Before you commit – bond

He’s just afraid to commit

How many times have you heard that kind of proclamation over your lifetime?  If you’re like me, you’ve probably heard it hundreds of times, and believed it for at least the first hundred.   I’ve also heard much about the “hook up culture” and with so many options, some people never want to have any commitment,  such as written in the blog post “This is How We Date Now”.

I’ve committed in a relationship (to monogamy and time) many times, most of the time because it just felt like ‘this is just how it’s done”.   This has been labelled the relationship escalator, where you unthinkingly take what you think is the natural next step.  I had little idea at the time of what makes a real, supportive, long lasting connection that involved deep intimacy, and so I just followed what I thought was the model that led to it (commitment), at least until I felt something wasn’t working.  Then I would often blame myself, thinking I was doing something wrong, trying to behave ‘better’ and trying to work with my emotions and act in a loving manner.  Needless to say, that didn’t work, and resentment inevitably built because of all the suppression I ended up doing.   (more…)

Celebrating the Grey Area in Relationships


“Think about this for a moment: Why would you ever choose to be with someone who is not excited to be with you?


So starts a popular blog post here giving relationship advice.  Why would you want to be with someone who isn’t enraptured by you?  And why would you choose to be with someone you don’t think is the best person ever?  If someone is good enough for you, you should feel a “Fuck YES!” feeling.  And they should feel likewise about you.

Such posts are very popular on the web because they are simple, easily understood, and can be a temporary boost to the esteem for both those not in a relationship because they are holding out for Mr. Right and those with low esteem in a relationship that is going nowhere, perhaps prompting them to end it.

I’m all for a boost in esteem, but one thing I am absolutely not for is all-or-nothing thinking.  You know the Bush-like thinking – you’re either for me or against me.  You’re either perfect or you’re out of here.  There’s no discernment, nor is there the introspection of what makes someone feel like a good match.

How often are your emotions completely and wholeheartedly unanimous before really getting to know someone?   It doesn’t happen, unless you’re extremely unusually healthy and in complete inner harmony – or you’re in denial.   Denial is far more common than completely healthy childhoods.  We don’t want to wait any longer, so we decide this person is THE ONE and shove any contrary thought to the pit of our stomach.  Where it says until the first big disappointment.

Getting to know someone, whether as close friends or lovers, is a gradual process of building trust, testing the waters with ever increasing vulnerability and emotional risk, then seeing the result.  Is this personal worth your trust and investment?   There are many areas of trust to build:  Keeping one’s word.  Sensitivity.  Listening skills.  Adaptability.  Empathy.  Humor.  Sex.  Reactivity.  Can they give space?   Is there ever a price to pay for doing something you need?   Do they need you to be a certain person for them or do they really want to find out who you are?

Too often, relationships start because both parties feel “good”, which we translate to meaning love.  We don’t understand the reasons why – and for good reason.  It’s not a rational, logical process.  One wonderful Jungian book “The Eden Project” calls it a search for The Magical Other.  We think we’ve found someone who completes us, while trying to not see that we may feel good for non-healthy reasons, such as familiar family dynamics or someone who helps us avoid uncomfortable parts of ourselves.  Part of the journey is to realize that the Magical Other, which might later turn into the Enemy Other, is actually just representing a part of ourself we haven’t welcomed yet.  But I digress.  There is another option to wanting to find the perfect person and place them on a pedestal until they fall off.

Intimacy is not a blind commitment.   Bonding to another human being is not a Romeo and Juliet moment, realizing at first glance you want to spend the rest of your life together or die.

For most of us in this overstressed, f*cked up society, we have plenty of childhood issues, among them:   Lack of reliable connection.  Attachment issues.  Difficulty trusting.   Barriers to intimacy.  Anxieties.  Hurts.   Limited ways of expressing emotions, and feeling we can’t be connected to others through some emotions.

Most of have parts of ourselves that we think “why would anyone want to connect to THIS?”   And so we launch ourselves into relationships where the other doesn’t immediately see those parts – at least until the honeymoon period is over

All those are negative emotions which would mean you wouldn’t feel “Fuck yes!”.   You’d feel at best hesitation, a feeling of “what am I getting into here?”.   But that is what vulnerability involves.    And you can’t have long term bonding without vulnerability.

My Own Story

Let’s take myself as an example.  I came from an extremely distant family with no reliable connection and support available.  My father and brother have Asperger’s syndrome, while my mother had Borderline Personality.  I’m the “normal” one.  No one in my family really knew how to have friends or even to give empathy.  As a result, you could say I had attachment issues, among others.  (I have C-PTSD from my childhood)   This doesn’t mean I didn’t want deep and intimate connections – it simply meant there were a lot of emotions to go through before real bonding occurred.

I have never, ever in my life felt a true “Fuck Yes!”.  The people I’ve previously gotten involved with were often people that I felt something strong, and thought “hey, this is intense – it must be love”.  I wanted love and longed for deeper connections, so I would fool myself.   I would then think I needed to commit and dive into the relationship to get some sort of secure commitment back.  In other words, I would act like I felt “Fuck Yes”, partly because I wished I would feel that, partly out of fear of abandonment or being rejected, but also because that was what was expected. The people I got involved with were usually those that could withdraw from connection suddenly if something felt bad, which I was highly attuned to.  When they didn’t feel “Fuck Yes!”, they were out of there, at least for the evening, so I felt after time I was walking on eggshells trying to have a reliable connection.  I took in a message from them: I will not connect with you unless act like the Mr Perfect I want.


This is obviously not love, but with an oversimplified, all-or-nothing thought process this was what I created.  So I changed how I approached relationships.

Building a Healthy Relationship

With Kirsten, my wonderful partner now, I tried to bring everything I felt.  I brought my doubts and fears and allowed them to be visible.  I let myself be tentative instead of pushing fears aside and diving in.  I brought that I liked her and distrusted her at the same time – because in my family, there was always an agenda for being warm.  For months, I would ask her “what do you want?” with suspicion at her warmness.   We wouldn’t actually fall asleep together and I would never sleep over at her place.  She would learn later that this was because I get panic attacks in someone else’s bed, but of course initially she took it a little personally.  She distanced a little and learned to let go of expectations regarding me.   I was seeing another person at the same time, so that added to the feeling of instability given where we were at.   In some ways, she was ready for the relationship to end at any moment, but was also willing to see where it led.

Despite the negative emotions I had, there were of course also other signals that I liked her a lot and was letting her in; she wasn’t sticking with me because of any lack of self esteem.  I would communicate as best as I could what was going on with me, what PTSD was, and what I thought I needed.  I add “I thought” in there because like most people, I don’t think I really knew what was needed, because I’d never received it.

Yet the relationship grew.  Kirsten once said that every time she really let go of an expectation regarding me, I responded positively and we grew closer.  I didn’t fit the norm of relationships, but really wanted to be in a close, connected relationship.  So when there was room for more of me to be welcomed, I stepped forward.  I wasn’t trying to be her Mr. Right, but I was being more me when close to her, and she found she could be more herself as well.  We weren’t trying to be anything for each other.

I know most people don’t have PTSD, but I haven’t met anyone who has had an idyllic childhood.  Given the lack of family connectedness, stress levels, overwork, and confusion of discipline with love, some form of attachment or anxiety issue is the norm rather than an exception.  So while my experience may be more extreme than most, I think it serves an example.  Rather than saying “I will hold out for someone perfect”, we started out by being imperfect and finding in a gradual, struggling pace a way to connect through that.

We all know what the honeymoon period is.  It’s the months that you are able to stay in the zone of not being able to show your imperfections.  Inevitably that collapses – and it’s rare to find two people in a relationship that are coming down from that high truly want to see the others (and their own) imperfections.  We didn’t have a honeymoon period.  The first 5 months were a real struggle, constantly wondering if it would end.  Would the other person truly want to be with me as I am?  The transition happened when I had an emotional meltdown, bawling for close to an hour straight, where for the first time she saw me in a raw state how I had never received unconditional support in my life, and so saw more the visceral source of my suspicions and distrust.  Is this really unusual for men in this world, where you’re always supposed to have it together and you’re rewarded for achievement and success?

We’ve been together 18 months now and this is by far the best relationship I’ve been in.  I love her more than I thought possible – and my idea of what love is has changed along the way.  It’s not a feeling, but a dynamic deep seated curiosity about the other.  We want each other to be themselves, so are automatically giving space and asking questions, doing weird and quirky things to bring it out.  No matter what she’s feeling, even if it were rage at me, I would unflinchingly want to hear it.  Part of that is the trust we’ve built, because we know there’s nothing in each other that wants to hurt the other.

We also are committed to not taking emotional responsibility for each other.  It’s not either of our jobs to make another feel better.  We will be connected to each other no matter what either of us is feeling, and bad days are not failure, so they are no big deal.  We both want to learn to be more ourselves – and there’s nothing better than seeing the Self reflected in another’s clear eyes to seeing this.

I am so, so, SO grateful for her for sticking with me when I struggled with showing more of myself.  We would never have developed the bond we did if I refrained from showing my hesitation about getting close – or my hurt emotions during the times when she was showing warmth without a hidden agenda.

So the idea of a “Fuck Yes!” rule to me is internet trash at best.  No psychologist would ever buy into something so oversimplified.   True intimacy is scary – you have to risk a lot to get there.  You have to gradually bare yourself, including all the self-protections we have, and learn to embrace our own contradictions, our own desires and fears at the same time.  We’re taught to distance ourselves when things feel bad.  We avoid pain.  But my story is an example of what happens when two people decide against the love illusion, against the waiting for Mr or Mrs Perfect and just say let’s connect as we are.  And the result?  This is the first time in my life that I’ve felt I want to grow old with someone.  The relationship feels built on foundations where we can grow and change and by doing that, get closer instead of further apart.



PS.  Before I posted this, I showed it to her and her response was “well, actually I was feeling a Fuck Yes about you throughout all those first few months”.  Go figure.  Maybe she should see someone about that.

Working with Shame

Shame is something that permeates our culture. Advertising preys on shame of one’s body. Dr. Gabor Mate, who works with the heavily addicted, says shame is the “one constant among addicts of all types“. It fuels much avoidant behavior such as procrastination and can be the prime impetus behind relationship breakups and lack of intimacy.

This year I have looked into my own shame and doing my best to directly experience it. By that I don’t mean jump into “healing”, which is often the attempt to get rid of it. Years ago, when I wrote and said thousands of daily affirmations of my worth and inner beauty, I ended up feeling worse about myself. To me, that kind of healing leads to feeling ashamed of one’s own shame, a feedback loop, which is unfortunately pervasive given the prevalence of pop psychology and the “quick fix”.

But what is shame? Joseph Burgo defines same as the sense of internal damage. I define shame as the following:

Shame is the feeling or body memory that you cannot be connected with others, or yourself, so long as a part of you is present. It’s the sense of a split within one’s self, the feeling that a part of you shouldn’t be there.

Say you grew up, as I did, in an emotionally repressed family where there was a heavy reaction to an expression of anger or a “go away” message. If I rejected my mother, either by saying I didn’t like something she did to me or that I didn’t want to talk now, she would react by pushing me away violently, even implying the relationship might end. Even showing this emotion on my face without vocalizing it provoked a reaction. This was her own hurt, but of course as a young child I didn’t know this – I internalized it. It became part of my body and brain.

There are times I find it hard to even feel that energy; it ended up being blocked from my consciousness, with sometimes severe internal reactions and symptoms as a result. Connection with my family was more important than self-connection, and this created pathways in the brain short-circuiting that energy. Though I’ve done much work with myself, I still feel shame regarding this; my body believes people will cut me out of their lives if I let it be visible.

This can happen in shame-1251333-1280x960work too: a friend of mine was talking about procrastination in learning a new skill for a client. There was a deadline for getting a project done and she needed to become adept in a new software utility that she hadn’t used before. For years she had been used to being highly skilled in what she did; the sense of not being an expert already was very uncomfortable to her, and it was far too easy to avoid that discomfort by procrastinating. Even when she devoted time to acquire the new skills, the learning was slower than when she had been a student. Upon talking about it, saw the basis of this behavior was the sense that she needed to be an expert to be worthy of the connection with the client. Not knowing everything, being less than perfect, was not acceptable – the client might drop her. The connection wouldn’t be there. There was no quick ability to not feel this, so the easiest thing to do in the moment was to focus attention anywhere else, rather than wade through the emotional quagmire of shame.

Sexual attraction is another magnet for shame. It’s something that easily cross-reacts with inadequacies of beauty or worth. I still have feelings that my partner may cut off from me and end the relationship if I fully admit, beyond an intellectual confession, that I feel a serious attraction to someone. So in the past, rather than admit it fully, I have intellectualized it or numbed that part of me, which led to distance and lack of trust. Another option for me that many do (and I’m glad I haven’t) would be to act it out – rather than admitting or feeling the shame, I could try to act on the attraction and start something while not showing it to my partner, thus trying in an unconscious and unhealthy way to not numb a part of myself while still remaining connected to her. It’s the shadow side of trying to resolve shame. If anything happened, I would likely feel more disconnected from her because I would have to hide more and more parts of my life. If I confessed it after time, the anger she would feel upon discovery, mostly based on the deceit, would be tied to the original shame and add to it. Thus shame grows.

The movie “Shame” made in 2011 with Michael Fassbender depicts the shame underlying sexual addiction amazingly well.

The dark side of the growth of psychology and this culture’s lack of time and space for just feeling things as they are is that we want the quick fix. Feeling any shame that’s there doesn’t make it immediately better.  Culturally there’s an incredible discomfort around it, which can lead to a subtle ostracising.  Rather than being present with shame and giving space, we ask loved ones to “see someone about it”, to find a solution by thinking positive thoughts, or make more rules so as not to bring it up. But since the source of shame is from feeling disconnected, what we deeply need is the experience of being connected while feeling shame and the original source.

What brings on this feeling of connection and working with shame? From my experience, we need to first truly feel the shame and whatever is bringing on the shame, without intellectualizing or compartmentalizing it. It has to be brought to the surface, in our bodies, face, voice and breath. This means going beyond any kind of sit-down therapy structure. Then, someone needs to be there and be open for a connection without any kind of attempt to resolve the source of the shame. There needs to be space for the emotion, thoughts or impulses with no action to change them, while truly being there and available. This is itself a form of meditation.

A couple months ago, while in a very emotional state (I won’t go into the trigger here), I called my girlfriend Kirsten for help. It was an agonizing decision for me, as I grew up feeling I should be the one supporting others, but at the time I truly felt lost and knew I couldn’t move anything alone. She dropped everything and came. As soon as she was next to me, I started bawling. I confessed how ashamed I was of asking for support, and then how ashamed I was of feeling shame, like I needed to do something to make it better so I could be a healthy person. She was simply present with me. I confessed I felt like there was always a price for support. Inside, I was feeling that I needed to please others in order to be worth getting any kind of love, and sex had been a major part of that with women, giving them pleasure when I didn’t necessarily feel into it. I told her I didn’t want sex now, and felt so much shame at admitting that, continuing my bawling. She simply listened. She backed away physically when I wanted it, and held me close when that felt good to me. She was absolutely wonderful at remaining connected without any price. I didn’t need to heal, say the right thing or make it worth her while to be there for me. She was a friend. She wasn’t even playing a role of “healer”, breathing the right way or watching what she said. All she did was show that mattered to her – me, not the role I played in her life.

This was a pivotal shift for me. As it turns out, I didn’t want sex for close to a month afterwards while I processed the internal shifts – which related to past sexual abuse, being treated like a “thing”. That in itself was very unusual for me. It made it easier for her that we are in an open relationship and she could, if she wanted, fulfil needs elsewhere – another dynamic which has helped me work with shame. But that, along with other experiences, brought the body knowledge that I could still be connected while revealing shame without having to play a role of strength, humour, health or comforting others. This has led to a huge foundation of trust and friendship. It’s amazing how many sexual relationships don’t have that.

I’ve also had dyads with a number of people. This is where you sit in a meditational manner facing each other, being present for 10 minutes or so before talking, connecting to one’s breath and body, and each person taking turns asking a simple question and listening. When it’s your turn, you speak slowly and with self-connection about your experience and insights while the other listens and is present in their own self. One of the questions asked was about the “sense of self in relationships”. That’s a prime question related to shame – when do you lose that sense of self-connection, where you’re not hiding or altering anything inside? When do you feel you’re walking on eggshells, controlling everything coming out because you feel it would harm the relationship? And it was wonderful just practicing revealing myself without guile, showing how “imperfect” I am and getting to a place that this is just fine. It doesn’t need to change.

It’s also led to a different place in being there for others. Largely arising from my narcissistic mother, I had felt that I needed to be playing a role when giving support to others. Internally I had the belief that had to suppress my own issues, not feel anything “unsupportive” like anger or resentment from my past (even if unrelated to them), in order to be helpful. This made me far from present and created a tense feeling; because I was not relaxed, I couldn’t help friends be relaxed. Not being in a state of allowing with my own emotions at the time, I could never truly convey that their emotions were just fine as they are. I was saying the “right things”, which probably made them feel like they had to say the “right things” in response. While I don’t have any scientific data, I think this is what the vast majority of therapeutic sit-down relationships are like this. So many healing achievers!

The lessening of shame has led me to more feelings of joy because by not disconnecting from myself, there’s more wholeness. I can joke around with it more, even bring some clownishness. What a feeling of freedom that is. And I’m just getting started.




A Ha-Ha to Laughter Yoga

Last night there was a public, free offering of Laughter Yoga as part of the Indian Summer festival in Vancouver. My friends had arrived and set up their blanket on the grass barely 10 feet away from the throng of new laugh-yoginis. The leader, a 30s women who could have been easily coaching a group of 8 year olds to act happy and behave, set the tone of merciless positivity. How much do we not laugh when we could? How much more fun could we have?


I felt my own negativity-guilt pull at me, saying “oh, maybe this will be healing!” or “you’ll be isolated if you don’t put on a happy, laughing face!”. But I stayed on the grass. I listened to the forced laughter, which was pleasant enough to listen to, but didn’t remind me of the lightness of joy. It more reminded me off the steam let off when someone lets out a tight lipped giggle in a tense room and the dominoes of giggles that fall in the blowing off of steam.

After about 15 minutes of watching and rolling my eyes increasingly, I decided to join in my own way, to laugh in response to what was going on. I laughed a crazy, maniacal comic book laugh, as if I was Doctor Dastardly about to tie up a maiden on a train track. I let it grow in a crescendo, giving a full embodiment of Dastardliness. Yes, I’ll get you yet, my pretty Laughter Yoga teacher! While a part of me expected to be singled out as the “party pooper”, I didn’t get noticed at all that way; in fact there were a fair number of people around me that were really laughing now in response to me.

I guess real laughter comes from truth. Yes, there’s the giggling that’s just releasing a bit of tension, but the great humor comes from honesty and reconciling seeming opposites. I suppose my maniacal laughter said things like “OH YEAH? How about THIS laughter?” – a fuck off to the leader speaking as if we were young children. It was a finger to any implication that there is a right way, a spiritual way to laugh, that we have to smile, that we have to have fun by obeying. That healing is about following, doing something in the right way instead of listening to my own voice. Maybe others were laughing from understanding that too.

Later on she asked people in that same pedantic voice to listen deep within and say a word or phrase that came from within. Those that spoke to her said such positive words as “joy”, “freedom”, “play”, and “openness”. From behind the crowd, I spoke my phrase of “fuck off”. But I said it with a smile on my face. I then had a wonderful discussion with a friend on the value of that phrase, how important it is to welcome that energy too. It also made people around me laugh honestly. What better way at times to say “I don’t want to be controlled by an ideology or by peer pressure to be positive – I want to march to my own drummer.” I certainly don’t want to disrupt others’ experiences, but that was truly my inner voice’s honest phrase. Speaking it loud enough to be heard was fun.

Over 10 years ago, I did a clown intensive for over 3 months, 15 hours a week. In every class we did a related exercise : we lied own on the floor and made emotive sounds and movements for half an hour. Words were forbidden, but we could laugh, cry, or anything in between. The teacher, David MacMurray Smith, called it the cycle of agony and ecstasy. It was a meditation on just allowing emotions, sounds, and movement to flow and change. Laughter would only last for a time, then it either calmed or moved into crying sounds, baby-like curious sounds, or even the odd tantrum. But with the freedom to fully allow each to bloom, nothing lasted, and more, each was genuine. And in a room full of other people, it was fun to be affected, to see where the group energy was going. When there wasn’t control over what we should experience, every emotion became fun. Sometimes the movement from crying to laughter and back again happened many times in a minute, because crying was fun too. It was a celebration of that part of humanness.

I love emotional expressiveness, I do. I suppose I also love the expressiveness of saying “fuck off” to unspoken rules of conformity and control. Anything that helps is going to help me to be natural, to let go of assumptions, and find the fun of being true to whatever’s there in the moment, while listening to the environment and bringing respect (of a sort) and compassion. I’ll gladly do the laughing/crying “yoga” any day, but the next time on a hot day I see someone teaching laughter yoga that way, I hope I have a Super Soaker to spray her with. Maybe that’ll help get some genuine laughter going.

July 6th, 2013|love|Comments Off on A Ha-Ha to Laughter Yoga

Resist not Resistance

Upon a recommendation by a friend I’ve been reading “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield, the author of the “The Legend of Bagger Vance and numerous other titles. It’s subtitled “Break through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles”. The book is separated into three sections, the first being all about the enemy of creativity, Resistance, which I’ll be focusing on. The second part is about what a true Professional is and the last section is a look at Inspiration, the muse and the spirituality of the creative person. There is some good material there, but what really made me thinking (largely because I disagree) is the first section.

In the section of resistance, there’s an emphasis on “just do it” – resistance is the enemy. It’s a war. Resistance is insidious. Invisible. It’s fueled by fear. It recruits allies. It’s akin to a state of victimhood. It never sleeps. It leads to self-medication. Rationalization is resistance. Often looking for ‘healing’ is resistance.

There are some good points in there, but I have a fundamental disagreement with any attitude that places a part of ourselves as the enemy. The need to create enemies is seemingly a great part of our culture. It’s part of how we were raised. “Just get out there and succeed! Don’t be a loser! Keep pushing!” The part of us that wants to rest and regroup turns into an enemy. The part of us that feels anger and says no to what we “should” do turns into something negative, often labeled “resistance”.

What’s Wrong with Resistance, Anyway?

These attitudes are so common place that we don’t question them, and so don’t question them when it happens inside ourselves. It turns into how we self-relate. We lose self-compassion, patience, and understanding. We want to force everything, and then divorce ourselves from our body because we don’t want to feel the consequences of not listening to “resistance”. We think that it’s just not worth listening to anything that we think is resisting.

An example in my memory is from years ago, when I took a course in song writing. I’d already learned much music theory but kept encountering blocks when trying to write a song. (I still do, even though in high school I wrote a fully orchestrated piece for the concert band). In the course, almost all of the instruction was not about music; it was a coaching of “Just do it! Write!” There was a constant a pressure to just write something, no matter how true it was or where it came from. It didn’t matter what price you paid. The problem was, I was already applying too much pressure to myself. I knew all about pressure. Forcing something can be great in the short term, but over the long term it creates rebellions. This is true in nations, in groups, and in the body and mind. And my mind rebelled. A stress response came up big time. I knew that if I continued to force myself, I would lose any love I have for song writing just to say that I wrote this song.

Of course, there was something in the resistance. It was a piece of me saying “no, if you do it, do it from the right place”. It was inviting me to connect with the passion of wanting to create, rather than pushing myself because I should create. That, to me, is the difference between great creativity and mediocrity. If you’re doing something because you should, it won’t have your soul behind it.

I probably had a bit bigger response than most people would in that class, but I see this as universal. Making an enemy, especially something internal like “resistance” creates a war. War creates violence. Violence leads to shell shock and disconnection from our essential gifts of being fully human. Disconnecting from our humanity (in itself the essence of trauma if taken too far) kills creativity.

Learning to Laugh

Now I’m totally for feeling the fear and doing it anyway, but to me that’s more about laughing with the fear. If you can’t laugh, you’re disconnected. And to me, the only enemy is disconnection. The opposite of disconnection is wholeness. Welcoming everything that’s inside you, even contrary, crazy ideas. When you’re whole, there’s no enemy in yourself, because everything is part of the whole. You don’t get whole by attacking a part of yourself, even if it’s an emotion or thought that feels bad. That’s how you disconnect. Learning to laugh about fear is about feeling the tingle that says “wow, this feels alive and out of control in a good way”.

I often go to the Vancouver Shambhala center, and there they talk a lot about Chogyam Trungpa’s idea of “basic goodness”. Essentially the idea is that every last part of us is unconditionally good. In reality, there’s no healing to do. Whatever is going on – fear, resistance, anger, all these “negatives”- is actually a part of that basic goodness. That’s the foundation behind being present and listening to the present moment. And creativity is fundamentally about listening to a deep-seated whisper and being free enough to let the body and mind be moved by that. When there’s the guns blazing of an internal war against resistance, that whisper is impossible to hear.

When I meditate alone, even after years of meditation and months of retreat, I still get huge impulses to distract myself. Without the presence of others in the room, there’s less restraint in following the desires that arise. I can reach for my cell phone, start a chore or just want to move because I’m feeling discomfort inside. I used to think this was bad, that the ideal was to stay rock-solid, to at least look like I’m a good meditator, even if I’m far from Buddha-like inside. But that’s again making an enemy of these impulses. There’s something beautiful in that discomfort. I find letting myself act on it at times makes it visible, lets me feel what’s really there. When I let my body show all these avoidant impulses, maybe even get up for a bit, then come back, I can meet them more consciously and see them more clearly. If I were to stiffen my body and mind simply to be able to stay still for an hour, I would lose connection. Why meditate if it isn’t to become more whole?

In that discomfort, I usually find shame. Gabor Mate recently said in a talk after the play “Medicine” that shame isn’t at all about shameful thoughts, but rather a primal state of brain chemistry that originates in disconnection. If a mother drops eye contact with her 9 month old child suddenly, the child will slump in a state of shame and create associations if it’s a pattern. Disconnection is a brother of shame. But it’s by allowing some of it, without getting lost in it, that reconnection can occur, that we can discover what was disconnected, and that it is “basically good”. So I allow resistance and listen to it. I allow myself times to run away, to procrastinate for a little while before I come back. Because if I hold a whip over myself, treating myself like a bad mule, meditation and creativity ends up being a war.

It’s unfortunate that we live in a society with so much pressure. It’s tempting to think that we just need to this last thing done. We just need to write, or act, or do something that’s “good for us”. The problem is in always living in short term, all-or-nothing thinking.  There will be times of crisis or need that we push through something to get it done.  But the key is to minimize that, to learn to live most of our lives from another place. If we focus instead on the bigger, long term picture, then there are different priorities. We focus not on results, but dynamics, making relationships (including to the self) better. We choose actions that develop peace and creativity, not actions that fake that we’re already there. We realize that the ends don’t justify the means – the ends are the means. We can’t reach peace and wholeness by any sort of violence, and we can’t be creative by putting ourselves in a small prison inside our mind.

In summary:

Fear is not an enemy. Resistance is not an enemy. Distractions are not an enemy. Discursive thoughts are not an enemy. The only enemy is disconnection. There’s always something to connect to. Connect with resistance and see what’s really there. I guarantee when it’s truly seen it won’t be called resistance anymore.


January 24th, 2013|buddhism, love|1 Comment