The smell of film developing chemicals makes me feel warm and fuzzy inside.
I’ve mentioned before that I am going through the exercises in the book “How to Train a Wild Elephant & other adventures in mindfulness” with my meditating friends. Some of the exercises have been more powerful than others. I wrote about my media fast last year, which was very eye-opening.
A few months ago we did an exercise called, “Notice Dislike.” Here is the exercise:
“Become aware of aversion, the arising of negative feelings toward something or someone. These could be mild feelings, such as irritation, or strong feelings such as anger or hatred. Try to see what happened just before the aversion arose. What sense impressions occurred sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, or thought? When does aversion first arise during the day?”
When I did the exercise that week it was all I could do to just notice it, which was actually pretty cool in and of itself. I would notice that I was angry or irritated and then go off on my little habit-formed thought pattern when I encounter these types of feelings. I didn’t notice any sensations that accompanied the irritation because I was already on the “irritation roller-coaster.”
However, when our group got back together to talk about our experiences my friend shared her discovery and it has completely changed my brain. She noticed that when she was irritated and she stopped and stepped back to acknowledge and observe it, along with irritation (or aversion) it’s opposite feeling arose with it. The opposite of aversion is love.
So I’ve been trying this, and indeed, it is true. When I am irritated (to the best that I can – it doesn’t happen all the time) I take a step back and become an observer. When I do this I notice that there are two paths, the path of aversion and the path of love. This is pretty powerful. It means that when I am faced with these situations I have a choice. I am not a slave to those old thought patterns and habits. I am in control! I can choose love.
Admittedly, it is difficult sometimes but the choice is always there.
The other day I finally made it into a popular bookstore in Portland, New Renaissance. It’s a really cool place, full of what some would call “new age” books but others might call spiritual (as opposed to religious). As I was wandering around I had my antennae up and was gauging how different sections of the store resonated. I got to to the Buddhist section, particularly the Zen Buddhist section, and felt this deep sense of security. I felt comfortable and secure and at home. I felt like I was hanging out with an old friend.
This makes me wonder if I shouldn’t go through the process of becoming an official, card carrying Buddhist. It’s actually quite the serious undertaking, which is why I haven’t considered it before now. I love what I have learned so far about Buddhism. It really resonates with me on a level I could never get with Christianity. However, I fear the idea of putting myself in a box. Christianity was so psychologically damaging to me so that is where that fear comes from. In my mind I know that Buddhism is nothing like Christianity but still. The fear is still there.
“I have always felt an innate sense that everything will be ok.” A friend of mine said this to me last night and it hit me rather hard – there are people out there who have this gift. They have the sense, the deep sense at the core of their being that everything is ok. I heard these words from my friend and it makes me really happy for her, that she has lived like this her whole life.
This has not been my experience. I can’t even comprehend it. I can’t wrap my mind around what it would be like to have grown up and to have lived with this sense of security. I have to work at it. Every now and then I get glimpses of it. But for the most part I have to work at it. I wake up many mornings with a feeling of dread or of sadness or of self-loathing. Much of my morning is spent cheering myself up doing things that make me happy. I put a lot of energy into trying to make myself happy.
Our culture is so obsessed with ‘happy.” We are always supposed to be happy. We are always supposed to be positive. I feel guilty for posting Facebook updates that are not “positive” sometimes because I don’t want to offend others with my attitude.
Last week I picked up This Is How by Augusten Burroughs. It is a self-help book unlike any others. The first chapter is called, “How To Feel Like Shit” and the first sentence of the chapter is “Wipe that fucking smile off your face.” I love this book. I actually believe it is very zen. It is zen because he says that we should not deny ourselves the feelings that we feel. If we feel like shit we should let ourselves feel like shit. We should look at ourselves in the mirror and tell ourselves that we feel like shit and we should examine why. We should not look at ourselves and pretend we are feeling something that we are not. I like this. I don’t think we should wallow in it, personally. I think it’s good to move on at some point. But it’s good to face your demons. How are you going to exorcise them if you pretend like they aren’t there?
All of this being said, I have to say that despite my feelings to the contrary, things usually do turn out ok. Things turn out pretty excellent in fact and when I think about all of the excellent things in my life it makes me happy.It this tried and true experience that helps me and that keeps me going.
Today as I was getting ready for work I looked in the mirror at myself and, for the first time in my life, I admired my soft, womanly curves. It was nice to look at myself and not be critical.