During the last several years, I’ve become much more aware of the things I used to distract myself from my “stuff.” I’ve removed some – booze, shopping, certain friendships – that hindered awareness of my self and my life. I’ve even managed to cut down on Law & Order reruns!
Peeling away those layers, though, has revealed some really painful things – my fears, insecurities, feeling at once “too much” and “not enough” – things that probably caused me to take on all of that extra baggage in the first place. These are always with me but my awareness of them seems to be heightened by relationships, especially those of a romantic nature.
Fortunately, while I’ve stripped away some of the negative distractions from my life, I’ve managed to add some things that enhance my awareness – running, for example, and meditation.
About the same time I started my daily meditation practice last summer, I started (or restarted) a relationship – I realize now that this was no coincidence. It is in fact the first relationship I’ve been in since quitting drinking and since I stopped taking antidepressants (the possibility of coming off antidepressants was one of the major reasons I stopped drinking); both drugs served to buffer my feelings and now that buffer is gone. And I find myself feeling wide open, exposed, and vulnerable.
As I shared with Susan Piver in our recent interview, one of the reasons I started meditating was so that I could feel safer “out there” in the world, so that despite my vulnerability, I could be brave and take risks. In this way, I was secretly hoping that meditation would protect me.
When I sit on the cushion, I try to focus awareness on the breath. And when thoughts inevitably take that awareness away, I gently return it to the breath. While this sounds incredibly simple, there are times when it could not be more difficult. Thoughts about everything from the mundane (what am I going to eat for breakfast?) to the profound (what am I doing with my life?) to the painful (what if I grow old alone?) arise and make the breath seem like the least interesting thing on Earth.
An inherent bias for action makes me want to do something, not just sit there. There have been more times than I care to admit that I have wanted to give up – to turn off my little iPhone meditation app, get up, and walk away. Luckily staying seated also appeals to my inherent laziness so I’ve been able to resist that temptation for the most part. And I’m learning that part of the practice is exactly that: resisting the urge to give up and, even if you are having what you think is the worst practice of your life, staying.
In some ways, it is getting easier. I recognize my wandering mind a little earlier and can return awareness to the breath. At the same time, the practice seems to be deepening my awareness of my essential vulnerability. While I’d initially hoped that it would serve as a protective shield for me, I’m instead feeling even more raw, open, and exposed. It’s uncomfortable. But I sit. Stay.
Relationships, too, are inherently uncomfortable. During the past several months in my relationship, thoughts and issues have arisen and at times have made me want to run away. Letting go of past hurts, staying in the present moment, giving someone the benefit of the doubt, accepting uncertainty – these are not easy things to do day in and day out.
Like an abused dog that has been adopted into a new and loving home, I hold the memory of being hurt just under the surface, even when my tail is wagging. Sometimes I want to run away, fearing the beating. But if I ran, might I miss the biscuit? And when the outcome is truly unknown, isn’t the biscuit at least as likely, if not more so, than the blow?
Like meditation, this relationship has reminded me how powerless I am, but that there is strength in that. If I can tolerate the uncertainty and the empty spaces, there is great possibility. So I sit. Stay.