sober and raging) mother, was to stay small and "good" so as to not upset her, so as to avoid her rage. For me that meant learning how to put others' needs first--to figure out what those needs were and meet them. I became quite proficient at it. As for my needs….. well for years I prided myself at not having any. So, earlier this week when I drove three hours up to northern Vermont to take my friend, Amy, up on her offer to show some work in a little gallery she started up there, I had some needs of my own that I was meeting. I have done a lot of work around this issue, so it wasn't terribly torturous to ask my husband to be a single parent for two days or to tell my former boss that I couldn't help with the fundraiser that I generally help with each month (okay, so the latter was a little torturous). But when Amy and I were hanging the work, something got set off in me that felt overwhelming and paralyzing. The minute we started unwrapping the work to decide how to arrange it, I was filled with self-loathing and dread. Essentially I just wanted to leave the room--which is one of my old, well-used coping mechanisms--and thought about asking Amy if I could just take a walk. Later she reminded me that the last time I showed work up there, I did actually leave and had to let her finish hanging it, so I guess the fact that I stayed shows some progress? It didn't feel like it at the time, in fact, it felt like I had not made any progress, and I was right back to being that scared adult/child who is not allowed to take up any space or feel good about anything I do. The work that I had been excited about while alone in my studio, suddenly felt all wrong, hideous even.
We did hang the work--well, Amy hung it while I watched in a state of angst--and I headed home the next day. I picked up my son from school, made dinner for my family, read for awhile and went to bed. The next day I was "in the hole". This is an expression my sisters and I have used to describe what we experience, in terms of depression and self-hatred, where everything literally feels dark and no light can get in. I felt full of despair about everything--my art, my health, my relationship. Nothing was safe.
Fortunately it was Wednesday, the day that I see Kathleen Kelleher for reiki. Kathleen did for me what we hope this blog can do for others. She reminded me about the importance of compassion for ourselves and acceptance of all our feelings; she shared some of her own ongoing work around self-love and acceptance--how sometimes she falls down in that area and needs help of her own; she reminded me of all the work I have done, and how that has not gone away. She was a salve on my bruised heart. And of course the reiki also helped move the energy around. After an hour and a half I felt better.
And then last night I found this passage by Tara Brach, in Radical Acceptance, and it reminded me of the quote that Diane had posted a few days ago by Albert Einstein, and pushed me a little further into the light:
"When we understand our pain as an intrinsic gateway to compassion, we begin to awaken from the imprisoning story of a suffering self. In the moments when we tenderly hold our anger, for instance, we cut through our identity as an angry self. The anger no longer feels like a personal flaw or an oppressive burden. We begin to see its universal nature--it's not our anger, it is not our pain. Everyone lives with anger, with fear, with grief.
A beautiful Sufi teaching shows us how our pain is not personal, it is an intrinsic part of being alive:
Overcome any bitterness that may have come
because you were not up to the magnitude of the pain
that was entrusted to you.
Like the Mother of the World,
Who carries the pain of the world in her heart,
Each one of us is part of her heart,
And therefore endowed
With a certain measure of cosmic pain.
…. Rather than being a problem, our depression, fear and anger are "entrusted to us," and can be dedicated to our awakening. When we carry our pain with the kindness of acceptance instead of the bitterness of resistance, our hearts become an edgeless sea of compassion. We, like the Mother of the World, become the compassionate presence that can hold, with tenderness, the rising and passing waves of suffering."
So, today I am trying to "carry (my) pain with the kindness of acceptance" and remember that I am not alone--we are all "endowed with a certain measure of cosmic pain."