A perfect storm

“This week we’re going to practice with emotions and thoughts, even intense and difficult ones.” This came at the beginning of the “Practice Preview”, and boy, did I feel it was written directly to me.

The night before, I’m ashamed to say (is that an emotion or a thought?), I lost my temper with my children. In my flailing, I banged a wooden cooking spoon on the counter and split it in half (where it already had a crack running down it). The effect was dramatic. I could not remember what even bothered me, I could only remember that I wanted, needed, CRAVED: silence – the exact opposite of what my children were offering for dinner.

The kids left me in the kitchen. Had I been able to leave me, I would have done so also. Rather, I hung my head down, confused by my short fuse, my exaggerated response, and where it all came from. My husband put his arm around me and noted I hadn’t been myself lately. Thank goodness that wasn’t me, I thought, but what then, or who, am I?

Whoever I am slid away to move the laundry from the washer to the dryer. On went the dryer, thumping and bumping, and my mind raced to blame my son for leaving something – rocks, balls, Lego? – in his clothes to ruin the machine. I swung the door open, and out jumped (this is terrible, so either skip it or prepare yourself) one of my cats! He ran off, no worse for wear, and I ran following him, crying, apologizing, in shock at what I had done. I picked up all 22 pounds of him and looked him over for bumps or bruises. In my defense, no cat had ever gone in the dryer before, and how did he stay there as I threw wet clothes in? But not in my defense, how could I have so mindlessly moved a whole load of laundry, never actually looking or seeing what was there?

Oh, there’s more. The next day I went for a doctor visit to get more of a medication. The poor doctor had to inform me that they had found more cancerous tumors, and so I would not be getting that medication, as it clearly wasn’t working. They didn’t know what would be next. More doctors had to weigh in.

In some way, all of this was connected to the fact that we would be leaving the country to go visit and stay with my husband’s family. So what I wanted and needed to do was to go pack. That seemed good. Normal. Disconnected. Thoughtless. Practical. But that didn’t last. I kept returning to a question in Real Happiness: “Can you just be with those feelings and not get involved in the story?”

So let’s see, intense and difficult emotions? Take your pick. The things I love the most in this world I had treated without the reverence I actually feel for them. I acted out my day mindlessly and to the detriment of others. And then, I am faced again with, well, to be honest, dyeing. Sooner, rather than later.

Meditation on Emotions. Thank goodness this week had a CD for me to use. Without judgment I could readily say that I needed help to get through, or at least into, this. I generally do not prefer to listen to anyone/anything, but without closing my mind to the relevance of this option, I found it helpful, like a friend who came over not to fix it for me, not to take it over for me, but just to be there with me as I, with significant fear, entered into it. Outside of the practice, I had thought about the chapters’s suggestion to not just engage with these difficult emotions, but also the positive ones. I loved the idea, but I could not find a single positive emotion to hold.

As I’ve gone through this illness for nearly five years, I have not spent much time crying. People ask me why, and I can only think that it is because it does not make me feel better. Nor does it make me better. But this week, between the kids and the cat and the doctor, I found myself hiding out to let myself cry. And when I was alone for this (even hiding in my sister-in-law’s bathroom), I decided that I would try to meditate through it. Though I continued my regular morning practice and some walking, I added in mini-secret sessions, where ever I was.

I found that I could sit on the edge of a bathtub, envision the clouds floating by, and the names of my emotions and feelings plastered on them. I could do this on a bus. On the beach. In a restaurant.

Here’s what I learned:
Those names on the clouds are not me, they are just names of emotions.
When I ended my sitting, I often had a wet face from tears that I’d not noticed.
While my intention was to meditate on emotions, this week I could only (readily) identify negative, emotions. But when I gave them names and let them float away from me, what started to appear were things I’d not been articulately aware of: I sometimes need silence not because I don’t want to talk with my children, but because I cannot manage to think about all of the things going on and have a smile on my face. Still, I want my children to have childhood memories of a smile on my face, rather than banging spoons. The guilt I feel about my cat can clear away to reveal the gratitude I feel towards him for cuddling with me when I have been bed-ridden with sickness. My fear of dying, well, that’s a bigger topic than I have room for here, but suffice it to say that the sheer terror of it can muddy how much I really like these people I live with and work with and play with day in and day out, and how I still want to be able to hang around them to make dinners or go on trips or fold laundry or do nothing and share the good and bad of our days and grow together and individually.

I started this by saying I felt that this chapter had been written for me. Maybe that’s what universal truths do. And yet, Pablo Neruda was quoted at the end of the chapter, in the same way my husband always kept a book of Neruda poetry in his suit pocket to read to me while I was (frequently) in the hospital. And here Neruda spoke to me, saying, “perhaps a huge silence might interrupt this sadness of never understanding ourselves.”

I didn’t like facing these emotions that I didn’t understand; my doctor had even offered medication to help me through this rough time. I declined. I don’t know why. On a daily basis I thought that it might be better to let these sensations be pushed to the side until I could better deal with it. But I didn’t know what that meant. So I would be silent and I meditated. Sure enough, as Sharon Salzburg wrote,”Staying with the feeling and untangling the various strands may lead you to realize that what you thought was a thick wall of misery is a constantly shifting combination of emotions.”

Where I am sure no untangling is necessary? Keep the poor cat away from the dryer, and be more mindful while doing the laundry!

Blessings on you, and peace upon the earth.