Yesterday I was working hard. I was sitting on the couch for a lot of the day. I talked on the phone to a dear friend. At 10am I had a bath with rose petals, coconut and Epsom salts. I wrote in my journal, listened to sad music and fed myself sporadically. At one point I read a children’s book, out loud, to myself. Finally by sunset I had come to my senses enough to meditate formally. I sat on my cushion for twenty minutes before heading down the dusky inner city street to buy myself dinner.
Perhaps you’re wondering how I can call this work?
My work was emotional processing. This is the work I am most committed to now. This is the work that our culture has ignored for too long, to our detriment. It is the work of the inner world. I feel particularly drawn to this work in winter. I used to push myself to achieve in the outer world, school and university semester dates meant that this was when I was required to push myself. I believe this disconnect from my inner self at the time when the season calls me to go inward was a major cause of my depression.
This week I was working with my deepest, most vulnerable and painful self. Access to this part of me, a part I haven’t seen close up for years, was gifted to me through a romantic breakup. This is the situation that I still struggle to love myself through. It becomes a mirror for other kinds of loss and grief in my life. Breakups have the power to ‘trigger’ me like nothing else and this was a big one. Even though the romance ended a couple of months ago it was re-activated last week by another kind of break up, ending my job as a teacher. Yesterday I was swept up in a wave of emotion that felt scary because I (whoever that is) was no longer in control.
I realized that my task for the day was to accept this lack of control. I accepted that that I couldn’t make myself feel happy or even balanced about this situation. I couldn’t make myself be the loving, compassionate person that I normally perceive myself to be. As I exchanged Facebook messages with my ex-boyfriend I wanted to access that part of me but couldn’t. Even though I could glimpse the bigger picture. Even though I knew that hurting him was not the answer.
Yesterday I seemed particularly unable to stop myself from falling into a black hole of pain. I think it began deep in my subconscious. I dreamed of tiny, vulnerable, neglected kittens. Waking up soon after 6am my thoughts continued along this vein and overwhelmed me before I was even out of bed.
I made it upstairs but was unable to sit down to the meditation practice that I normally do to begin my morning. Instead I sat on the couch and started to cry. By 7am the day’s work was well underway. I wrote down my dream and kept writing following a series of prompts to try to understand what was going on in my inner world. I could feel my child self clearly. I decided that I needed to nurture that part of myself.
So I found a children’s book and began by reading it aloud to myself. I had stumbled upon the pithy tale Tiny Spook’s Tumble by Swedish writers Inger and Lasse Sandberg.
In this story Tiny Spook is having a day rather like mine. She keeps tripping over and screaming. Then she blames whatever she tripped over and Little Spook, her exasperated brother removes it in order to keep the peace.
First it’s the grass, then the path, the steps, the castle, an umbrella and finally her father.
“And Tiny Spook was left all alone…. It wasn’t fun at all.
Tiny Spook cried and cried… But no one heard her. No one came.”
Finally she got tired of crying and began to reconstruct her world. When she has put back the path, the castle, the grass and the steps her family return.
I read this book and knew I was doing exactly what Tiny Spook had done. But there was a further problem compounding it. I’m not tiny and ignorant. I knew exactly what I was doing and I did it anyway. I knew that really all I was doing was hurting myself but I couldn’t stop from doing it. My emotions were taking me on a wild ride against my better judgement.
Because of my meditation practice I have learned to observe my experiences in ever-greater detail. Despite the intensity of my emotions I managed to notice those few moment when a simple thing brought me back to the beauty of the present moment. A cat sitting by the fire, a screen saver of trees in the mist, the chill of the evening air as I set off to get my dinner. Noticing these moments reminded me that all is impermanent, even the mood that at other times in the day had me understanding why suicide can seem like a sensible option.
Above it all I knew from my previous work that this emotional intensity was a wonderful opportunity, a gift. It was the perfect opportunity for me to practice self-love. It was the ideal classroom for me to learn to respond to whatever arose with gentleness rather than harshness. I loved myself even though I knew I was doing the ‘wrong’ thing. I accepted all my feelings, even the nasty, negative ones. To do otherwise would have only perpetuated the cycle, adding judgement and blame in yet another layer of pain.
I wish I had been able to act differently. I knew that if I had been able to act with more openness, compassion and love it would have been better for everyone concerned, especially for me. But I decided to accept my limitations in the same way I would make allowances for a young child.
The next morning when I woke up I had a choice. As I rolled over in bed, slowly waking up and thinking of my dreams I remembered the circumstances that had caused me so much pain the day before. That path was still there; I could sense it’s heavy blackness looming over my head. But this time I had a moment of choice and I chose not to fall in that hole.
That day I had fewer moments of pain and more moments of openness. I noticed that I could consciously work with my thoughts for a certain amount of time. For example I could deliberately think of the ways that I felt grateful to my ex-boyfriend. I also noticed without blame that these periods of ‘positive thinking’ were inevitably followed by a return of my obsessive negative thought patterns. Like so much learning it was a case of two steps forward and one step back.
I made a consciousness decision that the only way forward was to love and respect the whole process.
I decided to love my opening and my closing.
I decided to love my love and my pain.
I decided to love my gratitude and my resentment.
I decided to love myself no matter what.
I believe that that’s the work I’m here to do.
Deep acceptance of the way things are is the source of all creative change. The perfect paradox.