being with the unpleasant

This has been a tough week.  This has been one of those weeks where on certain days, the skillful action, the compassionate action was not to sit, but to be present for what was, to be present for life as it arose.

On Monday morning, my wife received an email from her father that her grandfather had died the night before.  As with the arrival of any grief, this brought all previous loss and trauma along for the ride, so I knew that my wife would need my presence.  The struggle for me was not to make her anger toward her father my anger, but to notice that under the negative feelings was an urge to protect my wife.  This was an opportunity to be compassionate, to listen to her expressions of sorrow and loss, not to mix my own volatile feelings in the batter.  This week has required that I be mindful of negative emotions and how to make space for them in the context of the negative emotions of others.

On Tuesday, my wife was stopped by our son’s teacher who requested a meeting after school to discuss his sudden lack of motivation in class.  Our son struggles with shame and embarrassment when confronted with any difficulty in school, and tends to meet any attempt to discuss such a situation with very large and loud angry outbursts.  So I knew my son would need my presence.  I needed to find my breath when he slammed the door.  When he told me how annoying parents were at full sarcastic volume, I had to notice my body’s conditioned response to being yelled at, and make room for it with a deep understanding that my son wasn’t yelling at me, he was yelling because he was uncomfortable.  This was not easy.  Yelling back sometimes seems easier in those moments, but I know that anger only brings more anger.  I see you Mara.

Right now in my life, I’m working full-time and going to school full-time.  I facilitate ,on average, one group per week at my mediation center, and try to make a class for myself.  I usually leave before anyone wakes up, and don’t get home until 930 or 10 two or three nights per week.  On a good week, ensuring that I’m not a ghost in my home takes effort.  This week I had to be present for my stress, my anxiety, and my guilt about doing too much and be sure that I didn’t take it out on the people who I love so much and who were already in pain.  This required my presence.

I had to go to court on Wednesday, and I noticed the arising of anxiety.  We hung out in the courtroom and I tried to smile at as many people as I could.  I tried to be friendly and kind to those who were doing their jobs, and those who were probably as anxious as I was feeling.  No reason to make someone’s bad day worse with a thoughtless word.  I had brought a book to read, but I just ended up sitting and standing and paying attention.  The courtroom needed my presence.

On Thursday came the crash.  I had been waiting for it, knew it was coming, had been listening for it.  It came in the middle of my busy day, while I was doing important work.  My wife called me and told me she was falling apart.  She said she couldn’t handle it, couldn’t be mom, couldn’t work, couldn’t think, let alone decide what to eat for lunch.  Grief is an inconvenient thing.  As I watched my mind get anxious over how I could “fix” things, and guilty over not being there, and annoyed for the inconvenience of grief, I found myself breathing.  I was outside, in the sun, listening to my wife who was in pain.   I canceled my work and plans for the afternoon and went home to cook dinner and help with homework and give a shoulder to lean on.

For me this week, my meditation has been mostly off the cushion.  It didn’t seem the right thing to withdraw from my family more than necessary so that I could have my spiritual practice.  My spiritual practice was my family.  My meditation has been about being present in my body, and open to the unpleasant, allowing it to be, and not trying to force to be what I thought it should be.  Good practice if you ask me.


being with the unpleasant



Hey Joseph,
It's been a minute. It's nice to find a forum to see how/what people are doing these days.

I just wanted to say that I found this blog to be quite moving. I appreciate your writing style, I appreciate your commitment to this practice, and I honor your commitment to your family. As I struggle with my own work, relationship, and time and energy commitments, I am inspired to hear of what you are struggling with right now, and how you make it the center piece of your practice. I am striving to do the same. And it's hard.

While I don't see you around much these days (life happens), know that I'm sending you love and hopefully I'll see you around or come by one of these Thursdays!

All my best,

hi elliot! i miss you my

hi elliot!

i miss you my friend.  i'm so glad we ran into each other after you posted this.

thank you for your kind words.  our community and family are the practice.

i hope to see more of you soon.


I love your description of

I love your description of grief as "an inconvenient thing."  So it very much is.  And well done, not to get sucked into others' anger.  All too easy for me to do.



an inconvenient thing

Thank you Ann for your comment.

I seem to be more compassionate for the inconvenience of grief, and I think this can be a reminder to be patient and kind with all kinds of inconvenient feelings, such as anger or frustration.  Meeting anger with compassion has been a struggle for me (especially when it is directed at me!), one that I don't always handle skillfully.  But as I was being mindful of the feelings in my body, especially because of the feeling tone  practice, and because I was tuned into my family's grief, I was able to meet frustration as it arose more skillfully this week and not let it become me. Whew! This is something that I have been working with lately, trying to hold my anger with a sense of care, especially since hearing Claude Anshin Thomas speak about how we have to end the war within.  I highly recommend his book, At Hell's Gate for some excellent approaches to working with anger.


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