What’s a “mindful blogger” do when all she wants to do is write, but life (or shall we say a PILE of grading or laundry) gets in the way? Breathe? Yoga stretch? Repeat a mantra over and over? NO – what she does is get frustrated, and quite frankly, anxious too. And then, annoyingly overwhelmed.
Pema Chodron in her book, The Places That Scare You states “In Vajrayana Buddhism it is said that wisdom is inherent in emotions. When we struggle against our energy we reject the source of wisdom…When our emotions intensify, what we usually feel is fear. This fear is always lurking in our lives…Thus (by meditating) we train in opening the fearful heart to the restlessness of our own energy. We learn to abide with the experience of our emotional distress.”
What’s this all mean? I am asking myself that very question. What energy am I struggling against? And how do I “abide” in it?
As I have been grading about 20 plus hours of work, it has been a struggle. A struggle against staying put and on the task. But, I have stayed on task. And what wisdom can that offer me as my intensity builds, as dishes pile up, and as laundry stays unfolded and on the floor? I just do not want to look at one more written response, one more unfolded sweater, or dirty dish (note to self: I need to start using more paper plates – perish the conservationist thought!)
From a small task: cleaning out the dishwasher; to a larger task: opening up a new addition to a store. Whether it involves expansion or reduction, none of it, in its process, is necessarily pleasing. Yet, all of it is necessary. I often think the glory is felt after the drudgery is gone. In the midst of the “chore” I hear the following:”What if I do ALL this work and no one notices? Or worse yet, what if my students don’t learn? Or worse yet, what if the customers don’t come? Or worse yet, what if the relationship fails?”
The above is what Chodron calls “the story we tell ourselves”. And, let’s face it – I’m a story teller by training, trade, and nature (maybe you are too?)!
And Chodron suggests somewhere in this churning of thought and emotion lies wisdom?
In my self-doubt, anxiety, and frustration
how do I gain the gem called wisdom?
She says, we open our heart to this opportunity in “sitting meditation”. Chodron says, as we sit and meditate, “we practice dropping whatever story we are telling ourselves and leaning into the emotions and fear.”
In my textual annotations I wrote: ‘Abide with your distressful feelings.’ And I wrote: ‘With meditation you no longer hide from yourself; it’s a naked experience; you are a warrior who wants to dissolve the barriers between you and others.’
If I dissolve myself (or cause the barriers of protection to myself to disappear) this would require me to do one thing: get quiet in my mind and practice self kindness. It’s called “maitri” – complete self acceptance, according to Chodron. Dropping the barrier to myself (or yourself – if you want to try it), then, would ask me to offer “Pamela” complete self acceptance: NAKEDNESS.
That means, I have to accept the dislike for the PILES: papers, laundry, dishes. I’d have to accept the PILES, too: I then might learn, love, and accept me for making them, more. NAKEDNESS.
Fortunately (thank you, Lord), Chodron doesn’t leave me there, unclothed and all exposed eternally with no advice. She says, once I get all “present” with that exposure and anxiety, I should then free myself from “self-destructive patterns” by developing “a compassionate understanding”.
And so, sitting meditation saves the day.
Compassionate Understanding comes like this: Sit. Breathe. Feel the awareness of your body: from the top of your head to the tips of your toes. Then, reverse it: the tips of your toes to the top of your head. Breathe some more. Be aware of the sights, sounds, smells, and all the aches and pains. Yes, she reminds us, this practice goes against our grain.
It goes against our grain, Pamela… Ah-a!
“Stay…stay…stay,” Chodron says, “It’s like training a dog.” And dogs do not train well when we beat them. Dogs train well with kindness, compassion, and steadfastness.
And this is when I realize, I have not really been getting naked with myself lately. Meaning, during my anxiety and my work load, I have made excuses not to meditate: “There’s not enough time. I have another PILE to lessen.”
And in doing so, I have been rejecting my own inner wisdom.
So, while I may attribute the anxiety to workload and stress, I have been going with the grain: Go – go – going. That is what I have been trained to do.
Against the grain would mean, I would stop. I would meditate: tune in to my body, get compassionate with myself and stay there for a bit. Day in, day out. Month after month. Year after year. Then, Chodron tells me, I get to gain moments of clear-seeing. Not necessarily the face of God – but the face of me. With all her frumpy single mother tiredness, yet filled with her pixie-nosed beauty.
Acceptance, not rejection.
When we struggle against our energy we reject the source of wisdom.
I am my wisdom.
Meditation: I accept my energy: good, bad, indifferent. I love my energy: anxious, frustrated, busy. I learn from my energy: fearful, naked, exposed. I will abide with this energy, and my heart will open…first to me. And then, to you.
After being over-wrought with negative emotion, for several days, the great poet William Wordsworth in his poem “I wandered lonely as a cloud” does exactly what Chodron suggests above. As the lines below convey, Wordsworth makes himself sit on his couch and get “vacant”. Notice: no one else is there. Notice: the solitude or “aloneness” becomes blissful when his mind, after laying down for a bit, recalls some daffodils.
Wordsworth’s joy is not there first. It comes during his meditation:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They (the daffodils) flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
So, according to Chodron and Wordsworth (two literary greats, if I say so myself) how does one learn to “abide in the experience of emotional distress”? We get naked with the realness of our stress by sitting (or laying down — get comfy, friend) on our couch and quieting down.
Even though every inch of our brain is screaming at us to finish our piles of work. Then, Wordsworth says we will have a “flash” of something happy (like daffodils or the smile of someone we love), while Chodron tells us we will be the “flash” that will bring happiness — our inner beauty, conflicted or not.
My challenge to myself this week is to go against the grain: instead of “go – go – go” I will “slow… slow …slow”. And with that, I will be the dancing daffodils in my “inward eye”.
Care to join the dance?
Blessings and peace,