Thursday, December 15, 2016

Tsunami, a story about being an ocean


Sometimes, life has a way of building up to a crescendo and leaving you stunned, vibrated and changed.

I feel like a tidal wave has been building in me, slowly, over thousands of miles (or is it years), a wave of tension, darkness and unrest. I've known it was coming. But it certainly increased in volume and hit shore in a way I wasn't expecting.

Recently, I broke down. Something seemingly inconsequential caught me, and the wave began to hit upon the shore. I started crying to Marco. I tried to tie it all up, explain this sudden crushing wave, but words came out spinning and foaming and turbulent.

In order to know the epicenter of an earthquake, circles are drawn around where the damage has happened. They then find the point where all circles intersect. But they can't really know until after all the shocks have happened. When you're in the middle of the shaking, the tsunami, you can't trace the origin. You can only try to stay safe and let it wash over you. I've always been a solver. I want to figure out the how and why and fix it. But the other night, I just let the wave come. I had a wash of emotions - sorrow, anger, fear, frustration, anxiety and then, finally, some relief.

Once the water began to settle, I could see just a little more clearly. I could trace the line out into my story and find the epicenter, the great shift that had caused this wave.

This is not the first wave. Not will it be the last, but I'm beginning to see that the origin, the epicenter, the chasm between the tectonic plates of who I am, was not exactly where I'd been focusing all these years. It was much further back, into the early days of being me. I'm seeing now that my very sense of self, the mountains and valleys of me, came too from this massive rending of my foundation.

As happens with tsunamis, more waves come. Yesterday, waking in a state of fog and fatigue, I wanted everything to escape being me for the day. I held it together. But the waters receded, threatening another massive wave. I didn't want to go to class and yet I wanted to escape the madness of weekday life with kids, homework, dinner, showers, fighting and bed. I gave brief thought to skipping class and getting a bottle of bourbon. But, I stayed steady enough to instead pack water and tea. Restlessness vibrated, waters began to rise. I wanted music, food, or anything to make the feelings stop, to release the pressure. But lately none of my usual vices have curbed the edginess of the building wave. So, I turned again to a source of steadying, Krista Tippett's show On Being. The episode that was at the top of my SoundCloud feed was an old episode called “Embracing our enemies and our suffering” with Robert Thurman and Sharon Salzburg. It seemed appropriate and timely.

Immediately I remembered why I go back to Buddhist teaching when I start losing my way. As Krista says early on in the interview, “in life, there will be suffering and we will harmed.” It's that simple. We aren't the only ones. This pain we feel is an essential and critical part of being human. We are not terrible for feeling this way. It just is. The problem arises in how we respond. I listened and felt the wave begin to curl as it approached the shore. I listened on my way to class. I listened finally, sitting in the parking lot. I took a deep breath and decided to brave the wave.

In class, I had a little anxiety about getting paired again with someone who caused a lot of pain before. I wanted  someone safe and someone I could trust not to hurt me. I was fortunate that a classmate, whose work is gentle and present, was available to work with me. In this class, the work centered around feeling more. We took a long time to sit and feel our bodies, to sense our partners, to feel and make note of what we feel both in ourselves and in our contact with them. It is an eye opening practice that leaves you with greater trust in your ability as well as a deep sense of safety within your own being. I loved it. I surprised myself with my ability to sit with the sense of my own impending doom and still be fully present in my body, fully present with my partner on the table. I was surprised how acute my feeling became when I stopped thinking and judging and figuring it out and focused on only observing. Once you’ve fully felt the subtle differences in tension, rotation, density and hydration, only then can you begin to work in a meaningful way. As I stayed and felt and noticed and let the thoughts of conclusion and outcomes float on by, a strange shift began to happen within me. I could feel it too within the tissues of my partner on the table.

Then it was my turn to receive. I felt more restless getting on the table than I did doing the work. Receiving is a different kind of work that involves truly feeling what’s happening inside your body. If you have a great partner, together you can feel your way into places you are stuck and nurture them into greater movement and ease. As my partner began the work I noticed that I kept expecting for it to hurt. He was gentle and careful and really listening, but I still found myself preemptively guarding against the inevitable pain. I realized that I was hanging on to past hurt. I was seeing a caring person as a person of potential harm. But the pain didn't come. And gradually, I began to relax into the trust of being there and allowing. The room was very quiet. The work was very subtle and meaningful and calm. During a moment of stillness, when all the practitioners were feeling, our instructor said, “I'm going to say two words.” He paused. “Loving kindness.” My heart felt torn. The wave began to crash. I’m sure he meant this as a reminder to the practitioners, to turn their attention to their intention, but it felt very personal. It was just what I needed to hear. It travelled back along that line of energy to the epicenter of my pain. In a place of darkness, in a place of loss, in a place that feels completely lacking in love, I let it slip in.

I will never be able to undo the harm. I will never be able to go back and be loved how I wish I had been. I will never be able to fix it or have a different story. But, perhaps, loving myself and accepting the love I am given, will begin to settle the disruption. Perhaps by loving the enemy within I can gain resilience from the enemy without.

Now, a very interesting thing happened. The instructor then led the practitioners into a period of rocking. He used me as the example body to demo the work. He rocked me, letting the fluidity of my body flow back and forth. He kept the rhythm going all down my entire body. The wave, instead of causing mass destruction, seemed to slosh about and flatten into calm.

It was as if my whole body became aware that I am not in that distant place. I am not still being hurt. I am healing. I'm okay. The abuse happened long ago and not now. Now, I am safe.

I missed out on deep abiding love as a child, and I have let the anticipation of harm cause me to miss out on it as an adult. But the truth is, I am truly, madly, deeply loved. I may have had my worth degraded as a child, but now I am surrounded by a community who recognizes my worth and values the qualities that have come from my shaken foundation. I am appreciated. I am valued. More than anything, I recognize my own worth, my own value, my own wisdom.

In the On Being episode about enemies, Robert Thurman talks about the psychology of loving your enemies. He says, “It means, you know, I want you to be happy. I’m gonna be happy no matter what, and it’s better. You’ll be more happy if you don’t kill me actually. And I might be more happy if you don’t kill me, but I’m gonna be happy whatever you do to me. But on that basis, I might take your weapon away.”

Last night, at the end of my session as practitioner, the instructor had as sit at the head of our partner and ask two questions:

What does this person feel like right now?

You sit and you feel and you take in that information.

What does this person feel like when everything is functioning perfectly?

You sit and you feel and you take in that information.

It turns out, the body is pretty communicative if you’re listening. It knows.


We all have trauma and pain and confusion. We all have enemies both without and within. We’re all stuck in places. We all have times when waves hit the shore. We have all been harmed and will be harmed. We know what that feels like. But we also know, deep within us, what healed feels like. Our cells know. They’re working every second to repair. We have within us at any moment both the possibility of suffering and the possibility of equanimity.

Take a moment and ask yourself right now, "What do I feel like right now?" Sit with it. Feel it. Notice. Then ask yourself, "What do I feel like when everything is functioning perfectly?" See if you can recall that feeling. See if you can sit with that peace for just a moment. Notice what changes. Notice what stays the same. Feel it.

Today, with shaky legs and a vibrant heart, I send out love to you. To my enemies, both without and within, I wish for you to be happy. I’m going to take your weapon away but not the hope for your happiness.

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