There were a lot of dark moments in my growing up years. I’ve talked about it some on my blog, and those dark moments left a mark on my soul. But during my meditations* of late, memories of something important has been coming to the surface.
I think the spirit of me as a child had a remarkable capacity to endure all that I had gone through and one of the fundamental reasons for that was because I was shut out from the care and concern of my narcissistic mother and alcoholic step-father and I had trouble getting along with my older siblings, and few friends.
Yes, I’m theorizing that my emotional neglect was also my salvation.
My mother was emotionally unavailable and unsafe to be around, and from what I’ve gleaned and heard over the years, causing all sorts of hell for her two husbands. My father was a caring and loving man, though troubled and he drank to cope. My mother chewed my father up and spat him out, but not before giving birth to three children with him – children she didn’t really know how to care for. I surmise, too, from how she treated me and my two older sisters, compared to my younger half-brother and sister, that we reminded her of my father. She treated us like her slaves, not like her own children to nurture and cherish. It was my sisters and I who cleaned her house, while my younger brother and sister were coddled and given special considerations, gifts and privileges she denied me and my sisters – which, weirdly enough, was okay with me. I really liked them as children and protected them during the fights that continued throughout my adolescence.
As I’m considering what I am hearing in meditation about cultivating a non-judgmental ‘witness state’ through the simple act of ‘sitting practice’, I’m remembering so many incidents where I would be overwhelmed with something – a fight that broke out between my parents, a threatening experience with my abusive older sister, or overwhelming feelings of sadness or loneliness – and just sat and retreated inward. I didn’t have much of an inner fantasy life or imagination. I had barbie dolls and stuff animals and such, but I never really invented stories about what happened to them. I would use old cardboard jewelry boxes from when my mother worked for an at-home sales clothing company called Beeline and made things out of them – like little TV sets and tables and doll beds. I’d listen to my step-father’s records on my Fisher Price record player. I loved music, and played favorite songs played over, and over, and over again. I would also spend hours reading the dictionary and the encyclopedias.
Because I was a child and a Catholic one at that, I had no where to go, and pretty much I had the impression that because of what I’d been told in church, I was going to go to hell if I misbehaved, so I didn’t try to. My mouth got me into trouble ALL the time, but I didn’t try to do anything I wasn’t supposed to.
I remember just drawing inwards and feeling comfortable there. I’d often just sit and let my hands hang down, letting the blood pool until my fingers tingled. I’d fix my gaze on a point on the floor a little bit in front of me, then relaxed my eyes while I just sat. I didn’t think much during those times, but rather, just relaxed in the feeling of what I know now as an inner spaciousness. In that space, I’d become aware of things going on in my home and among the family members, but I was not affected by them. I simply witnessed whatever came up. I wasn’t sad, wasn’t angry, wasn’t happy. Just was.
I’d use that ability to ‘zone out’ as I used to call it, time and time again.
I didn’t know then that I was meditating.
I do know now.
Because of what I have been hearing on my meditation tapes and especially so because of what I read this morning, from Lawrence Wilson, MD on the meditation-observation exercise (please read the entire link before using this practice):
The Basic Procedure: Sit in a straight-backed chair, with your arms hanging loosely at your side. A variation is to lie down and place your hands at your sides. Close your eyes.
Become aware of your right hand. Just notice it. Do not concentrate on it or visualize it, exactly. Just be aware of it and notice it. Do not force anything to happen.
It is often easier to be aware of one finger at a time rather than the whole hand at once. Move your awareness from finger to finger, but do not move your awareness to the rest of your body. Keep your awareness on your hand. It should start to tingle a little bit.
At the same time, look through the middle of your forehead, as though you were sitting inside your head and looking out. It should feel like you are sitting inside a cave with nothing much to look at, so you just look straight ahead. Do not roll your eyes up in your head or do anything else. Just look out of your head through the middle of your forehead.
Um, yeah, that’s exactly what I did except I did notice both my hands. I loved the feeling of hanging them down and letting whatever I was feeling just drain out. I had no idea what to think about what I was doing at the time. I just liked it. And I felt better for having done that for 15-2o minutes at a time, until someone in my family disturbed me.
Over the years, as more people entered my life and I didn’t feel the need for such isolating activities, I gave up that centering place. I relied more on talking things out with people, and less on this practice, which I used probably until I was about 25.
I modified it and since I had so much more stress going on from trying to get through an intensive forensic DNA training program, an overactive mind, and more loneliness because I moved 3 hours away from anybody I knew, my practice involved a bean bag chair, a glass of wine, and a CD of the band Outback’s Baka, particularly this song
The article I reference above talks about deprogramming. I remember talking about how I felt like my family was trying to use brainwashing techinques to a friend of mine, and when I left home when I was 24, my then-boyfriend (and now husband) and I talked about my need to ‘deprogram’ myself. I also suspected (rightly at the time) that it would take a very long time. I knew I had inner resistances to things and a tendency to ‘go back for more’ punishment from my family members over the years.
When I was older and had a full life of friends, career, and husband, I really lost touch with my ability to connect with my deeper self and inner guide. I thought it was a kind of weird thing to do, and I started relying too much on the opinions of others – much to my detriment. When my daughters came along – there was no time nor place to go to to retreat into myself anymore.
The benefit of such a practice to emotional control is astounding:
Dr. Wilson writes:
This meditation is about getting to “know thyself” at a much deeper level. It is an impartial way to study the self and the mind. As one understands the self more deeply, power and control over the self increases. As you gain control over yourself, your emotions come naturally more under your control and begin to even out. They just have less power and effect.
In a sense, the real Armageddon is fought inside your head. When you have conquered yourself, meaning your own thoughts and emotions, dealing with the world is much easier. The world situation, you will see, is often no more than a reflection of the struggle that goes on inside each of us. By changing yourself, the spiritual struggle is won and the world tends to shift in amazing ways around you.
I know the worst thing I could have done was lose my ‘sitting practice’.
You can just ask my husband. I lost the ability to control my emotions. Over the past few years, while suffering from what I believe is adrenal burnout probably starting in my 20s, along with my Hashimoto’s thryoid disease due to the traumatic life experiences I’ve had coupled with the hormonal changes of childbirth.
It was the worst thing I could have done for myself.
But I’ve started remembering what it was like to be in that inner spaciousness. I demonstrated this for my husband recently, when we went to a Starbux. I sat in one of the comfy leather chairs while he waited in line for our drinks. I sat criss-cross in my chair, rested my hands in my lap, and stared out across the room and out the window. I became aware of everything going on in the coffee shop, the comings and goings of the traffic, and also how strange I may have looked. But I remembered that inner spaciousness. I remembered that nonjudgmental witness state.
My husband came and brought our drinks and sat down. He watched me for a moment, called my name, but I didn’t respond. I continued to sit and look out in the distance. After another moment or two, I broke from my ‘trance’. I asked him what he thought about what I was doing and how I looked while doing it. He said, “well, you were kind of creeping me out”.
But I am convinced more than ever that I can heal my body, my mind, and regain mastery over my inner state to help me cope with my life’s challenges.
I am starting to look upon my life with deeper compassion and more tenderness. I’ve loved a lot of people over the course of my life. I’ve experienced a lot of loneliness, anger, pain, confusion and loss, too.
But the blessing in my childhood was that because I was never deeply connected to the family I was born into, I had to find my own way, listen to my own inner guide, make my own choices, even if they ended up being the wrong ones.
I know, I stopped listening to my inner guide for the longest time, and I can see where I suffered needlessly and brought on needless trauma. I stopped listening to my inner wisdom. Particularly when it came to my husband. I gave up my self and ignored the red flags I saw. Years ago, there were times I truly did not know what to do when dealing with his dysfunction, and instead of going inward to find the answers, I consulted a friend who made excuses for my husband’s behavior. I know why he did it, too. He himself had an alcohol problem. Of course he would tell me things that would downplay the severity of the situation I was in. And so, because I listened, I played my part in the dance of co-dependence.
I don’t hold my husband, nor my friend responsible. I lay the responsibility for what happened to me during my relationship with my husband squarely at my own feet. I was the one who stopped my awareness practice and seeking of my own wisdom.
I was afraid my husband would leave me. Mostly due to the fact that he would get angry and do just that. He’d leave abruptly to go blow off steam. Once, leaving me in Chinatown at 10 o’clock at night, after I asked him to let me out of the car because he was getting road ragey after drinking.
In order to retain love, I ceased the activity that would force me to see things as they really were. Nobody pulled the wool over my eyes exactly – though, like Dorothy in the field of poppies, I fell asleep with the trance of social conditioning. I didn’t want to see what I was seeing.
That started to change a few years back, when I found a new friend who, carefully and patiently, helped me to come out of the slumber I was in, who dialogued with me about a great many things, but most notably about the delusions we often embrace. I remember many times feeling jealous of his level of awareness and enlightenment and feeling I was totally incapable of magnanimity or equanimity, because I was making choices that were causing more suffering and I was feeling resentful and unwilling to stop making the choices that would lead to it. I was ready to blame (someone – my husband, me, my upbringing, and even God), but not ready to take responsibility for changing me.
Of course, I realize now, I’m not going through a period of change. I’m going through a period of remembering. Of remembering who I was and the gift that got me through the dark periods. That very mindfulness skill I spontaneously learned is the very thing I am going to be cultivating again.
I encourage you to take a look at Dr. Wilson’s simple yet powerful meditation practice. Read the entire link because there’s so much good stuff there. Difficult things may come up, dark thoughts, emotional pain, but the very practice is grounding in itself…all that comes up, can pass right through your fingertips…and the continued practice of it cultivates the detachment necessary to deal with the inevitable difficulties with emotions.
There are other types of meditations I’m recently trying that I’ll talk about in future posts. My favorite spiritual teachers are Jack Kornfield, Pema Chodron, and Tara Brach and I’ll be talking about what I’m learning and how they are helping me remember who I really am.
Have a glorious day, my friends.
It’s sunshiny here…for the first time in too long. No snow, no rain, just bright warm light.