Monday, February 27, 2012

Resistance is Futile

I started this month with the idea that I would turn this corner, use this diet and exercise program as a catalyst for greater change, becoming a more disciplined, structured and organized person.  It probably sounds absurd, that I would think that a diet change like eliminating animal products could affect that kind of change.  But, I did.  

There are two Heather’s trapped inside this one body.  There is the sufferer, a damaged, haphazard, chaotic, ego-centric, craving mad-woman.  And there is the witness who is calm, loving, centered.  I spend my days struggling, fighting, yearning to beat the sufferer into submission.  Over the past few years my life has become more ordered.  Yes, life with the kids is chaotic, but my internal life has become more still.  I’ve worked hard at routine, diet changes, spiritual study and action to achieve supremacy over Heather, the sufferer.  And I’ve fooled myself into thinking that the witness has become stronger or more in charge, that I’m winning.

But as this month progressed and the rigidity of the diet occupied a great part of my time and energy and focus, I tipped the scales.  I was spending hours in the kitchen, frustrated with the kids, completely self-consumed.  I felt awful if I missed a day of exercise or accidentally consumed something like Worcestershire sauce, unknowingly eating anchovies.  The sufferer was completely wrapped up in the “success” of the plan.  All of my “good” actions and “pat on the back” discipline was just more of the same craving madness.  How could I not have seen it?  

Well, I got completely derailed.  I’ve suffered from this pinched nerve/muscle spasm in my  neck and shoulder for months.  It comes and goes with intensity, but I’ve done very little to fix the problem.  For all my supposed self-care, I was ignoring an increasingly debilitating problem.  Gradually my range of motion became smaller and smaller.  The pain intensified.  Even small movements of my head resulted in agonizing pain by the end of the day.  Finally, last weekend, I crumpled.  While my parents had the kids, when I could have spent time doing fun things or getting my house more organized, I ended up motionless on the couch with muscle relaxers and heat and an inability to move.  And life piled up around me.  Laundry went undone, dishes sat in the sink.  Yet, I had no choice but to sit.  There was a part of me that understood that my body was doing what I hadn’t been able to do, pull myself off the insanity train.  But most of me just continued to suffer, frustrated by my lack of exercise, my inability to do all the things that I seem to believe somehow give me worth.

Then, Marco and I got into a fight.  And we started down that usual path where he complains about something and I internalize and cry and sink into a pit of self-hatred.  I was feeling completely worthless.  Everywhere I looked I saw failure.  My piles on the counter:  failure.  My unfolded laundry:  failure.  My Plan of Action:  failure.  Heather Minter in total is a failure.  I was angry at Marco.  I started down that line of thinking, “How could I have married someone who never changes?  How could I have married such a jerk?”

Fortunately, the witness saw all the craziness the sufferer was causing.  And she stepped in.

I heard someone tell me once, “It’s not about doing everything perfectly, it’s about having a place to come back to.”  So, I went back to the place I knew I had found truth, Shambhala Buddhism.  I played audio tracks of Pema Chödrön”s teaching on Basic Goodness and Maitri as I went about my work.  I picked up the book by Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and soaked in the teaching.  How easily I forget.

Ram Dass says, “Your problem is you are too busy holding on to your unworthiness.”

I grew up believing in Basic Badness.  Man is bad and doomed to hell for eternity.  We are unholy, rotten, and unworthy and undeserving of love and grace and peace.  But we are lucky to have a loving God forgive us our nature and give us those things.  On top of it, this was taught to me by some pretty ruthlessly tyrannical authoritarian men.  Men who were pretty hung up on their authority and on teaching basic badness.  

But that’s not what I see in humankind.  That’s not what the witness within me knows to be true.  The truth is that I am worthy.  I am enough.  I have basic goodness.  All of us have basic goodness.  Sure, we do horrible things, we feed the sufferer, we damage each other, but we have access, at any moment, to grace and peace and love.  It’s there, as close as the next breath.  We don’t have to do anything or be anything or believe anything.  We just have it within.  

Well, after a particularly moving message, I was completely overcome with love.  I could see it all so clearly, my grasping, my struggling, my striving.  I could see how I was choking myself with all my hard work.  I could see how I was teaching my children that they are unworthy, drilling into them this idea of achieving perfection.  But rather than feeling sad, I just felt so much compassion for my poor, sad, suffering self.  I thought, “There I go again, silly me” instead of, “I suck.”  And, what’s more, I could see how I was so hung up on being loved by Marco and getting that sense of approval and value from him that I wasn’t giving him the same level of respect and love and forgiveness.  I expected perfection from him.  But I need to just love him, love him in his suffering and striving.  

In Shambhala, The Sacred Path of the Warrior, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche writes, “When you live your life in accordance with basic goodness, then you develop natural elegance.  Your life can be spacious and relaxed, without having to be sloppy.  You can actually let go of your depression and embarrassment about being a human being, and you can cheer up.”

I love that.

He writes that when we honor ourselves, truly, and operate out of a place of dignity, then the discipline in our lives comes out of that respect and love and grace.  We love the sufferer.  We are patient and kind with them.  

He also says, “You have to completely conquer the feeling that there is something fundamentally wrong with your human nature and that therefore you need discipline to correct your behavior.  As long as you feel that discipline comes from outside, there is still a lingering feeling that something is lacking in you.”

Pema Chödrön said in her interview with Bill Moyers, “I might be wrong, maybe basic badness is a fundamental state. But basic goodness makes for a much happier world. And for feeling more at home in the world, and more friendship.”

So, that’s where I am today, as I finish out this month of vegan eating and exercise.

I’ve learned more about my body and food, and I think I’ll keep avoiding dairy and limit my meat consumption.  But I’m going to try to focus on moderation instead of elimination.  I just don’t have a strong enough conviction against eating animals to sustain the vegan lifestyle.  And I like Worcestershire sauce.  

My Plan of Action is still very much in place.  But I’m shifting gears for March.  March is about Mindfulness.  I plan to meditate almost every day, continue honoring my body with nearly daily exercise and a mindful diet.  But I’m taking into the rest of my life.  I’m going to try to decrease the time I spend doing things that seem good (like cooking) that really take me away from what is truly good (like sitting and reading to my kids).  There’s a balance in there somewhere that can only be found with a deep belief that I am enough and starting right where I am, craving wild-woman that I am.  I sure do love her.

I’m also signing off of Facebook and focusing on my writing and being mindful about my interactions, reaching out to close friends, connecting on a deeper level, spending time instead of status updates.  It’s an addiction I really want to give up.  

So, I’ll sign off with another quote from Ram Dass,

“When we see the Beloved in each person, it’s like walking through a garden watching flowers bloom all around us.”

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