I’m participating in Sharon Salzberg’s 28-Day Real Happiness Meditation Challenge again this year, and my plan for this blog series is to write a poem or reflection on each day’s practice. You can find all the responses on the landing page.
“Working with emotions in our meditation practice sharpens our ability to recognize a feeling just as it begins, not fifteen consequential actions later. We can then go on to develop a more balanced relationship with it—neither letting it overwhelm us so we lash out rashly, nor ignoring it because we’re afraid or ashamed of it. Life is like an ever-shifting kaleidoscope; a slight change, and all patterns and configurations alter.”Sharon Salzberg
Ha ha ha. Well, what an apt meditation for today, when I lashed out about something that almost anyone else would see as minor but that is very weighty for me. (Houseplants. Don’t ask.)
I felt my feelings. I easily and immediately recognised how I felt: Frustrated, resentful, helpless, a feeling of being crushed, a feeling of weight pressing on me, a feeling of being trapped, despair, guilt, hostility, tenseness, annoyance, out-of-controlness, a dark jagged restlessness and wanting to break free of it.
But I didn’t step back from it, even as I felt this despairing anger overwhelming me in the moment. I could have taken a breath, left the room, taken a break, soothed myself. But I didn’t. It was either lash out or burst into tears (or both!) and I chose to lash out at someone else. Which doesn’t help the situation and resolves the press of feelings only temporarily.
“Lashing out” is really just the the more visible version of Sharon’s converse reaction, “ignoring” — they both have the same immediate result of releasing the intense pressure so that I can feel some relief, enough to move on from the mood. But time would have done the same thing.
Ignoring may seem more gentle but because it only represses the feelings instead of bringing them to light and working with them, eventually there will be either an implosion or an explosion as what’s been ignored seeks to be known. As most of us know, ignoring feelings repeatedly will usually lead to lashing out, eventually, because the feelings and the situation that prompted them have not been addressed and the same constellation of events that occurred before occurs again. Repressed feelings are a tinderbox just waiting for a match.
Maybe next time when I feel this way I can pause, take that break, sit with the feelings and do nothing about them (not ignore, not lash out), even though in the moment that feels impossible to do.
Awareness of what we’re thinking or feeling is one thing; acting on the awareness is another.
Featured image: the halcyon days of houseplants (2017)