I get lost in my thoughts, like every other human being in the entire world. For me this “getting lost” is most prevalent in the morning. They are thoughts fueled by anger and sadness and before I know it I have spent a good hour shuffling through my morning “doings,” and sometimes even driving while lost in them. I go on this kind of automatic pilot while my mind travels with the injustices I have been dealt; that person that flipped me off, how time is rushing by, and basically everything I think is wrong with me and “my life.”
These thoughts are always all about me, centered on myself and they don’t feel good. Frankly, I make myself angry with the stories I attach to the feelings. It’s not long before my thoughts begin attacking one another. A little voice comes up that tries to find the solution and ward away the angry thoughts by justifying why I’m angry or feel resentful, and before long there is a litany of people who are at fault. The next round of thoughts start trying to talk me out of those angry feelings: “there are so many people worse off in the world,” “just breathe,” “relax,” “they are just feelings they will pass soon,” and this resistance causes tension to mount in my body. I start to deploy tactics I’ve read about or that have worked in the past to get away from the anger and sad feelings buried deep inside. Then I get angry all over again. I’m not exaggerating, I can literally get lost in this cycle for an hour. It can sometimes repeat itself 20 times within an hour; angry, list of the causes of anger (i.e., resentment), trying to beat myself internally for feeling the anger, and then trying to get away from myself with tactics to stop the feelings I don’t like. I’m not going to soften it, I don’t like feeling anger or negative feelings, and I’m pretty sure it’s because they don’t coexist well with the self-image I’ve created all of these years.
What you may not see that I can see is an underlying theme of how I work within this cycle, and it includes judgment, control, and manipulation. I have a feeling, and I judge it, then to control it I find “reasons” for my anger by applying it to people and situations, then I try to manipulate it and talk myself out of having those feeling at all. What I can see with clarity is compassion, kindness, and acceptance of myself are nonexistent. There isn’t an ounce of those feelings anywhere in this cycle. By highlighting this missing aspect, it is not my goal to utilize these more “desirable” traits within myself, but instead, a clear seeing that they were nowhere to be found. If compassion comes in at all it is employed as a distraction away from myself; to be more compassionate to those that did me wrong thereby using empathy as a way to avoid myself and focus on how I need to be.
I recently heard Jack Kornfield tell a story about a famous German biologist, George Schaller whose work was carried on by Dianne Fosse and portrayed in the movie Gorillas In The Mist. When George came back after studying Gorillas in their natural habitat, he had collected so much information about their relationship structure and how their communities operated in a way that no one had ever seen before. He was presenting this information at a conference of biologists when someone raised their hand and said, “Mr. Schaller we’ve been studying the gorillas for generations, and you have so much more information that we’ve ever been able to acquire. How did you do this?” He replied, “It’s simple, I didn’t carry a gun.” Previous scientists had gone to study the gorillas but had elephant guns strapped to their sides. Because George didn’t have any weapons he had to approach the gorillas with respect and care and the Gorillas sensed that approach and allowed him to witness their existence.
Is it not the same with us?
For years, I have discounted my feelings and talked myself out of having them, because I’m “better” than anger. I have spent many accumulated hours in meditation with a focus on being more kind and compassionate to others. Yet, also those hours have been spent ignoring what I have going on inside of me. The turbulent undercurrent of undesired feelings pulling me further and further down into tension, contraction, restriction, and defense. All the while standing before myself with a gun pointed at my head and demanding, “Stop being angry, stop being self-centered, stop feeling hurt and sad.” I have also harnessed the same gun and demanded of myself to understand, “Why are you so angry, why are you so hurt, why are you so sad, tell me, tell me, bring it out and show me so I can fix it.”
How many times have you found yourself with a gun pointed at your own head in judgment and condemnation? Every time we wish ourselves to be “better,” “wiser,” or more compassionate are we not pistol whipping ourselves? There is so much talk about being authentic but how can we be authentic if we refuse to experience our own nature, our own energy, and our own selves? How can authenticity be found while standing in front of a double barrel gun? In that state, we will do one of two things; recoil and hide our authenticity (which includes all the range of feelings), or we will lash out to direct the barrel outwards to avoid the self-inflicted threat, ultimately avoiding ourselves and our feelings by the action of lashing out.
We are designed to avoid fear; it’s what keeps us safe. But, what about the self-inflicted fear generated from the aggressiveness towards ourselves? It’s literally heartbreaking to experience my own self-inflicted threats and fear caused by my internal gun wielding. I cower at myself standing over myself being threatened by myself. Yet, berating myself for brandishing the gun in the first place, is yet another gun I hold firmly in place. It’s the dichotomy found in every layer of being a human being. As the layers are peeled away, kindness and love begin to find their way. Genuine, authentic energies are experienced, and they do include sadness, guilt, shame, anger, and hurt but they start to intermingle with kindness and love. Not as an escape from sadness, guilt, shame, anger, and hurt but rather a softening that they even exist in the first place, a deep knowingness there will be more, and an understanding that they are authentic to me in this moment of my experience. When I drop the gun there is a space for open breathing where safety is found, and I touch who I am. I notice as George experienced, when I approach myself, by myself, with respect and care for myself there is an opening and an allowing to witness my own existence.
(Drawing by John)