In my latest post for the “In Between” series, “Hitting the Bottom,” I listed the cascade of events that led to the second biggest mountain I’ve ever had to climb. (And that’s saying something because I’m on the downside of life’s mountain.) Fortunately, I learned skills in 1990 when I lived at Kripalu in Massachusetts to help me navigate life’s challenges.
That first experience of “hitting bottom” (1988-1990) was an extreme “dark night of the soul” experience (related in the first book of my Burnout Series: BURNOUT: How a Desert Lizard Restored My Faith).
The story in the second book (Part One of CYCLING in the CITY: How I Got My Confidence Back) reveals how I used my skills as a special education teacher to pull myself up by the bootstraps. “Part Two” offers practical information–like why change is so difficult and tactics to make it easier. The overall strategy includes the powerful role of love (excerpted from My Final Quit).
But it wasn’t until I went to Kripalu that I got the whole story on dealing with life. I spent two months there, taking two different courses: “Kripalu Meditative Massage” and “Yoga Teacher Training” but learning so much more. That story appears in “Part Six” (thirteen chapters) of the third BURNOUT book: 2 Years, 1 Paycheck, 0 Plans: a story of healing.
Following is an excerpt from the third book in the Burnout Series that explains how we create our pain:
The new idea I learned was that thought patterns could also create toxic wastes and pain. I immediately recalled some of the viler thought patterns I had had in my past – like fixating on some petty, unfair action someone did to me – and how I allowed my creative imagination to run rampant with revenge responses. Perhaps that is why I came here with chronic lower back pain. With all my efforts to let go of my negative feelings, but at the same time constantly trying to understand how I could possibly do that, how I could possibly forgive my nemesis at the college, I had created the neural pattern of “She done me wrong.” And it was hurting me physically.
My Kripalu instructors explained it this way:
When we have unmet needs, we often feel anger and resentment. We don’t want to look at it because it’s shameful and ugly to us, so the parasympathetic nervous system puts it in our BACK so we don’t have to look at who we are. Healing involves asking “What kind of person am I?” and letting go of not being responsible, letting go of blaming anyone else for not supporting us.
If I wanted to be honest, I could recognize that my disregarded need to be treated with professional respect from the administrators and colleagues at my college was still a powerful sore spot. But I tended to disregard things and thoughts like that, where nothing I did or said would affect the other person’s behavior or outcome. If I can’t affect the outcome, what’s the point?
But I learned other ways of viewing pain at a darshan – a talk from Gurudev, the Master Teacher, Beloved Teacher – where he presents a topic and then entertains discussion:
Resistance is always the fear of loss, of going from what feels known, comfortable, safe, to what feels unknown, uncomfortable, threatening. When in fear, we call life “the unknown.” When in love, we call life “mystery.” Pain and pleasure are in every passing moment. Both have a mission. They bring us messages that cannot be taught by anybody on this earth. If we let ourselves face IT, the secrets of life will be revealed.
The whole idea of facing IT, whatever was bugging me, of spending time getting to know IT, became the cornerstone for my “walking meditation” time. For example, whenever IT would get to be too much in the dorm, I would take myself on a walk and allow IT to be there without resisting. I would just “be” with IT. No judgments, no opinions – just watching IT in my mind. It was like saying to myself, “Yep, IT is. And, wow, look at that bird over there!” In other words, accepting that IT has a place in my life, but I don’t have to like it or participate with it or have an opinion about it. I must, however, learn to allow IT because I have zip control over IT. Got loud neighbors, a barking dog? Same thing: notice, allow, shift your focus to something else.
I did that daily for the entire month and kept a record of my experience in my journal. What I learned from that experiment was that “IT’s all good.” Something happens. Something shifts the feelings and perspective. What I learned from my experiment is that, by itself, IT is innocent.
I also discovered how my ego/mind wanted to interpret, to make a judgment, about whether IT’s good or bad. If I decided IT was bad, then my little personality “ran with it,” made IT huge. But if I could resist making a judgment, if I could just allow IT to be what IT was, then there was no interpretation and there was no bad feeling.
For example, when someone didn’t respond to me the way I wanted them to do, my interpretation of that response or lack of response is what caused me to feel a certain way, not the event itself. The event itself was innocent, had no power over me until I gave it power with my interpretation. (Excerpts from 2 years, 1 paycheck, 0 plans, pp. 199-201.)
I was reminded of this perspective when I hit bottom last year and I am so grateful to remember that I am not alone and that I am not helpless. Instead, I am part of All That Is, and I am the creator of my life.
Till next time,
“Please be kind to everyone you meet, for we all have our hidden sorrows.” ~Tzaddi