For the last year, I haven’t been able to meditate. I feel the longing to meditate all the time, but when I actually get my butt onto the cushion it’s like sitting on the lower end of a seesaw. Every cell in my body holds its breath, waits to be flung into the air, prepares to twist and turn so that I have a chance to land, wherever I land, safely.
I have often heard people say that sitting in meditation is like coming home. When they say that, they usually mean it in the most positive sense. Meditation helps them feel a settling in, a grounding, a landing deep in their bodies, a sense of peace and connection, their place in the universe kept warm for them and waiting. Most people, I have had to learn, equate home with a sense of safety, connection and ease.
My notion of home equates to isolation, hyper-vigilance, and an exhausting combination of over-preparedness and well-placed chaos. My home is arranged so that someone unfamiliar with it could not walk through in the dark and without knocking something over. It is booby trapped with an early warning system, a thicket of clutter so dense it discourages anyone from cutting through it. The shoes strewn inside the front door are the adult version of the legos and pointy plastic blocks that used to hurt my father’s feet as he tiptoed into my bedroom at night. I would startle awake to the hiss of his words. “God. Fucking. Damnit!” He paused between each word, in deference to the silence he was trying to keep.
It was a family joke how messy my room was. One morning, after my Godmother and her husband had slept in my bedroom during a visit, I came down to breakfast and found a collection of objects sitting on the kitchen counter in a brown paper bag. “We found these in our bed last night,” my Godmother smirked. Two different shoes, a half dozen hangers, 3 stuffed animals, an assortment of lincoln logs and about a dollar’s worth of pennies, nickels and dimes. I stopped breathing, my eyes wide, and thought, “This is it, everyone is going to know why those things were in my bed.” After what seemed like a long silence, my Godmother said, “I thought this was a five-star establishment. Clearly, I won’t be staying here again.” I stood there frozen until everyone else started to laugh. I laughed a little too loudly, my relief blurting out of me like beginner’s notes out of a trumpet.
That night, tucked into a sleeping bag on my sister’s floor, I tried to figure out how I had left all those things in my bed, given the collection of legos, blocks and books I had removed when I had changed the sheets. Then I remembered, one small memory, tucking all of those things under my mattress pad, jaw clenched as I pulled the clean sheets over the lumps, waging the only kind of battle I could. If I could not keep my father away, well, then I would cause him pain where I could.
I managed to have a meditation practice for years but have recently realized that I was actually practicing without practicing, putting my body into the shape of someone who was meditating and then wandering off into my wild imagination. I have been playing hooky from meditation, checking in for credit and then blowing off the learning. I have been doing the mindful equivalent of sneaking into the movies and smoking behind the 7-11 until it’s time to go home.
There has been a story in my head for years about my resistance to meditation. It goes like this: I am afraid to sit with whatever feelings might come up if I bring myself that present. I have imagined overwhelming fear, helplessness, despair, rage, a grief so deep I might drown in it. But here’s the truth, I feel all those things all the time, sometimes all before breakfast. These are the emotions that feel like home. They do not shake my foundation, they ground it. It’s a capacity that I am thankful for in my work.
How many times have I heard a client, through their tears, say “why am I crying right now?” and then try to suck back their tears? “I’m never like this, I feel so stupid right now,” they swallow hard and grab some tissue. This usually happens when they have just shared something incredibly painful or scary with me, and I think, “Why would that NOT make you cry? Thank God you’re crying–it means you can still feel your humanity.” What I know, from seeing my clients go through it, and going through it myself, is that we are all at our most vulnerable when we can no longer feel our full range of emotions–our full humanity. When we can’t feel our own humanity, we care less about other people’s. We are less compassionate, less careful, more entitled and much less able to connect with other people in a fulfilling way.
So, this is where the story, “I am afraid to sit with whatever feelings might come up if I bring myself that present” actually becomes true in a way that I was not expecting. What I know, because I have accidentally experienced it many times, is that when everything gets quiet, when my mind stops, when I am fully present, the big scary emotion waiting for me there is love. When everything else drops away, just the soft hum of love remains. Some people soften into that hum like they would a purring cat or ease into love like they would into sleep, with love, like the low motor of the refrigerator, humming in the kitchen, two rooms away.
But I hear love buzz like the falsetto whine of a mosquito that will not allow me to rest. I claw it away from my skin and bat it away from my face, my neck, my pillow. My body does not yet know how to rest into love, it knows how to evade it. I have always been most vulnerable to love, running from tenderness like its touch might break me down. Love is my kryptonite, the one thing I’m afraid I will not survive.
I often say that living in your body after trauma is like trying to put a cat in a bathtub. I have been the same way with love.
So, I have decided to practice love in the same way I would advise a client to practice feeling the things they are afraid of, for the sake of building capacity for all of my feelings, so that there is no place in my self, or in my relationships, that I am afraid to go. And because anything we practice, we get better at.
I have had moments in my life where love has crystallized so fully that it has made a permanent place in my heart. There was that moment, fourteen years ago, sitting on the couch in my apartment, when Michael reached over and took my hand and my whole being flooded with a deep embodied sense of home. “That’s weird,” I thought. “But I’m just gonna go with it.” Once, in the dojo, practicing aikido, my partner threw me and I flew and rolled and stood back up on feet and knew, “that was love that moved me. That was love.” I was starting to recognize it. There are countless times with clients, who are so easy to love, for so many different reasons.
And then there is every day with Alita, starting with the first time I held her, a tiny nugget in a little pink hat. She sank into my arms, weight under-side, with so much ease it was like she belonged there. Like when she says, “eskimo kiss, Mommy!” and crushes her nose into my nose, getting her snot on my face and laughing, I think, “LOVE, it’s messy, but I’m just gonna go with it.” Or, driving to school today after eating at the diner, when she said, “Mommy, they have a kitchen there where they can make anything! Next time, I’m going to order a dinosaur! No, no, a teddy bear ice cream sandwich! No…” She paused, trying to outdo herself, and yells, “Next time, I’m going to order a vagina and an english muffin!” And I love her as my jaw drops and I look at her in the rear view mirror. She is laughing hysterically, so pleased with herself. I love her as I thank God we were alone in the car this time when she shouted ‘vagina,’ even though I practice not flinching when she yells it across Target because I believe she has a right to know what every part of her body is called, and to use the word, vagina, without an ounce of shame or hesitation.
These are all the things I thought of this morning when I made myself sit my butt in a chair and meditate. And this time, it was easier. My body felt more like a landing strip and less like a springboard. There was a little less fear and a little more ease. I am crushing my cigarette butt into the ground with my shoe and walking out of from behind the 7-11, into the sunshine, because it is time to go home.