Tag Archives: healing

Resolving to Make Friends With Change

This is the time of year when we all want to start over, to make things better, to move forward into a brighter future.

Perfectly understandable. As humans, we have the intelligence and forethought to choose goals and work toward them.

But I think for most of us, myself included, our underlying desire is to create a positive, permanent state that will eliminate discomfort and uncertainty forever. We want our lives to be perfect, and then to stay that way. We want to solve our problems once and for all.

Also perfectly understandable. But not the way life works. As the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, change is the only constant. So as we resolve to attempt some big changes in our lives, perhaps one of our goals could be to make friends with change itself, to acknowledge whatever the tides bring and to figure out how to take full advantage of it, even if it seems “bad.”

Pema Chodron, in her book When Things Fall Apart, talks about this approach to life’s uncertainties:

Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing. We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It’s just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.

When we think that something is going to bring us pleasure, we don’t know what’s really going to happen. When we think something is going to give us misery, we don’t know. Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all. We try to do what we think is going to help. But we don’t know. We never know if we’re going to fall flat or sit up tall. When there’s a big disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may be just the beginning of a great adventure.

So let’s make goals, envision a better future, and move bravely in that direction. But as we go, let’s know that curve balls happen, winds shift, the tide will come in and go out. Let’s be ready for whatever the future brings, open to its gifts and its challenges. Let’s breathe through change, that dear friend who is always present.

From Furious to Curious

Maybe just a cutesy saying, but after I saw it on a Facebook wall photo, it stuck with me all day. In my quest to heal myself from my angry outbursts, I will consider any possibility to reach that goal.

I get the “curious” part on an intellectual level. Instead of lashing out in fury, allow your energy to focus on the situation with an open mind, allow your pointed rage to ask questions instead of shouting: “What do I need in this situation?” “What is most important here?” “What wonderful thing can I help bloom out of this chaos?” Or whatever inquiry fascinates you at the moment you find yourself about to blow your top.

Yesterday this technique, being fresh, was enough to distract me. There were a couple of situations in which I was able to turn my anger into an internal dialogue that siphoned enough of the frustration that I was able to be chill.

But then I went outside to water the garden. I’d been watching the sky all day and seeing big dark clouds come and go, hoping they would just go ahead and dump some of their load on us and do my work for me. No dice. So I’m out there, on edge waiting for one of the kids to come out shrieking, whining or begging, as is their habit.

And my new hose keeps kinking. Everytime I so much as breathe much less take a step the stupid thing twists and stops the flow.

The first couple of times I felt the anger, I remembered the idea about turning it to curiosity and I was very curious about what I could possibly be curious about in this situation.

About the tenth time it got kinked and I had to stop what I was doing and go over to untwist it, I was just royally pissed. What can I possibly want to know about any of this? I know why the water keeps stopping. I know what will happen to my plants if they bake all day in this Southern summer sun and get no drink. I know precisely how much they mean to me.

I learned that sometimes I am just tired and don’t want to keep encountering obstacles to accomplishing the things that need doing but which I have no energy for. Sometimes I am too tired even to be curious.

Which strikes me as frustrating, in and of itself.

Who Comes to Us in our Dreams?

When we pass the night in our sleeping fantasies, do we really get to see people who have passed on?  I have to say yes.  To awake with the solid certainty that I have been in the presence of a loved one is a feeling I cannot question.  If somehow it is just an illusion, then I will gladly remain behind that curtain.

Many years ago I lost a partner to a drug overdose.  We’d been together for a few intense, sometimes violent months. Beneath the storm of our external relationship there was a deep, true connection that could not be severed.

His goals in life were to be the next Great American Poet and to make sure he never ran out of beer.  My goals were to write the Great American Novel and to get him to quit drinking.  Something we had in common was that we wanted to have a child together.

On September 29th, 1995, I learned that he had died the previous evening of a heroin overdose.  That night, after finally passing out from the exhaustion of crying my soul out, I dreamed that we were in each other’s presence again.  I told him we needed to make love again, to try to make our baby.  He just smiled a really big, peaceful, joyful, knowing smile, an expression that clearly said, “Don’t worry about it,”  and hugged me.  As we embraced there was no boundary between us, where his arms ended and mine began.

On October 13th I discovered that I was pregnant.

In the last week I had a dream about my Grandma who died in December of 2009.  In the dream she was laying in a bed, curled up facing away from me.  Somehow I knew that when she turned around, she might have any kind of face, even the most nightmarish rotting flesh from a horror movie (and I avoid that genre for just that reason).  But I knew that it was my Grandma, no matter what she ended up looking like, so I curled up behind her, just to be near her.  As she turned around we both sat up to face each other —  and she was very young, early 20s, the age I imagine she would choose to be if she were given the option.  She was glowing with joy.  She somehow morphed into a young man, or he came on the scene and the focus shifted away from her, but however it happened, I knew in that moment I would be granted a wish.  I immediately begged with tearful sobs to be healed of my poisonous anger, the explosive frustration that attacks me and the people I love all too frequently.  (As you may know, anger is something I’ve struggled with for a long time, such as in this earlier post.)

Well, since then I’ve had the same frequency of outbursts as usual, but yesterday at the thrift store I found a book called “Anger” by Thich Nhat Hahn.  It seemed to be a little gift from the universe, a little push in the right direction (hopefully.)

I don’t know where the certainty is that I’ve really seen the deceased person.  As I say, it may be wishful thinking, it may be a foolish desire to hang on to something I’ve lost, but no matter what, I , who am pretty open to critical analysis and alternate explanations, refuse to doubt.

How Big is Your Heart?

Lately I have been struggling with overwhelming feelings of being hurt by and resentful towards someone and I feel like it poisons not only my relationship with that person but, to a small, insidious degree, the rest of my life as well.

I tried the trick of opening a book randomly (this time I chose The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh, which is sort of cheating because every page is brimming with wisdom) and hoping to find just the answer to my question.  Which I did:

If you take a handful of salt and pour it into a small bowl of water, the water in the bowl will be too salty to drink.  But if you pour the same amount of salt into a large river, people will still be able to drink the river’s water… Because of its immensity, the river has the capacity to receive and transform.  The river doesn’t suffer at all because of a handful of salt.  If your heart is small, one unjust word or act will make you suffer.  But if your heart is large, if you have the understanding and compassion, that word or deed will not have the power to make you suffer.  You will be able to receive, embrace and transform it in an instant.  What counts here is your capacity.  To transform your suffering, your heart has to be as big as the ocean.

The Pacific

This resonated as exactly the perspective I need.  When I feel hurt, it does feel like my heart, like the Grinch’s, is three sizes too small.  I feel very closed off and vulnerable, like a little critter hiding wounded under a log.

How to cultivate a heart as big as the ocean?  How to encompass the power, capacity, endurance, the inexhaustible ability to receive and transform without being poisoned in the exchange?  I accept that suffering will return again and again; my focus is not to avoid the hurt.  It is to avoid the carrying around of the hurt in my tiny jar of a heart, where the momentary conflict displaces all the fluid of my emotional self and results in my heart becoming a little cesspool of negativity that I pull from in my interactions with others.

I have no strategies yet, other than my new awareness of my feelings, and how I imagine I might someday, ideally, handle them better.  I visualize mentally and emotionally what an oceanic heart would feel like, and it feels wonderful. 

How big is your heart?  Do you find that the smallest drop of hurt fills your cup?  Do you receive the hurt, embrace it and transform it into something loving?  Do you have any advice to share from your experiences in expanding your capacity to love?

Is Anger About Control?

I am determined to find a new way to deal with my angry outbursts.  The books I’ve been reading suggest that I look my anger in the face, embrace it, listen to it.  When I read Thomas Moore’s suggestion in “Writing in the Sand” that to be self-possessed (to act in loving, healthy ways) is to be open to life, not to resist what is happening but to surrender and harmonize, to move forward with open heart and surrendered will, I realized how tight my grip is in those moments that I explode in rage.

The other day, to name just one example, I was trying to cook something and my three year old had been sitting on a chair at the kitchen table when he had an accident, for which I kept my cool.  I stopped my cooking chore, got him out of the puddle on the chair and began to clean him up.

As I’m doing this, my 16 month old is climbing on my desk chair and banging on my computer, reaching for scissors, scribbling on important papers.  I keep stopping my cleaning task to get her off the chair, telling her “no,” trying to clean up my son and get him some clean clothes so isn’t standing there in the middle of the room cold and naked.  I leave the room and run to get him some clothes.  When I get back, she has climbed up on the kitchen chair and is standing in the puddle of urine, splashing happily.

I freaked.

Now, whatever I should have done or not done, whatever the ideal course of action was, my internal reality was that I had a death grip on the situation and the more it slipped away from me, the tighter I clung to it.

I think this desperation for control stems from my belief that if I don’t have complete control, then I’m not doing a good job.  Taking responsibility and being a good Mama is equal to never losing that death grip on people and events.  Intellectually I know this is wrong, but in everyday life, that is my process.  I need to replace it with something healthier.  I cannot simply eliminate bad habits without cultivating new habits in their places, because life does not operate in a vacuum.

The worst part is that I see my kids act out in anger, and although I understand that almost everyone is going to display immature reactions at a young age, I can’t help but think that they might have learned some other ways to deal with things if I’d healed my anger sooner.  I have a responsibility to learn how to let go, to face things bravely and calmly and to know that the best I can do is to stay open to solutions and channel love and grace as I do what needs to be done.