Patient: Doctor! I feel like a pair of curtains
Doctor: Pull yourself together!
This week a blog appeared out of an insight I had after I sat mindfully unstitching and then stitching some curtains. I saw how the mind tried to steal my bliss by making up a story to make me feel bad. But I caught myself in this common act of self-sabotage.
I love sewing things, but never make the time. Now I had a reason to sew, and so I really took in the good feelings of this time I had found to make curtains for a friend, and so I went to the caravan, had the door opened, fired up the sewing machine and enjoyed watching and hearing the rain after the baking hot days we have had recently, and felt how the plants and creatures must be loving this liquid joy falling from the sky. The apple tree too, now laden with rain-soaked apples, just looked so lovely.
I handled these curtains, undoing the hand stitching done some years ago by someone who was going to make my mum really happy with these rich and heavy luxurious velvet curtains. I enjoy the touch of fabric, the whirr of the sewing machine, the satisfaction of a neat hem and the rhythm of the needle gliding through the fabric. I was in my element, nothing better than this, peace, stitching – velvet! apple trees outside, soft rain. I put on The Hobbit to listen to. Bliss.
A friend needs a place to stay for a short while and so we have a space that would do, but it needed some curtains. Quite a lot of curtains – it’s a caravan with several windows. I found some old, lined curtains in a bag – they had been my mum’s and I was loathe to chop them up as they looked expensive.. and so.. they sit in a bag, in a cupboard.. being expensive curtains that are not used. Waiting for the perfect moment, the perfect house, the perfect window… They are heavy, rich, velvet; a bit of a weird colour, a kind of golden russet when the sun shines on them, a bit 1972 in another light… Anyway, I convinced myself they are just the job, with the right ambience built around them they are a russet autumn glory. Right now, none of that matters, they are just needed for privacy, darkness and warmth for my friend.
So the pair of curtains sort of fitted the big window all the way down to the floor, and beyond, onto the floor there was about an extra 2 feet. – “perfect!” I declared. If the wire got moved up a bit. I suggested this to my partner “The Gardener” also “Curtain-Wire Person”. I was met with an abject rejection of my great idea, and was told if I cut them up, they would do ALL the windows and he wouldn’t need to move the wire that had been tricky to install. It was almost an argument but I used mindfulness to steer my ego away from the head on get-my-own-way stance as actually I could hear he was talking sense. I saw the slippy slope I was headed for, felt the resistance, the reluctance, the clinging, how hard to shift myself out of a stuck way of seeing – I even felt sorry for myself – mainly because I was met with – rather than a warm discussion about ways forward (i.e. my way) I was met with an attitude of confrontation, an attitude of someone who has been conditioned by a person who must have been difficult to deal with in the past (me). Ooh I sucked it up, forgave him for thinking I was difficult (haha) – new improved Mindful Me grabbed the scissors and headed for the curtains, no hint of a huff, he was right, they would just sit in the cupboard for ever being expensive curtains with nowhere to go. I was actually elated at being able to shift my view – I felt freed from my old patterns, one to decide it was OK to chop them up (goodbye sentimentality) two, to let go of the idea of having a better idea.. and mindfulness has also given me both the insight and patience to understand another’s preconditioned reactivity to what-was-me; and get over it. Amazing!
I felt pleased with myself for letting go. I allowed my ego that self-satisfaction. It felt ease-ful. I felt PROUD of myself for capitulating, and for backing down and for telling him he was right! I chopped, unpicked, worked the fabric undoing what had been done, and in myself, unpicked myself, undid myself, opened myself up for new opportunity new ways of seeing and being. These curtains now had some potential of a new life. As I unpicked the one curtain with posh ruffles, it doubled in size. I chopped it in half across the way and was full of delight that that was the first big window covered. Straight lines on the sewing machine are easy – no need for pins or measuring I did it by eye, in my element now, enjoying every moment of making these curtains useful. Why don’t I get the machine out more? I love doing this. In the end they covered every single window (7 windows in all), and it brought me so much joy to work in the caravan in the rain and make the place so nice and cosy for my friend.
The elation was somewhat shortlived. That’s the mind for you. An hour later, I found myself driving into town and I caught myself in the gap of dukkha – the gap of dissatisfaction – I caught my mind doing a number – about the curtains, but not about the curtains; it was so subtle – so interesting what my mind did. It tried to make a bad story. I caught myself feeling angry with my partner! Angry about the curtains which had been such an immense pleasure to make, as I never have time for that kind of hobby these days.
Driving can be good for practising mindfulness – normally we use driving as a good example of noticing how the mind takes us off into rumination – we drift off into Default Mode Network and we can’t remember the last 5 miles of road – if we train in mindfulness – we begin to catch ourselves as the mind goes off – noting where it has gone, and bring ourselves back to being present.
So I caught my mind drifting off and away and then here I was telling myself a story. It went like this: Poor Me had just spent all this time making these curtains, and he didn’t say anything to me about them, how great they were, how I’d done such a marvellous job. He just went up the ladder and put them up.(Retrospective comment: what a hero!)
Poor Me: “He never tells me how good the things that I do are” “He doesn’t care about me or what I do”. “He is so mean”. (He’s not mean at all).
This is painful. It’s a nonsense story but it feels painful. Engage compassion break! Compassion break is what we do when we acknowledge a difficult moment ridiculous or not – we acknowledge our pain. (There is a link below to try it ) This is a moment of suffering. We all experience suffering. Even silly things about curtains can be a sign of something going on that isn’t about curtains. We begin to catch glimpses of deeper stirrings. A need not being met, a habit of… what. I don’t know. (I don’t know what I don’t know..!) but mindfulness, stillness, presence, allows us to catch a glimpse, and offers a thread, catch it! and follow it if you can.. it will unravel…something.
Compassion training helps us to shine a warm light rather than a harsh self-critical light on these lumpy parts we don’t like about ourselves. Compassion training is where we begin to really affect the transformations that make a difference to our lives, and these changes have a huge knock on effect on those around us – slowly we become less confrontational, more ready to fess up to our own self-centred habits, we become kinder – first to ourselves, as well as to others. We become more understanding.
Hmm. I engage curiosity with this storyline. First – I hear the story I am telling myself – it sounds like a “poor me” and I have had some experience with my “poor me” before (rolls eyes) and usually there is something just beneath the ‘poor me’, which is avoiding something to do with ME and making it something deficient about the OTHER PERSON, not giving me what I need. How dare they. How dare they not know what I need!
You might call that projection.
With all the mindfulness and contemplative strength I can muster (sometimes if this happens on a cushion i.e. during a meditation – it can make me actually fall asleep because the egoic mind would rather fill my head with heavy dark drowsiness than have me catch it out doing a number) I hold the thought – focus on the glimmer. What’s this about? How does this feel?
This is about me. It feels tight. It’s so much easier to make it someone else’s fault – and as Rob Nairn says, if we are blaming someone else for something we can be almost sure that it is something to do with us, not them.
I saw my need for praise. I honestly thought that had gone – been ‘seen’, as I had seen it before and as we are told Krishnamurti said “the seeing is the doing”; but, for me, sometimes the seeing is just the beginning of the doing, or the beginning of the Undoing.
The process is undoing an unhealthy and outmoded mental habit. A conditioned, not-my-fault habit learned in childhood. The habit of needing praise, approval, needing validation, needing to be seen by others. Oof. I do another self-compassion break as I ease myself out of this tight fix. It feels a bit suffocating, I really don’t ever like to think of myself as being needy. In fact I have prided myself on not being needy. Ouch I am needy. Engage Acceptance. I feel sad and small and needy and that’s not any of the things I would say about myself..or (crucially) would ever want people to think about me… but here I am very small and very needy.
This is why Heather says it’s messy – she is so right. Enter stage right Compassionate Mess.
I am not needy / yes I AM needy. It’s OK.
But hey – ME – hang on – listen up! Here’s the thread! Focus focus here comes the glimmer, the insight is twinkling…I hold the stillness hold the utter horrible messiness of it all with a kind of wholehearted kindness (this has taken a lot of practice – meditation practice) and I trust the process.
Was it not enough to be LOVING making the curtains? Was it not enough to feel the bliss of listening to the soft rain and watching the apple trees laden with apples in the rain as the machine thrummed its way over and through the soft golden velvet in a state of tactile mindfulness? Was that not special and precious moments of sheer flow? Did you not feel so blessed and fortunate for your life to be so in those moments? Was it not enough to be blessed with the opportunity to provide a place with curtains for your friend in need – was that in itself not enough?? I do this for me. I do not need anyone to tell me outwardly that I am super when I am in curtain-making mode! I don’t need to be seen as super-duper in the world, I just need to be authentically me, in all my messiness and enjoy how mindfulness brings out the very best in each moment and that’s it!
Moments like this, instill and cultivate my motivation and intention to be a mindfulness practitioner.
Patient: Doctor, I have pulled myself together. I have undone what was made and made something better.
By the way doctor, have you tried mindfulness?
Try The Self Compassion Break here with Alan. This is a very helpful 5 minute meditation which offers support wherever you are and whenever you are experiencing a moment of difficulty.
Lisa works with Jacky in the communications team and is currently studying MSc Studies in Mindfulness with the University of Aberdeen. The Masters course covers Mindfulness, Compassion and Insight training. Lisa has found the course both professionally and personally transformational.
Monday to Friday (UK time) 10.30am & 7pm on zoom