My Little Girl

See this sweet kid? It’s me. I think I was about four in this picture. This locket was something that my Grandpa kept in his lunch pail until he retired. Then, afterwards he kept it on his dresser. When he died my Nana gave her back to me for safe keeping. She still lives inside my body. In my memories (cognitive and implicit), in my muscles and nervous systems. And it’s my job to care for her now. In good times and in challenging ones like what we are facing in our nation today.

When I’m reacting to life in a way that is bigger than the trigger in the present moment...enraged by an ignored text message, despair over a slight work upset, feeling like a powerless kid rather than a grown woman with options, I know that she is present.

It’s normal for our old wounds and defenses to come crashing into the present moment and many of us don’t know this or see it when it’s happening. When we are in these implicit memory experiences we can forget how to be a rational adult and sink into our kid self...reacting to an unanswered text as abandoned child left all alone rather than knowing it is just an unanswered message. We can feel utterly hopeless and powerless to make a change, protest, or stand up for what we believe is right. What we’re not realizing is that these huge emotional experiences are actually old body and nervous system generated memories of being abandoned, hurt, or terrified from our past. It’s like a movie reel is getting played over present reality.

So how do we know when we’re caught? When you have that niggling sense you’re overreacting to a challenge pay attention and get curious. You can even ask yourself this, “how old do I FEEL right now?” Another way we can start to see this process is when a trusted therapist, friend, partner, or family member reflects that we may have overreacted during an exchange. To seriously consider what they’ve shared gives us an opportunity to grow and heal.

For me growing my awareness around really big feelings that don’t perfectly match current life circumstances has been a huge relief. When it happens now I imagine the part of myself panicking is this little girl. I’ve learned to be gentle with her, not judgmental. When she’s present I ask what she needs. I ask her what’s scaring her.

By caring for myself like this my emotions can now start to settle and feel more contained. Once I’ve supported my emotional needs there’s an important final step. I remind myself that I’m a grown woman who can sometimes feel like a very small girl. This extra step helps me return to the present moment. It reminds me that though I feel powerless, I do have options. I can protest. I can vote. I can make my needs known to myself and others.

AND this implicit memory stuff, it’s not all bad news…she doesn’t just live in my tears and terror. I experience that kid when I dance, tell jokes, and run. I feel her freedom and soul every time I teach. When that happens I know she is thanking me for taking such good care of her.

Supposed To: My Day of Suffering

"We suffer because we are projecting the myth of permanence upon a situation that is actually conditioned, selfless, and constantly changing. Everything is interrelated and interdependent. There is nothing substantial and separate that we can lean upon. Samsara, 'the cycle of suffering,' is a direct result of our desire for permanence."

From “The Myth of Permanence” by Sakyong Mipham

I don't know about you but when I read philosophy I can have a hard time grasping the concepts in a meaningful, how does this apply to day to day life, kind of way.  In other words, I'm always curious about how I can LIVE an idea not just think it. For instance take the topic of suffering. Sure in my head I've been bouncing around the idea for a while now...we can't control the world around us yet most humans try...this habit creates suffering. When we walk around with a lot of expectations about how the present moment and its inhabitants should be we are contributing to our pain rather than easing it. Today my understanding of how I create my own suffering hit home in a new way. I create suffering...I do that every day, for many minutes of the day.

For this New England girl it all starts with the phrase "supposed to." As in today I was supposed to get a lot of work done on my computer; as in my internet was supposed to be working properly. As in I was supposed to be done by my afternoon full of clients so tonight I could rest with my family. See none of the things on my list are guaranteed to work and yet it didn't stop my mind from grasping at the thought that everything should go according to my plan. The truth is that nothing is fixed and yet every day I rely on things to go MY WAY and when they don't I repeat the refrain SUPPOSED TO and then I suffer. 

As you read above I had a big list of things I wanted to accomplish today...when the writing was on the wall that my internet was too slow for some tasks due to the weather (another supposed to...April is not supposed to be so icy and cold!) I decided to go to the drugstore across the street for some new earbuds while a file was uploading to my computer.

I approached the crosswalk at a dangerous intersection and heard my internal grumbling "I hate these people...they are driving too fast...this is a crazy intersection...what are they thinking? They are supposed to drive carefully through here...they are supposed to stop for pedestrians...." I stopped my thinking and reviewed that phrase supposed to. As I finished my walk to the drugstore I realized that I had been torturing myself all day with that phrase. Suddenly I could connect personally to the Buddhist concept of suffering. I had my real-life scenario of how I was reacting to the day as an example of the concept. 

As I watched my mind grasping at how today should be to fit my rigid view of reality, I recognized that I was contributing to my own frustration and experience of having a shitty day. You you can't totally stop pain. It's impossible. Pain is part of life and being human. I couldn't stop the ice from falling from the sky, but I could stop lamenting spring. I could make a choice to re-route my course of action rather than bang my head against the wall. I made my predicament worse by refusing to accept life as is. My desire for a different reality was making me feel terrible! So how to live it differently?

I can't make my internet work. I can't stop the rain. I can't force my computer to move faster. What I can do is let myself see what's happening and respond to it with flexibility rather than with an iron grasp on having my way. I lost an hour of work today because I kept waiting for the internet to speed up. Rather than accept the one bar of cell service my phone was showing me I kept waiting for it to get better. This is what contributed to my frustration. Had I really taken in what I was seeing, I could have taken my walk to the drugstore sooner, maybe even scrapped the project completely for today. When I finally accepted what was happening and shifted to a new plan I felt better! And that's how I wrote this blog rather than doing the 10 other things I had on my Monday to-do list. I accepted my fate and recognized that this story might be a way for others to consider how they contribute to their own suffering...and could help us all take a step into shifting away from trying to control things and into meeting the day, each other, and ourselves as is. 

Blessings to you on your journey towards freedom from suffering!