Posted in armchair psychology, Buddhism

Anger

Emotions interest me. Our brain and nervous system can’t talk to us with words, at least not at first, and besides words can be misleading and ridiculously ineffective– and slow!– as far as communication is concerned. Emotions, on the other hand, travel at the speed of nerve signal conduction. Amazing things, emotions!

But then we start talking to ourselves about them. (Yeah, here I go, talking to myself. Again.) We decide we like this one, but not that one. This one is okay, this one, meh, that one, omigoddonteverevengothere. We layer on meanings, stories about ourselves, around these emotions. Before we even realize what we’ve done, we’ve spun this crazy kaleidoscope of a cocoon around signal molecules that originated in our bodies with a purpose. Now we find we can’t access all of our information, and then we whine about that!

But we are the ones who deprived ourselves of our knowing in the first place! We are the ones who decided, “Anger is bad, put that away.” We are the ones who put these elaborate mechanisms in place to avoid certain feelings at all costs (fear, anyone?). We just didn’t understand what that cost would turn out to be, in the end.

Emotions are signposts. I don’t know about you, but I don’t go driving and pass judgment on the green and white sign telling me this way is Knoxville and that way is Atlanta. Bad sign! No biscuit! Emotions are the same. When I am angry, it is a sign indicating direction. If I suppress, ignore, or otherwise mutilate my anger because I have an aversion to it, I effectively damage or even destroy my map to my life. If, instead, I sit with my map undamaged and study it, I’ll figure out what my anger is telling me and know at least something about what to do next. I can properly alleviate the anger, address the underlying need it is trying to talk to me about, but only if I don’t destroy it in my desperation to avoid it.

I am angry today. I am not yet to the bottom of it. My goal for today is to allow my anger to exist, and to listen for its message. I have no idea how long this will take, or whether I can sit with it through all my inner efforts to wriggle away… like a small child who is bored in church, trying to not get in trouble, sitting upright in the pew, all the while wanting to get down on the floor or go outside, anything to escape the dreadfully boring grown-up droning on and on. But I will sit and listen, for as long as I can.

What are your feelings signaling today?

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Posted in armchair psychology, Buddhism

Epiphanies 877 to 889

Apologies for the radio silence here. I’ve been thinking. For weeks. I am just about fed up with analyzing my cognitive errors, but I do strive for thoroughness when untangling the knots in the great ball of yarn that is my psyche. As I have noted before, anxiety and panic are impressive motivators, impossible to ignore, so I have found a most fantastic therapist (everyone should be so fortunate) and have been dig-dig-digging away, hoping to unearth the roots of this discomfort and thereby rid myself of it at last. I am not free of anxiety, and I may never be completely, but I’m working on it. In case any of this might be useful to someone else, here are some of my major paradigm shifts from the past twenty-four hours. (I tend to work in bursts.)

Fear is an act of recoiling from experience. Instead of recoiling, lean in.

Experience is only problematic if I make it a problem.

I create my problems because of a belief I’m holding, a story I buy into, that I need to have those problems.

Look at how perfectly I have orchestrated the life I have believed I needed to have!

Life is what you make of it. LITERALLY.

If you are mad at someone you are mad at yourself.

If someone isn’t grateful enough, it’s YOU.

If someone isn’t loving you, is loving you conditionally, or isn’t showing love the right way, the judge of all that is IN YOUR HEAD.

I have a piece of silk streamer tied to a clothes line on my porch. (It came with the porch. The clothes line, not the streamer– I added the streamer for lack of something better to do with it.) It is rippling in the breeze as I type, a large black beetle clinging to it for dear life. Being a beetle I don’t suppose it is thinking much about the whole process; it certainly isn’t saying to itself, “You idiot! Why did you land here? Now look at yourself! Your life is in danger and all you can do is cling like hell with your stupid sticky legs and hope to god you don’t fall off while wondering if this crazy thing is ever going to stop this damned flapping!” But isn’t that how most of us talk to ourselves, or to others around us, when circumstances are not how we like them? I’m more in the self-berating camp, although I can lash out as well (especially at my husband, who thanks to some amazing depth of character continues to put up with me even though I can be unreasonable and mean). To what end? Has it ever increased joy, peace, or goodness in the world? Only never, in my experience. Hm… and how do I hate it when the tables are turned! You dare to attack me? That is wrong and unjust! You should be punished, isolated, love withheld until you Realize the Wrong You Have Committed!! Nice double standard, eh?

Seriously. (Take a moment: if you have kids, do you talk to your kids like that? You can be honest, no one will know. Except your kids, who already know anyway.)

I abuse others to the precise degree that I abuse myself.

I am abusing myself when I abuse others, because I am acting out of alignment with my own truth.

“Be the change you wish to see in the world” (quote from Gandhi) also means be the change you wish to see in yourself.

Whenever I find a problem outside, I can find it inside.

Can you see any of this in you? Had any good epiphanies lately? 🙂

Posted in Buddhism, mothering

Possessed By Monsters

Yep. It’s true. I am.

Mothering is hard. No matter who, when, where, what. When a woman becomes a mother she disappears, her identity gone. Mothering is strapped onto her and she can’t get it off. No matter how she wrestles, wrangles, valiantly resists, it just snaps back onto her like a too-small swimming cap. POW!

Feeling this way does not in any way negate wanting and loving her children. No matter the mother, the she that existed before the firstborn entered the scene is permanently submerged, and her life is now lived from the backseat to the offspring front and center. This is how it is, and therefore how it should be. There is no changing it; no amount of arguing with reality will budge it.

But oh, those arguments with reality… that’s where the monsters show up. Monsters that throw tantrums even bigger than the three-year-old’s. Monsters that attack and blame the spouse or significant other. Monsters that punish children for being tired, hungry, cranky, perpetually needy. In other words, for being children.

Why resist children being children? Introspection and a lot of reading over the years has led me to the conclusion that we hate in others what we hate in ourselves (and I’m by no means the first to come to that conclusion). I have also observed that our individual “hot buttons” were wired in childhood by our primary caregivers. The adults who tended us, often in those most formative months and years before memory even begins, taught us what they could and could not accept by their responses to our behavior. Never mind that children experience rejection of behavior as rejection of self– that fact was unheard of until recent years and is still controversial in many circles. While the best method of teaching behavior is modeling, the primary method of teaching acceptable behaviors in a fear-based parenting model is reward/punishment. This builds an almost Pavlovian reaction a person may remain blissfully unaware of until it is triggered by the person’s own offspring. Then BAM! Out come the monsters!

Maybe I’m the only mother who struggles with this, but I am old enough to doubt that. The question I must ask is, how do I transform these reactions to my children that argue with reality and do not serve my or my children’s best interests?

I think the Buddhist tools of mindfulness and meditation are a mother’s best bets here. Mindfulness, in this case, requires simply bringing awareness to the feelings that emerge when triggered, without judgment. A regular meditation practice develops the ability to observe emotion in this way, without attachment. It is much easier to let negative feelings pass without getting stuck when judgment is eliminated from the equation. Judgment is energetically sticky, and implies a need to punish; without awareness, this impulse to punish can land anywhere, especially on unsuspecting children and spouses! Mindfulness creates space– a little breathing room, a pause to allow the waves of feeling to crash upon the beach of consciousness and then recede, without needing to do anything about it. It gives us the opportunity to choose our behavior, to act instead of react, to behave like adults allegedly are supposed to.

Of course, once a mother, it becomes phenomenally difficult to cultivate a regular meditation practice. Yet no one needs it more. I could scrape by without much meditation before children (oh how simple I didn’t know I had it!), but three kids down the line I daresay my survival depends on it. Some days I would say theirs probably does too 🙂 The trick, then, is to learn to meditate on the fly, to associate awareness and observation of the mind with mundane activities like walking, washing dishes, and doing laundry. Sitting meditation is great and wonderful, but when does a mother get to sit uninterrupted? Defining a successful meditation practice as sitting for X minutes X times a day or week is a prescription for failure for a mom. Mothers have to be more flexible than that– a good practice in itself, with its own fringe benefits.

So today I am writing myself a different prescription: daily meditation, no matter what. An elephant is eaten one bite at a time, so I’ll begin with a simple commitment to be aware and observing for five minutes each day, at some point. As a consistent pattern begins to emerge I’ll extend my time, or add a second five minute interval, depending on what reveals itself to be feasible. I can do this.

After all, I am possessed by monsters.