Thursday 8 May 2008

Learning to be here - II

The second session of the MBSR course was this week. We did another Body Scan, some sitting meditation and discussed our experiences of practicing over the previous week. I did not, as in the first session, confront physical pain. I did, though, continue to feel challenged by a crowded and demanding social situation whose essential purpose and content mean that my habitual coping strategies of 'shutting down' or coasting through with minimal participation will not do - and this at the end of a working day, when my resources are depleted.

Mmm. This is harder than I thought it would be. Harder, for me at any rate, to be here in this context than to attend my lovely, silent, austere Buddhist meditation retreats - though those are challenging in their own way. I suspect it will therefore be all the more useful, if I can stick with it, but comfortable it's not. Being mindful of one's wretched, messy, suffering self, whilst hard up against a lot of other people's similarly, but differently, wretched, messy... ouch!

How hard it is came home to me again the following day, when I met rr for lunch and knitting. Creator of a whole family of socks, as well as of many other gorgeous things, she'd come to show me how to turn the heel on my first sock. Attempting to be mindful and to watch one's negative habits whilst knitting one's first sock is not quite earth-shattering on the scale of things, but one's first anything at my advanced age is not easy. Well, actually, it's not so much my age (I reflect, as I knit... 6, 7, 2 together... ach, I've lost count, how many stitches did you say?). I've always found learning anything new and even slightly challenging excruciatingly difficult, so painful and frustrating, so demanding of a willingness to be present and patient that I do not have.

I'm ashamed to think of all the things I've given up on learning, or avoided even starting to learn. It's a sorry tale, highlighting over and over, in contexts small and large, the place where I am broken. And giving attention to the place where I am broken is painful. Fifty years down the line from the day I got broken, turned and faced away from life because I 'couldn't bear' to put my toys away, is it too late to mend, even a little bit? Such portentous thoughts while knitting a sock would be sad if they weren't hilarious, and quite impossible to prolong without the sock going horribly wrong...


Zhoen said...

I will propose, not lack of patience, although that is the effect. Instead, lack of the habit of learning. I have had to jump in the deep end and learn and relearn my job so often, it's no longer as painful nor frightening. And it takes powerful motivation to endure that excruciating discomfort long enough for it to become a habit.

Hang tough.

In Jingo, Terry Pratchett, Sybil dutifully tries to knit socks for the troops. The conflict ends so soon, she never figures out how to turn a heel, and Vimes winds up with a very long scarf.

Anonymous said...

Turning a heel: wonderful metaphor for what you're doing, Jean. Keep at it, because it's already doing huge things.

Hugs as you pursue all this -- the socks and the mindfulness. Don't focus on what you haven't finished in the past, either. If I did that I think I could come up with a pretty impressive list, as long as Vimes's scarf.

MB said...

Oh, yes, it's very hard. As they say, that's why it's called practice. This reminds me of the Leonard Cohen song, Anthem, which I would do well to remember more often:
The birds they sang
at the break of day
Start again
I heard them say
Don't dwell on what
has passed away
or what is yet to be...

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

Jean said...

Hugs back to all of you! and MB, thank you, thank you, for the song :-)

Anonymous said...

Even to get to the place of looking at the brokenness is, I'm beginning to realise, to have come a very long way indeed. I am also beginning to realise that perhaps there is no better place to be. Because there is no destination, there is no perfection, there is no end. But to have found a path, and to have the courage to stay on it, that indeed is something profoundly to be grateful for.

Dale said...

Hmm. I wonder if you know how talented and multi-competent you seem to us?

What you've given up on, what's broken, has to looms large for you, and rightly so when you're on a path that goes down before it goes up. But it's not what I see when I look at you, or at your photos, or read your words. I see someone breathtakingly confident, deft, sure, accomplished, and learning voraciously all the time.

I don't say that by way of erasure, just by way of supplement. "...and that's true, too."

Fire Bird said...

Rich post, rich comments. I can only add that I am here resonating...

Rosie said...

I think knitting must induce meditation like my dog walking does. It takes up just enough of your brain to keep you in the present. You are trying to avoid dropping stitches and I am trying to avoid pools of manure. The consequences of both are disastrous! I wish I was close enough to have a lesson in heel turning though.

Anonymous said...

A friend said to me just recently: if it didn't hurt you would know it wasn't proper, lasting change. Why else would you shut down, if not to protect yourself from places that seem unbearable? But learning to bear them is a huge, huge step forward, and the beginning of a liberation from imprisonment, confined in an ever smaller 'safe' space. You are doing so well.

And I like what dale says too. The bad stuff seems huge to you, but once past it you will be reunited with all the wonderful parts of you that we see so clearly.

Lori Witzel said...

I admire what you're doing and your straightforward yet eloquent writing on such. Thanks you for sharing this, and providing another branch for some of my fave un-common-taters to light.

For whatever it's worth, there's something here that may also resonate:

Jean said...

Thanks, Lori, for that link to a spine-tinglingly beautifully story.