Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Sitting With Discomfort

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Pema Chodron is my favorite Buddhist writer on the necessity of getting comfortable with not knowing, not getting attached to outcomes, and accepting impermanence as a constant state of affairs.  She reminds us that the thing we do, the thing we grab for to make ourselves feel better or safer or less afraid can become the problem, and that sitting with the discomfort, giving it space in our physical body and our spirit through the practice of maitri and extracting both its sting and its truth in this way is the solution.
"Death" from my Soul Collage deck

Frankly, I don’t like this.  

I don’t like to sit with discomfort.  I don’t like to sit with not knowing, ambiguity, and feeling un-tethered.  I don’t like this at all, because it doesn't feel good.

However, every so often I am presented with a wonderfully rich opportunity to learn once again how to do this, and it is almost inevitably after a time of deep peace and comfort.  My sensory experience of it is that the universe fills me up and then shakes it all loose, or maybe I’m just catching a break in between soul lessons, just riding the waves near the beach during times of peacefulness, and then I am rolled and tumbled onto the rocky shore bruised and scraped, spitting out salt water, pushing my wet, sticky hair out of my eyes and swearing....and then getting back up to ride the waves some more.

In any case, I am always caught by surprise at my own reaction to fear, because I think I am so evolved (yeah, I know).  I think I should be beyond this.  And the reaction is not just the constriction in my chest or the hand around my throat, or the butterflies careening around my belly.  It is sometimes like a psychic invasion, with an energy all its own that, if I am not paying close attention, will make me act in ways that are truly out of character, that can make a mess out of an already messy situation, that can make it hard to look in the mirror after I’ve hurt someone. It comes with thoughts that drive and cajole and plead, ideas that seem like a solution because they are so laden with emotional energy, ideas that say, make this feeling stop at any cost!

"Emo" from my Soul Collage deck
Pema says, “Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape -- all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can't stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain.”

I have no current addictions to a physical substance except my morning coffee.  But I have been deeply attached to the belief that I will be safe if I am in control, if I know what's going to happen, if someone (anyone) can offer me enough reassurance that I will not be hurt/embarrassed/lose out. This is the cushy padding I reach for.  But that belief that I will be safe if I am in control is not just one of the biggest delusions I can ever operate under, it is also pretty harmful when I act on it, and pretty isolating, which is the exact opposite of what I want. It is so easy to push people away in that state, the phenomenon of what my ex-husband familiarly called, “the clanging of the gates.”  I shut down, hard. I put things in tidy little boxes with tight little bows, snugly wrapped little packages of rule-based thinking that says, “If this happens, it means this.  If this doesn’t happen, it means this.”  It’s as if I get hi-jacked by “autistic girl,” an aspect of my inner self who doesn’t like to play with the matchbox cars, make them go "vroom vroom" and careen around the track. No, she likes, instead, to line them up in neat little rows, by size or color or design, whichever seems the most logical at the moment, and then put them back in the box. She doesn’t like to make tall towers with Legos, she likes to sort them by color, then put them back in the box.  She likes boxes.  She likes order.  She very much dislikes mess, ambiguity and not knowing.  She sometimes makes up new rules as she goes along just so she thinks she knows what's true. It can be a little bit like playing Calvin Ball. It can be a little bit crazy making. 

The point is, when I get stuck in black and white thinking and want everything in a nice tidy little box, with a tightly knotted black and white bow and a great big label, well, it's because things are very, very contained and defined in a tidy little box.  The things in the box may not be alive and breathing and they are certainly not growing and changing, but by God they sure as hell are predictable. Things in a tidy little box do not move, they don’t go away, but most importantly, they don’t get any closer. There is no risk when things are in a tidy little box, except that of losing out on true intimacy with a fellow human being (and yes, it is this area of my life in which I've created the largest number of boxes).

Frankly, I hate this, too. 

"Lost Child" from my Soul Collage deck
I hate it because it no longer serves me. I hate it because I have hurt people with it. I hate it because I have pushed people away, and I hate it because when I am confronted with the fact of its continued existence, I am embarrassed by it. It seems so….primitive, so childish.  Which is, frankly, where it originates from - the child I once was who was so wounded and lost still sometimes speaks as if she knows the truth. A life of chaos and deep, deep ambiguity does not lead to a feeling of safety and comfort with not knowing outcomes.  You have to work really hard to get over this (and many other things) if that is how your world began and then continued for many years.  I have worked really hard, and am still working really hard, to respond differently in the face of fear in this particular area of my life.  It's a really good place for me to bring the practice of maitri, that friendliness and acceptance of oneself and others without resistance or judgment, just observation.  Oh, but this is so much easier said than done! 

"Witness' from my Soul Collage deck
One tool I find helpful is Soul Collage, which enables you to create visual impressions of aspects of your soul, both personal expressions of it, like “autistic girl" (which I have yet to make, because I only recently discovered who she really is and thus named her), or “Femininity," or "Hope," or universal ones like Warrior, Goddess, or Death.  There are three trans-personal cards – Soul Essence, Source and Witness – the Holy Trinity.   It is when I remember that which I truly am – Soul Essence connected to Source and observed without judgment by Witness – that I am most deeply at peace with what is.  I know this to the core of my most basic self.  I know this.  And yet, being so deeply human, it seems I must continue to learn this lesson over and over…that all is fundamentally well, that I am safe, that I can never truly be harmed, that there is nothing to lose and nothing to be taken away, that all I am and all I have is, to the naked eye, invisible, timeless, and infinitely and deeply loved and loving.  All is well.