I used to write a lot about meditative practice and it can look many different ways. Walking, yoga, transcendental meditation, washing the dishes, taking a bath—these are all meditative practices I have leaned on heavily to get through these past few years.
I was facing my own dark night of the soul. I like Mark Nepo’s description of this best: That moment when it comes time to open the suitcase you’ve been carrying around, labeled Open in Case of Emergency and you realize it’s empty.
It got pretty bleak in some of those moments. I reviewed some of my previous posts for a project I’m working on and I realized, I was much better back then at sinking into the moment. What I mean by that, is getting into my body—like what are my five senses picking up? Bird song, rain on my face, the look or feeling of leaves, the sound of wind, the sound of my breath, the beating of my heart.
It reminded me that there is a lot of peace to be found in presence and this is something I want in my In Case of Emergency toolkit.
So I’ve been trying to get into it more again. Partly, this is because R is in school now. I have him with me for the school days but the weeks go by with blinding speed. And still so much depends on the shoes and the teeth brushing and did you eat any breakfast or just watch TV and I know you want play and I know it feels like there is too much schedule, but there’s homework and now I’m getting external pressure from dad and teacher and that menacing crowd of parents waiting outside the kindergarten gate that I have yet to befriend. I can’t be cool! I can’t! It’s just too much.
But then he goes away for the weekend. And the days that felt so cramped, stretch out in front of me, menacingly. Endless hours to fill where I am supposed to rest and recreate and create and catch up and clean up. There is so much to do and nothing that HAS to be done. I really enjoy some of that time but there are moments where I feel this emptiness of not having drank enough of the scent of your curly head or sunk deeply enough into play or presence. I’m not good a playing with kids so maybe just presence. Maybe that’s what I should shoot for.
That’s where I was last weekend. The haunted look of a mother with no child but one who knows she is going to have to conjure the magic to do it all again in a few hours.
So this week, I set a gentle intention to be more present. I sat on the floor. I built ghosts out of Legos for the current Ghostbuster obsession. I read books and laid in bed with him as he succumbed to sleep. I tried not to be too upset about being late for work every. single. day. (Delayed by the panic about another school day, at the end of which, he will report he had a great day.) Repeat. Repeat. Repeat for five days followed by the crowning event of driving him 40 miles in Friday PM traffic to his dad’s house. Another thing, for which we are perpetually late.
And last night I arrived at the beach as the sun was setting. I was angry because every thing took too long and now my surf session would be cut short by the expanding night. But I told myself the water would be good for the anger. So I put on my wetsuit (brand new winter suit! btw—it was fantastic!) And I carried my board to the water. By the time my toes were wet the sun was down and the water reflected the incredible blue-gray color of the sky—not overcast but daylight fading. Sometimes I am so dazzled by the sky that I forget to look at the water as the sun disappears, but being eye level at its surface, pulling my arms in strokes through its cool satin, made me surrender so completely to the water that I quite forgot about the sky.
The ocean was friendly last night. It quenched my anger and pushed me gently toward the shore, like a kid on a swing, back and forth, back and forth. So much that I stayed out until only the very horizon was blue-gray and the rest of the sky began to reveal stars.
It fixed something in me.
And that’s what I want to show you. If you will let it work on you, presence (that skill of relying on the five senses to observe what is actually real) will fix so many things. Sometimes it takes a few days, or weeks or months and sometimes years and years.
I don’t know how this goes for others, but for me, it eventually opens me so I can reach this place where I am lighthearted, even about the most difficult things.
I was just considering this today at yoga because we did a kriya to release stress. This was a stressful week in a lot of ways. And at one point the teacher asked us to think of what made us the most angry, whether it be relationships, politics, physical problems—whatever. And I realized there are two times in my life I most consistently feel anger. One is the mornings getting R out the door and to school. He has so much resistance to this process and my brain tells me it’s ridiculous because he has a good time there and he knows that he must go so why all the drama!?!
And I observe myself reacting with my own drama. I blame him for making this harder than it needs to be. I blame myself that I didn’t wake up earlier so I could do my meditation and get my self together before he wakes up so I can float through his resistance like the ghost of Ghandi. It feels like I should be able to DO something about it! I have such high expectations of myself to be able to control this stuff.
So when I was meditating in yoga and working on releasing this stored anger, I remembered one morning when I broke the pattern. It was about a month ago. And I had this moment of awareness with R in my incensed haze. I told him that I had been trying for years now, not to get mad when he gets mad about having to go to school. I’ve done the intellectual work—I know I’m just mirroring a little kid’s feelings back to him—I’ve tried the spiritual work of creating space and keeping my voice down—I’ve tried to be cool—I’ve tried to just get him in the door and then scream in my car as I drive to work. Maybe I haven’t tried everything but I have tried a lot.
So I told him this, I have been doing my best and I can’t change this. If you get mad about going to school, more than likely, I am also going to get mad. So if you want this to change, maybe you need to try to change something too.
Obviously, that was a month ago and we still get the mad-morning problem so this was not a magic fix!
But there is really something to be said for relaxing into your anger and for sharing some of the responsibility for a relationship dynamic with the other person in the relationship. Granted, he’s five, but still, giving myself the grace that I am not solely in charge of how the mornings go—maybe it’s more accurate to say that I let go of the illusion of control over that part of my life—gives me some relief.
Maybe I could even laugh about it —we suck at mornings! It’s comical. It’s cathartic. It’s the moment of the day when we release all of our stored anger into the world within the safety of our own home. We get to rehearse our disappointment that our time is not our own, our grief at the toys that will be left with no one to play with them, the frustration that Oreos aren’t breakfast. Maybe this anger is precious and sacred. Maybe we need it to balance out the competing energies in our lives.
So for now, I will stop trying to change anger.
I will feel it when I need to feel it.
And, if I regularly return to the position of the observer, by regularly practicing meditation (presence), I have power to turn it from something that feels dark, closed and sticky, into something that flickers, breathes, dances and creates light.