I’d been practicing meditation for just over a year last June when I decided it was time for a meditation retreat. A Buddhist nun here in town was holding a daylong retreat. I vaguely recall the subject being something about maintaining presence with one’s experiences. I decided to go. As I drove there, I tried to prepare myself. I knew meditation retreats were supposed to be no walk in the park. I tried to get ready for a challenging day.
The challenge I prepared for, however, was not the one I received.
There were a few of us there, 10 or less. We gathered in her little meditation room – a small building essentially the size of a tiny house that had been turned into a meditation hut. It was spartan but efficient, with plenty of meditation pillows for all of us. But instead of beginning with sitting, she had us stand.
“Let’s start with a body scan meditation,” she said.
If I only knew what I was in for, I think I’d run right out of the room at that moment. We began, making our way from our feet up. When we got to the midsection, I was suddenly gripped with intense emotional pain, so deep I wanted to curl up in a ball and sob. It took all I had to stay on my feet. I gritted my teeth and continued through the meditation.
But the pain stayed with me all day. Previous to beginning this meditation, I hadn’t felt the pain at all. Now it felt like an endless abyss of agony. I felt as if I’d fall into the pain and never stop falling.
At one point I asked what to do. It was overwhelming, and I asked how to stay with it, mentioning that I was having a hard time.
“Maybe you haven’t had the community support necessary to stay with it,” she remarked.
I wanted to throw something at her. “Thanks a lot,” I wanted to say. “Can you please give me some?” But I am a tad compliant (most of the time) so I kept my thoughts and the rest of my agony to myself.
By the end of the day I was so internally wrecked that I didn’t meditate again for 4 months, when I began my yoga teacher training. I, who had meditated almost every day for a year.
My yoga teacher training began, though, and so did the precise community support I needed to enter my body again and face the endless and myriad emotions that churned in the pit of my stomach.
My emotions scare me. Ever since I was a teenager, I’ve managed them. Everyone says I am very self aware, they’ve said that since I was at least 16. It hasn’t been used for noble purposes, though. I learned to be self aware, so then I would know my emotions and I could fix them. I’ve been perfecting this habit of fixing for quite a long time now.
As I have slowly come back to my body and simply let the feelings shake their way through me (and often, it’s fear, so lots of shaking) I’ve learned something else. My feelings don’t want fixing.
They want me to listen.
And just like when people complain they don’t want to be fixed, they just want to be heard, my heart has complained the same. Just how when people are simply heard and that becomes the “fix” but even so much beyond it, so that is the “fix” for me. Not really the fix, even… but the healing.
I have been the marionette of my feelings. Allowing them to jerk me back and forth because I understood them as the strings. All the while, I was in actuality the puppeteer.
I stopped dancing about on the strings. I began simply listening. Slowly, I have started to detach my marionette strings. Slowly, like the Velveteen rabbit, I’m becoming real.
The saving grace for me, the way I’ve stopped being puppeted about by reactions to my world, is meditation. The very thing that led me into the fire has been my savior. By coming home to what my body was telling me, I’ve been able to sit and meditate again. And every morning now for quite awhile, I’ve sat down on my cushion and watched. When I’m tempted to get in the ring with my feelings and duke it out, I step back. I just watch.
The therapist I did EMDR with last year used to say, “Notice that.” Now that is something I tell myself on my cushion when a feeling pops up and threatens to overwhelm me. “Notice that.” And instead of getting swept up in the tsunami of the feeling, I watch it crash on the beach. “Hmm. That’s interesting,” I say quietly and gently to myself.
My meditation practice has proved to be invaluable for the dialogue I’ve encouraged on my blog in this past week. In becoming adept in showing up to my feelings, it’s made me available to show up for others, too. “Notice that,” I say to myself when someone responds heatedly to what I’ve written. Notice that.
The poem included in this post’s image is one by Rumi, who speaks of going beyond right and wrong. This is what I’ve attempted to do with my letter to Congress. To circumvent the polarity of “BAN GUNS” vs. “GUNS FOR ALL.” At its core, I think Rumi’s poem is talking about meeting people.
So instead of trying to FIX the problem, I’m trying to start with listening. Because that is where truly meeting with people begins.
Learning to listen started with myself. Learning to listen has been the way that I’ve gone beyond the ideas of “right” and “wrong” that I have within, to find the middle ground.
This is what has thus far carried me through listening to you. I received comments from some of you on my last post that were exceedingly hard to hear. The thing that has held me through dialoguing with those of you with whom I disagree is the steadiness of how I listen when I hold opposing views within myself.
Still, I was wiped out by last Friday, and last Friday, two more shootings occurred. It was a rough day, and the thing that held me through yet again was my meditation and inner listening. Strangely enough, the feelings that flooded me last Friday were strangely similar to the feelings of agony I had when I had that meditation day. But this time, I could sit with them.
This also is what is preparing me for my next post that will clarify my thoughts on gun violence and what needs to be done. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking through the various approaches to gun violence, the various arguments from all sides, and inquiring of my heart what I think will work. This takes a lot of listening. I’m curious to see what unfolds.
How do you deal with your emotions? Do you have a consistent spiritual practice that carries you? How does that work help you to work with large scale issues like gun violence? I welcome your heart and your thoughts in the comments.