Friday, February 22, 2008

Start Where You Are

"Today was enough to make me completely not believe in karma."

That was my exact thought as I sat slumped in a chair in the back office of Pier 1, head and trashcan between my knees. I still had 6 hours to go in an 8 hour shift and I found myself throwing up the cantaloupe juice I'd consumed instead of an apple this morning.

I was only supposed to work 12-5 today, but one of our assistant managers decided to quit and not work her final two weeks. This was the particular assistant manager who I had covered for on numerous occasions, including one where I came in early because she had been throwing up all morning. I normally wouldn't complain, but the pain in my stomach and the burn in my throat made it hard not to think "This is so not fair".

A few hours later I took my 30 minute break and sitting balled up in the office chair focusing on my breath, I couldn't help but think of one of my favorite Buddhist authors- Pema Chodron. Ironically I'd flipped through a copy of O (Oprah's magazine) at Mark's parents' house during our strange estranging last weekend and read an interview that Oprah did with Pema. In that interview Pema talks about pain and suffering and how we desperately try to avoid it, to shut it out when what we really should be doing is the opposite.

"...not staying with the feeling cuts you off from your compassion for others, your empathy for others, and also from the largeness of your own heart and mind"

I took a couple of deep breaths and tried to stay with it. It started simple- I began to think about how many other people in the world were dealing with and have dealt with stomach aches. I thought about how many people are struggling with anxiety, how many individuals are mourning the loss of relationships and love, and I couldn't help but feel compassion grow within me.

Starting where we are, recognizing and fully being present in our own unique experiences allows us to reach outside of ourselves and connect to other living beings. But I also realized just how easy it is to do the exact opposite- to feel pain and cut other people off. I started to understand how people who abuse alcohol or drugs or food are desperately trying to escape an emotional pain and their resulting actions are so selfish. We're so bent on avoiding the hurt that we ignore the fact we're hurting those around us. We're face down and wallowing in the mud of our own self pity.

It hurt to admit to myself that I had been doing that in my relationship with Mark. I was so stuck inside my cloud of anxiety about my own life that I couldn't see much beyond my own nose. I wasted a perfect opportunity for healing, compassion and being awake and instead I chose to make myself and those around me miserable.

There's this trap I fall into whenever I start practicing compassion- I start to realize just how good I really do have it in comparison to everyone else in the world and I start to feel bad for any small amount of suffering I might feel. But tonight I realized that my suffering may be less (empirically speaking), but it isn't any less valid. I can't just wave it off as "Well at least I'm not starving to death" and try to push through and move on. Instead I need to feel it, to acknowledge it and allow myself to learn.

This encounter, as unpleasant as I'm finding it, is unique. It's never going to happen again in exactly this way. And maybe I'm glad of that but I don't want to waste this moment because it's never going to happen again, just like this. You know, this is—this is the only time I'm ever going to experience this. So let's taste it, smell it. "

I survived my shift, ended my apple fast a few hours early with a lovely bowl of miso soup and now I'm feeling much better. Perhaps this was too personal of a story to be sharing in such an open forum, but I felt the need to post it because I think I only truly understand what it is I'm feeling and thinking after I communicate it with someone else. Maybe something I said reached out to you, maybe not...that's okay too. I just wanted you to know that tonight a lotus bloomed in my murky swamp of a self, and in a way it makes this whole painful experience worth it.


kourtney said...

I'm so glad you shared that story... This comment is coming from someone who has spent a lot of time lately saying "this is not fair." You have such a beautiful way with words. Thank you for sharing.

Themindtaker said...

"Don't shut out the pain. This is the greatest moment of your life man, and you're off somewhere missing it!"

I'm glad you're realizing the validity of your pain. Now try to keep that lotus alive, blooming, and beautiful. :)

Kassie said...

I understand your hesitation to share what you're going through, but I'm glad you did. If there's anything I can do for you please let me know. You've always given me great advice when I've gone through difficult stretches and while I may not know the perfect thing to say right now, I hope that one day I can return the favor. Sending love your way. See you tomorrow!

Anonymous said...

Great post, Lindsey! This is very eloquently put, and I'm so glad I had the opportunity to read it! :)

Also, it's a few days late, but I think your reasoning about Hillary and Obama is very well spoken. I've been trying for months to sum up the way I feel about it, and "The U.S. may be ready for a woman President, but the world isn't," is exactly what I was looking for. Thanks!