Wednesday, April 06, 2005

inspiration from strange places




Hey. I don’t have a lot of time to update (again). It seems to be going around – most of the other blogs I check regularly aren’t updated every day, either. Fine – less pressure on me, right? Right.

Duckie’s sick, poor baboo. They called me yesterday afternoon, suspecting the dread rotavirus. I hope it’s less specific, a stomach virus that won’t result in a two-week long battle with diarrhea and diaper rash. I’ll refrain from the juicy details to spare the weak-stomached. As of this morning she wasn’t able to hold down water – we’re hoping it was just that she drank too much too fast. (But at least the fever went down overnight.) Husband is home with her now, and trying crackers on for size. Poor baby is starving and I hope she can manage to keep some calories in her. I’ll be heading home to take over at lunchtime.

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I did want to mention the main book I’m reading now (among others – I’ve also got Stephen King’s The Tommyknockers and Christopher Moore's Lamb on my plate*. Although to tell the truth I’ve kind of lost my taste for King’s gore. Not to worry, I’m sure it will come back eventually.) The book is called Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times, by Pema Chodron. She’s a Buddhist nun.

She writes about a technique that I am finding both immensely challenging and highly illuminating; the technique of simply experiencing an emotion without acting on it, without expressing it, without judging it or repressing it. It’s not easy for me. It’s hard as hell to get angry and then to let go of what she calls the “story line” and just feel it. I’ve realized that expressing the anger I feel very often makes it worse, and repressing does the same thing. But just feeling it – completely, with every cell in my body and letting go of the intellectualizing that leads to the acting-out or judgment – damn, but that’s hard.

Strangely enough, when I practice the technique the intensity of the rage is outrageous and frightening sometimes – it makes all the muscles in my upper body clench and strain as if I’m trying to pull an impossibly huge weight. But since it’s not tied up with guilt or self-hatred at the time (if I’m lucky), it’s also thankfully ephemeral. It leaves me quickly, feeling exhausted, but also clean. Because for once I’ve managed to experience the emotion without hurting anyone – myself included. And then I can let it go. Whew.

There’s another concept I’ve run across since I’ve started investigating Zen Buddhism (this is a new thing, by the way, so if you’re wondering where the hell this came from, I’m sure I haven’t a clue. I think I saw an episode of
The Simpsons that triggered it.) The concept is compassion, and the point is that in Asian Buddhist languages (specifically Tibetan) the word for “compassion” means both compassion for yourself as well as for other people.

So I’m doing this reading and bringing these concepts in, then placing them on a kind of shelf in my head, to take down and look at later, if they come in handy. And as I practice the technique I talked about earlier, I realize that I’m not the only one who experiences the incredible intensity of this anger – everybody does, at one point or another in their lives. Only to try to escape the discomfort of the emotion, we shunt the energy somewhere else, into screaming, crying, breaking things, bong hits, cigarettes, you name it.

And suddenly I feel just a little less alone. And I start to really understand what my daughter is going through when she pitches her fits. I start to have a little more compassion for what my mother went through when she had her own tantrums as I was growing up. That “bad mommy, bad person” judgment I keep making about myself starts to lose some of its strength.

Interesting.

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“As a species, we should never underestimate our low tolerance for discomfort. To be encouraged to stay with our vulnerability is news that we can use.”

- Pema Chodron, The Places That Scare You


*correction: Originally this post misnamed Christopher Moore as Christopher Miles. I don't know why. Google tells me that the Christopher Miles with the most hits is a short-film director. Go figure.

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