This week has been a week of emotional extremes for me and I have watched myself surf and sink and resurface, at times mindfully aware, at times getting sucked into thinking, worrying, ruminating, celebrating – and the whole time I can honestly say I kept a mindful watch on myself as I navigated the highs and lows of the week. Do I start with the highs or the lows? – the trouble was, it was all happening at the same time. In my head. It was all in my head, but actually, nothing was happening to me at all.
It was all about 2 of my adult children this week. Whatever was happening, was actually happening to them. Not Me. And there’s the first hurdle. I fell at the first jump! I apologise if my metaphors are mixed this week – forgive me – it’s been up and down and so my mind is going for anything that also goes up and down, and as the highs have been really high, and the lows really low, my metaphors are as mixed up as my emotions.
I just wanted to describe the unfolding of the insight around empathic joy and pain, and how aspects of that were getting muddled with my egoic preference system and I noticed a tendency to make what was happening to my children, somehow about me. There was empathy for sure. My son has turned a corner, well it felt like it a positive one and it looks like he has for the first time found a direction which makes him want to get up, makes him feel alive. I’ve always encouraged my kids to follow their heart to do what makes them want to jump out of bed in the morning. He has never felt this. I was elated.
I sat with this feeling in my meditation practice, sitting there feeling all pleased and buoyant. But in contemplation of this pleased and buoyant feeling I detected arising a subtle feeling of grasping to an outcome, a tightness all over my whole body about wanting it so much to be true, that now it had to happen, that it would be so disappointing if he changed his mind… for me. My mind ran away with it and turned it around to me grasping, applying immediate drop-down menu of expectations, which as I have learned leads to subliminal demands and has lead into a cycle of projection onto my son. If he doesn’t follow this through there will be disappointment and it will seep out of my pores and he will detect it – of course he will – our kids are so sensitive to our neuroses, aren’t they?
I didn’t think I did this. It turns out my expectations and grasping to projected outcomes is self-centred and not so compassionate it’s actually damaging and destructive. I need to let go – so he can fully experience his life without the threat of being a continual ‘disappointment’ – I’m still processing this – it’s raw – and it’s not the end of it. It peels away in excruciating layers. So that was about the ‘good’ news – that was ‘JOY’ (read with Glaswegian irony). I have been reassured that when we see patterns that we drop them – Krishnamurti says ‘the seeing is the doing’. I live in hope.
Just after the joyous turnaround for my son/me (and I really do feel with my whole heart that I want him to have found something he feels passionate about) – my daughter rang to say she had to go in for a scan and that the doctors were concerned, and they would tell her that day if the news was good or bad. We had a few days of waiting. I spoke to my daughter often, and we both decided to actively imagine the worst and we spoke directly of the impending consequences of a ‘bad’ outcome in a rational way (rather than let the mind go off and do it on its own). She had made the mistake of googling outcomes and of course the bottom line when you google anything is DEATH. My daughter lives 2 hours away so there were spaces in between the conversations, and there was mindfulness practice.
You can imagine the mind in these circumstances, some of you will have been through this yourselves, it becomes the archetypal wild horse and we make the mistake of jumping on it with no hope of controlling it, or where it goes. (I first heard that from Ringu Tulku a Tibetan Lama and brilliant teacher – and it is such a brilliant analogy for the out-of-control mind.)
I observed my mind. I maintained a broad view. My mind wondered down scenarios. My mind empathized and I imagined what my daughter must be thinking, her fear around her 2 children, and then more scenarios: appointments, treatments, you know what the mind does. To an extent this is not a problem, this is the mind doing what it needs to do, processing and planning. Perhaps for the first time ever I was able to observe and process, I called upon my mindfulness practice to assist me in my moment of need – this was life or death! But all the while nothing was actually happening. Nothing was actually happening to me. I felt pain for my daughter. I felt pain for me. Oh-oh! I was detecting something surfacing here. What I caught a glimpse of was was a very subtle tendency to make what was happening to my daughter, something about me, like it was happening to me too.
I managed to surf that urge, I managed to look down into the water and see it lurking just beneath the surface – the “what about me?!” feeling.
As soon as I saw it dropped like a stone. I let it go. And in letting it go all I can say is a deeper sense of compassion surfaced right then. A sense of compassion that let go of my needs and energized the compassionate call to action to assist my daughter in an energized and wholehearted way. I drove to my daughter. I asked what she needed from me instead of doing what I thought she needed. I looked after the children. The tests were clear. This episode has sharpened our senses and energized us to life, and I feel a form of compassion that was lost to me has surfaced.
The idea that this subliminal egoic drive has been going on forever, is a horrifying thought; my poor kids! This brings an automatic recoiling and feeling of deep shame – deep like a bottomless pit. But practice has softened this blow – compassion practice specifically gives us a cushion upon which to let our shame land. The cushion of self-compassion.
I sit with the shameful feeling, notice the urge to hide in a cupboard, look at the feeling of shame, and just sit there feeling like something just emptied out of me. And in that, there is a tiny and vast spark of immense and limitless joy.
How about that heart pain? It’s not my pain – words that arose for me during a reflection practice on my insight module – the pain is not my pain. Sometimes words come to mind like riddles and I need to roll them around for some time (like a boiled sweetie) to get the full flavour of what the riddle-like words are about. It’s not my pain. It’s not about me, although my ego thinks it is all about Me! Me! Me!
I am currently researching my blocks to compassion through my autoethnographic Mindful Art research as I go into the third year of my MSc Studies in Mindfulness. Perhaps this is why this came up for me this week.
Weekly challenge – This week notice any tendency to make anything that’s happening to others about you. Is there a little ‘poor me’ voice trying to be heard? Can you explore that in your practice this week?
Kind wishes from me and my Ego, who, it seems, is beginning to cooperate!