I want to share two meaningful experiences which occurred in the last week. They seem to reflect personal breakthroughs with mindfulness practice. I won’t get too excited about breakthroughs, it just means that there is more room to fall. I also think it is important to celebrate overcoming challenges. And with that, here we go.
First story – Defeating the Bluesy Mind
There are times when I am heading towards depression that I look around at people rushing by me and my thoughts become very judgmental. “Where are all these people going? It is all so pointless to just run to a job. What are we all doing!” This mindset usually rears its ugly head on my own commute to work. The underlying judgment is about myself of course, when it is harder to see the meaning in what I will be attending to over the day (i.e. my job!).
Yesterday was such a morning. My job actually is very meaningful. I get to connect with Jewish communities worldwide and contribute to their vibrancy. But alas, I really felt like not going, and somewhere, deep within, I was questioning just about everything. That is my signal of impending depression. Caution! Well, as I ascended the escalator, I took note of all the people dressed in their business casual best spilling out of the train station. And the thoughts began, “G-d, where are these people all going? Do they even realize that they are alive!” I witnessed these thoughts and instead of going down the mind-depression route, I answered my own question.
“YES! They do realize that they are alive. These are hundreds of unique people off to contribute to the world in hundreds of unique ways, ways in which only they can. And I too am going to contribute in my own special way to the betterment of the world today. In a way that only I can.” I wanted to grab people by the face and stare into their eyes and shout, “We are wonderful!” I settled for a good inner giggle and an extra hop through the office building’s door. I had disarmed a recurring foe of self-doubt.
Story two – My Silk Pajamas
This story is dedicated to Sharon Salzberg and Sylvia Boorstein, two heroic teachers of awake-fullness. This morning I began with a train ride to work and read chapter 3 of Sharon’s Real Happiness. This week we will attend to our emotion and thought worlds and take time to sit with, explore, investigate, and NOT identify with them. In this chapter, Sharon tells a story she heard from Sylvia about a woman who runs to buy new silk pajamas when she discovers that her car tires have been stolen. The pajamas symbolize the object of desire that we run towards to distract ourselves from negative experiences. . I must admit , I was not too keen on the story. I thought it was great that this women did something to take care of herself before jumping in to fix the problem. Let’s fast-forward …
I arrive to work for an unusual morning. I was interviewed for a study that explored my sexuality in relationship to my work in the world. I figured it would be no biggie, just share some intimate details about myself and move on. WRONG! As I began sharing about my past experiences of sexual development, I became flooded with emotions. I shared this casually with the interviewer, but did not go into too much detail. Thankfully, the conversation switched to my work in the world. There was less emotional engagement around this topic.
During the interview, and continuing after, I was experiencing this strong lump of feeling in my chest and gut. My thoughts whizzed, “I am going to take a walk and get coffee to decompress.” My mind became obsessed with this potential cup of coffee. Thinking about the café and the strong roasted flavor of the coffee. The imagined reaction my body would have to the caffeine input.
Aha! I see now. The coffee is my version of silk pajamas. I realized that I did not actually need coffee at that moment. I needed space to breathe and attend to my feelings.
I closed the door to my office and shut the lights. I began to breathe and feel. I imagined diving into the feeling. There I discovered fear and emptiness, loneliness and frustration, joy too and at the route of it all – the desire to protect myself. It was a squeezing and clamping down of the memories and their associated feelings. I told myself that it is okay to protect myself and also okay to let go. There is no present harm. I stayed with this exploration for about 10 minutes and then resumed my day. The feelings did not totally subside, though they became less intense. And I was prepared to be present with the next activity of my day. I disarmed the need to quickly feed myself in the face of negative feelings.