We want to get it done. We want to feel competent. We want to be functional. We think its time we finally became an adult. But, the child inside thinks otherwise. We keep the doubt hidden behind a veneer of competency, despite a nagging sense that we are not really up to the task. The bills, chores and to-do lists loom as our life takes a distant back seat. Fixated on the problems, we have forgotten the point. Yet, there seem to be obstacles to sitting down at the computer, getting to the gym, steaming broccoli or unrolling the yoga mat. The more we push, the more it all seems to pile in front of us.
Even as we charge to work with a smile, there might be a sense that we are damaged beyond repair and that no one else would want us. Or, that we don’t deserve to have what we want we want. Or, that we would certainly fail if we got it.
We search for someone or something to help us. Someone on TV with a new diet, or a new plan. As our problems grow, we feel the solution must be proportionate. We assume the fix-it answer would have to be very large. We try any manner of self-helping, even as most of it seems to only help the self at the other end of the pay pal account. It always seems effortful. And inside, we know its not really us. We feel we’re a fraud, that we’re fooling us into becoming an us we don’t really believe.
No wonder we sabotage our plans. They’re not really our plans at all.
Cultivating Peaceful Awareness
The more we try and fix things, the more things keep breaking. We work frantically to hold it together, but secretly tear it apart. We are working very hard here, just to stand still.
But, perhaps stillness is precisely the way out. The more we struggle the tighter it gets. Its like an emotional chinese finger trap. Only, I recommend sitting still. Just as the Buddha did when he became discouraged with all the forms of meditation and self-help he pursued. At some point, in complete hopelessness, he gave up on finding anything, and just sat. Once he stopped looking, he was able to see. What he saw were the basic constituents of existence. How we are and what we do. He saw what was there, simply and without apology. The Buddha saw how we create our own suffering by trying to run from what is actually happening. We do this by trying to script a different scenario. We run from ourselves. We turn our backs on ourselves, and abandon ourselves. And, frequently, we do this at the very times we need to sit down and stand up for ourselves.
Meditation affords an opportunity to see into situations. We’re not getting anywhere anyway, so we might as well just sit and take a gander at the cause of the condition of unhappiness. We might see how demanding we are. And how demand, expectation and pressure are not helping. If we could stop and be with ourselves, we might find out what we need. What if we could learn to simply be ourselves and learn to work with what is there? And, what if learning to get done what we need to get done was not a matter of great effort, but simply learning to work more effectively with what we have? That would certainly be easier. And, my guess is, it would also be more effective.
Getting more life for less effort.
Learning to work with ourselves is key to our path. In fact, it is our path. Working with ourselves effectively might mean simply learning to treat ourselves as carefully as we treat others. Most of us are kind to those in need. Most of us try to be diplomatic and deferential to other people in our world. This is because we are generally aware of those situations, we pay attention because we have to. Unfortunately, our self awareness remains largely obscured. We just take this “me” thing for granted. We push ourselves at will and without thinking, simply demand compliance. If we could turn up the volume on our self-talk (as seems to happen with regular meditation practice) we might be shocked to hear how crass, dismissive, and even cruel, we are to ourselves. We would never speak that way to even the most annoying co-worker. Why do we do this to ourselves?
We are most cruel to ourselves when we are the most pressured. Ironically, this is precisely when we most need support. When we are pressured by the demands of our world, we often deny our feelings and push forward with little encouragement and care. This may be because the pressure, demand and societal compression inherent in our daily life frighten us on a deep psychological level. We are afraid to fail, to be rejected, ostracized or criticized. Our life is moving too quickly to process these feelings with any accuracy, so we push even harder. And, as we push forward our deeper psychology only gets more frightened. As we get mad at ourselves for not accomplishing what we set out to accomplish, we are actually hurting ourselves because we are frightened. The pain that we have suffered, and the fear of pain we will suffer, lay like land mines in our deep psychology waiting to explode when triggered. That blind fear threatens to move from the shadows and overwhelm at times of stress, including times of proposed ascension. Just when we try to fly, something inside blinds us and binds us to the wheel of punishment we’ve constructed.
No wonder we give ourselves the middle finger.
Its as though the child inside us was scared of the monsters under the bed, and we just yelled from our room for the child to shut up. We’d never do that to anyone else who was frightened. But, because we are not trained to take the time to listen, we do that to ourselves. I suppose I’m positing the opposite of the Golden Rule. Treat yourself as you would like to treat others. Its like the oxygen mask, right? Caring for yourself allows you to care for others more effectively. We can do this because we are more whole, but also because in the process of becoming whole we have learned to listen. We have learned to hear the wounded and weak places inside us that can relate directly to the wounded places in others.
We can work with this in psychotherapy, perhaps uncovering the narratives to these toxic psychologies. But, in meditation we learn to accept the pain points, and open up space around them. As we create room around our emotional pressure points we can actually get to see the triggers. Eventually, with the gentle application of awareness, we can turn trigger points into choice points. We regain control. And, as much as we can, retake our life.
This is why we refer to meditation as ‘shamatha” or the cultivation of peace. In time, with consistent practice, we deactivate the mines, by creating the space to acknowledge them and the courage to accept them, as we would accept anyone else’s. Why should we be without pain? Are we superhuman? Is that what we want? To be above the humble acceptance of pain and suffering and the willingness to work with ourselves? That would only separate us from the world. Is that what we want?
The Practical Application of Loving Kindness
I think we are really yearning for connection. If that is so, then our pain is key to understanding our world. And, understanding our world is key to understanding our path to awakenment. As meditation practice cultivates a peaceful awareness that allows us to uncover our pain points and disarm our defenses, the practice of Loving Kindness allows us to enter in and heal by touching the wounds and offering acceptance and love. Not just in our minds with pretty images of hearts, and bears and angels and fairies, but by practical application of feeling the warmth of love in our bodies. We use the power of a mind stabilized through meditation to hold the wounded places and offer love. We can learn to open past the clenching fear response and touching the child we have abandoned to the shadows.
With practice, the open space of meditation practice becomes the warm and healing embrace of loving kindness. We replace the clenching of the muscles in tension with the openness of awareness with basic meditation practice. Then, in time, we learn to infuse that with the warmth of compassion. Each time we open the body we accept the feelings and let the wounded child breathe and be. Each time we rise up in good posture, we tell the child there is now an awake adult here to care for them. And, in time we become the parent we should have had, but couldn’t have had, as our real parents were caught in the clenching panic of their own fear. It wasn’t their fault. They were young and unlearned. They lived locked in fear and blocked by guilt.
So, I recommend beginning at the beginning in order to give ourselves the care we need.
Beginning at the beginning is sitting in stillness and calm. Then when our mind is pacified, we can invite the child in and gently touch its pain. We can do this with no hope of change. Just listening. Accepting. Welcoming the wounded child. Holding her with open arms, rather than abandoning her in clenching panic. Opening to the pain, the fear, the doubt, the lack of clarity. Sitting up straight and being there for her in the storm. Sitting with her, up awake and open.
And meditation is a perfect tool for this reunion.
Learning To Work with Ourselves
With care, patience and love we can touch inside without detonating the emotional landmine. Its like a game of concentration. We reach in through the hole for the affected bone without touching the sides and setting off the alarm. We care for ourselves, as we would for anyone, learning to work with kindness and concentration. We learn to pay attention to the sore spots and frightened places so we can be aware of their triggers, tendencies and potential for disruption.
Working effectively with ourselves would be moving more slowly than our mind demands. So, its trading off some of the speed of aggression for a more integrated, and more sustainable, approach. Its moving slow enough to move quickly. When we synchronize with our full self, everything we do has the authority of the present moment and our present sense. By slowing down and working with ALL of ourselves, we not only have more chance of completing tasks that have held us back, but we also will have a deeper understanding of ourselves and a richer connection to our lives.
And isn’t that what we wanted in the first place?