Sorry for the radio silence. A few lovely people have emailed to check if I’m okay, as silence from a cancer survivor is always a bit worrying. So thank you for your concern, I’m absolutely fine. Fine, but very thoughtful. I think the events of recent months and the world’s continuing apparent plunge into insanity are affecting most of us on a very deep level, and there is a sense of powerless frustration that is very difficult to deal with. I realise I’ve been unwittingly projecting an undue amount of anger onto the things I can have a say in, “will you PLEASE wipe that shower down” because I can’t have an immediate and individual effect on something I care passionately about – like, say, banning fracking, which isn’t right whichever way you look at it – and it doesn’t sit very well with me. I know that astrologically we are being walloped with one massive planetary soap opera after another, so my other reaction is to want to keep my head down, hence the silence on the blog.
But ‘keeping my head down’ isn’t especially constructive (well not for me anyway) as those feelings have to go somewhere, and one very powerful lesson I learnt from having cancer is that strong feelings need to be addressed or they become extremely toxic. I come from a very quiet family, who in their loving wisdom decided not to argue in front of me, because as a tiny child I used to get so distressed when there was any kind of upset. That was incredibly sweet of them, and I know they were doing it for the best reasons, but the result is that any powerful expression of emotion, particularly anger, sends me running for cover as I (still) have no idea how to deal with it. As a child that is understandable, but as an adult it makes life very difficult, as whilst quivering under my chosen cover, I’m berating myself for not being stronger and standing up for myself. From that position is feels like a lose-lose situation, something I clearly need to work on.
And I’m finding that my preferred method of working on something like that is going within, which in fact it is my preferred method of dealing with anything, falling just short of shopping. Although having said that, after a particularly upsetting day recently, I did actually stay in the car to meditate while Stephen did the shopping, such was my need to deal with feelings arising. Years and years and years ago I went to a meditation class run by a Zen buddhist. He was a lovely guy who taught us that meditation can be practised anywhere, and that we should be able to find our calm centre in the middle of a busy shopping area if we need to. So for the first time ever, I tried that one out – in the middle of Sainsbury’s car park. Now that was a revelation in itself. We got a new car a few months ago, and you’re probably not surprised to learn it is pink. Not Barbie pink, but a deep vibrant, beautiful Fuschia pink. Or according to the garage paperwork, ‘Fukshia Pink’ which we laugh about a lot. One of the side effects of having this beautiful little car is that a) I can’t park next to a red car (for obvious reasons) and b) I’m very protective of it. So with Stephen safely dispatched with shopping list and bags, I have just settled into a comfortable position, connecting with the seat, relaxing up my spine, and gently broadening my shoulders and starting to watch my breath, when a big white truck starts to reverse into the space in front of me. And it doesn’t have any parking sensors from what I can see or hear. And he obviously has no idea I’m in the car. Can he even see our little car? The temptation to leap out and make it obvious I’m there to witness any clunking or banging is immense. Then I realise this is it – this is exactly what I am meditating about: the temptation to try and control everything in an effort to shut out all the stuff I can’t control. So back down to Defcon 1 as the guy parks his truck extremely elegantly and safely, with no loud metallic noises, and wanders off to do his shopping, blissfully unaware of the drama that has just unfolded in the little pink car behind him.
It turned out to be a highly beneficial experience, funnily enough, and one I will definitely repeat. I found that allowing all the noises and distractions of a busy car park to come and go helped me to allow all the thoughts to just come and go at the same time; in fact it is easier than meditating to calming music or in silence. That’s where I find I am suddenly deep in thought about something, then think, “Ooh, look a thought! Better let that one go.” Then it takes me a moment to get back to where I was before that thought carried me away.
But joking aside, I’m leaning very heavily on a beautiful book called Seeds for a Boundless Life – Zen Teachings from the Heart by Zenkei Blanche Hartman. It is divided into three parts, and it is the final section, ‘Seeds of Advice’ that I’m finding so liberating and supportive. This is where Zenkei has published some of the letters from practitioners that she has responded to in the magazine Buddhadharma. A lot of Buddhism involves complicated precepts and paths and teachings which I haven’t got my head round yet, so it is good to read that people who have been practising for many years are still facing issues that I completely relate to. Her heartfelt answers are simple and to the point, and echo very much of course the teachings given by the lovely monastics from Plum Village – see Blog #64 for details of that beautiful experience. I must admit I miss them like crazy, and would go over for a retreat in an instant if I could, for a top up of their peace and love. Anyway. One of the questions which was very relevant to me was how to deal with the anger and upset I feel when faced with the evidence of bad treatment and abuse of others – be that animals (yeah, thanks people on FB for sharing all those horrible pictures), people (ditto), or the planet – when I’m trying to project love and compassion. Somehow it feels like a teeny drop in a massive ocean that doesn’t make any difference, and it can become almost overwhelming. Her (much longer) answer included this section, which helps me immensely:
The important work for us then, is to remain aware of our intrinsic connection with all beings and to continuously cultivate our capacity for the beneficial mental states of loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity. How we actually live this precious life we have been given is the most important point. Although we may fervently wish to end all pain in the world, as many before us have wished, the best we may be able to do is not add to it. If we add judgment and anger to the situation, it can only increase the suffering.
Ooh yes. I like that a lot. And it makes me think of ripples in a pond. If I’m angry with someone (like I was the other day, and I’m sorry for that), then that affects their state of mind too, so they might take it out on someone else, and so it goes on. Viewed from that perspective, I can see that although I’m trying my hardest (usually) to cultivate all the states she is talking about (and do a full time job, lol), and feeling bad about the times I lapse, at least, on the whole, I’m not adding to the burden of all the other stuff that is going on.
So that’s what I’ve been doing with my time. Working on what is coming from within – with all its personal history and ingrained habits, and guilt for things I’ve maybe not done too well – and making that as good as it can be, rather than focusing on the difficult and unsolvable issues ‘out there’ that have the power to make me feel bad and trigger emotions I would prefer not to feed. That reminds me of a Cherokee folk tale I absolutely love but often forget to practise:
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life.
“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
Wishing you love, peace and health – and happy times feeding the Good Wolf..