Category Archives: Shame

Letting Go

Susan Piver at Shambhala Mountain Center

Hold your experience with tremendous gentleness. Stay with yourself–always, always, always. Be kind, feel kindly, be loving… As you become friendly toward yourself, you see that actually you can trust your own mind and heart. From this trust and friendship arise unconditional self-confidence. ~Susan Piver

About a month ago, I went to a retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center (SMC) led by Susan Piver. This is the second retreat I’ve been lucky enough to do with Susan at SMC. It was an Open Heart Retreat, “a weekend of meditation practices, journaling, small group dialogue and an exploration of ways we can bring our raw and tender hearts home to the world of family, politics, work, and love.” For me, it was perfectly timed. That morning, I had met for the first time with a new doctor, and she told me “you are obese.” I left for the retreat confused, irritated, and sad.

The retreat provided a safe, supportive space in which to process. And yet, it was not easy. Meditation practice can be difficult because when you sit, the thing that needs your attention, that you’ve maybe been avoiding, is the thing that shows up. And as Susan said at the beginning of the retreat in reference to another activity we’d practice that weekend, “journaling is a very potent way to begin a dialogue with your own heart.” So essentially, there was no place to hide.

On the first full day, we did a practice I’ve done with Susan before. In the most simple terms, you sit across from a version of yourself, imagining who she is and how she sees you, and then you switch perspectives. You start by being your smallest, most scared self looking at your strongest, most brilliant and actualized self, finishing by taking her perspective and seeing your small self from that side. Later, we spent time journaling about, telling the the story of our small, scared self.

The next day, we spent time remembering both perspectives, and wrote a letter from our wise, strong, kind self to the person who is small and scared. It had to begin with “Dear Jill, this is what I have to say to you,” and end with “I love you.” I wrote,

Dear Jill,

This is what I have to say to you–It’s okay. Cheer up. You’re perfect. Yes, there is a tender spot, like a splinter in your foot or a paper cut in your finger. But, it is that small–that irritating and present, but still small and impermanent. It is there so you know, understand the shape and flavor of this particular suffering. It is there to speak to you of darkness, but also of compassion and wisdom. It is a path.

Look for the exit, the off ramp, the sign. It’s there. You have a GPS that is set to lead you into your own open heart, into your life, into wakefulness, into space. It is an open door. It is a blanket you can wrap around yourself. It is your mother.

Ask for help, allow people to help you. You know Eric is there to help and love you. He said this morning in that way he does, “We’ll figure it out,” and you know you believe him, that it’s the truth.

There is nothing to be afraid of or worried about, no rush, no reason to push. You can simply be with this, ride it, be curious and gentle, relax. In this are the seeds for compassion, for love, a fuller life–more time with the dogs, more time with Eric, activities that make you feel nourished, that feed what you are truly hungry for–love, connection, activity, movement, breath. This will all come together and you will take it out into the world with you.

There’s no failure, only trying or success. There’s no end point or goal, only breath and life. This is genuine, truth, love, and you are open to its wisdom and compassion.

Remember what Lisa Field-Elliot said, “it’s not about the accumulating, it is about recognizing and eliminating what does not speak the truth.” Let go of thinking any external validation, truth, wisdom or acceptance has any meaning. You can save yourself. Your body is wise and if you listen to it, to your heart, it will tell you the truth, always the truth, and you never need to apologize for it. You never need to explain or justify it. It is, as you are.

You are your own mother, your own doctor, your own guru. You will ease your own struggle and suffering, and go on with a deep knowledge, an understanding of truth that will benefit others. You will ease suffering, in yourself and in the world, through the good effort of your practice and your open heart.

I love you.

After we wrote our letter, Susan sent us aimlessly wandering. This is a particular mindfulness practice, “exploration without destination,” movement without intention or judgement, a walking meditation. As I walked, I was drawn towards my favorite trees at SMC–two pine trees, one straight and one bent, but so close together they almost look like a single tree, growing mostly by themselves in the corner of a meadow. I stood between them, looking out at the land, and the wind blew, a cool gust that filled my lungs, pushing against and past and through my body like a physical thing. In that moment, a voice inside me whispered, “you can let go.” I made a deal with the wind, with the pines, with that sacred land and vast open sky that I would.

Looking in my wallet, as I’d packed to come to SMC, I’d found a rock, picked up, collected and kept from our trip to the beach this past summer, carried with me ever since. It was a joke from Eric. I’d been finding so many heart shaped rocks on the beach, that one day he came home from a walk with the dogs and said, with a crooked grin on his face, “I found you a heart rock.” What he put in my hand was deep red and meaty, shaped like an organ, rippled like muscle, a tiny petrified heart.

After the weekend at SMC, I was ready to let it go, this closed, hard heart. I couldn’t drop it just anywhere, throw it away. It needed to go somewhere I could trust to take it, needed to give it away and have it accepted with kindness, to have it held it for me, to place it somewhere safe, to allow for a letting go. On that final morning, I walked back to “my” trees. I hugged the one that stands straight and tall, (I confess, I first looked to be sure no one was watching), this spot where I’d made a deal with the wind, where I could return my closed, hard heart to the earth, let it rest in that place.

It would release me, I would release it. I could move on, go home. I could leave the self there who hurts, who is afraid. She could stay there safe, comforted, and I would leave, cracked open, soft and tender and raw.

There was a spot in the bent tree where a branch had been cut off. It looked like an eye. I took the heart rock from my pocket, smooth and warm, and shoved it as far as I could into the center of the eye. Then I stood between the trees, in the same spot where the wind had touched me the day before, and looking out over the land, I let go.

I opened my heart.

I tell you this
to break your heart,
by which I mean only
that it break open and never close again
to the rest of the world.
~Mary Oliver

Book Writing Saturday

Throughout the week, as I’ve been thinking about my upcoming Book Writing Saturday, where I would spend four hours working on my book as I’ve been doing every Saturday for the past month, I had a strong sense that that I had to alter my approach.

For starters, Dexter was pretty sick this week. The anti-inflammatory we were giving him to ease the discomfort of his maybe probably most likely but we can’t really be sure cancer did a real number on his belly. By Monday night, he couldn’t even keep water down. So we had a long, hard week of more vet visits, more medication, more suffering, more sleepless nights and worry. Thankfully, already by Tuesday night, he was feeling much better, but I’m feeling distracted and tired.

at nine years old and so gray, he still looks like a puppy sometimes

Book Writing Saturday was hard enough when it was simply a matter of already having an intense, full time job, already getting up at 4:30 am every morning so I can do everything that needs/wants done: laundry, dog walking, groceries, cleaning, exercise, sleep, paying bills, blogging, self-care, yoga, meditation, maintaining relationships, etc. There is so little extra time, and already not enough play or rest. But I noticed it wasn’t just that–I was being a bully to myself about the whole thing, pushing to get four hours of work, work, work done on my book. I was beating myself up, wasn’t having any fun. And if I’m just going to be mean to myself about it, what’s the point?

Love is the point. I love writing. I love telling stories. I love inspiring others to live more fully, to love more deeply. I love sharing my truth, and in so doing hopefully reminding whoever is reading that they are loved, that they aren’t alone, that they are already perfect, basically and fundamentally wise, compassionate, and powerful. There is a book inside of me that wants out, and at times it feels like the creature from Alien, so I really have no choice.

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” ~Maya Angelou

I started off today by using a prompt suggested by Courtney Carver at the end of her post, On Writing, to write about a detail of your childhood. When I touched my pen to the page, the thing that came up was something I stole. In fact, it was the first thing I remember taking, knowing that it was wrong but doing it anyway because I wanted it so bad. It was a small, white glass Avon empty perfume bottle (Sweet Honesty) made to look like a Scottish Terrier with a gold collar, just like this one. I took it while I was playing at friend’s house, taking it into the bathroom and hiding it in the waistband of my shorts. I loved it, and in my blind desire I justified taking it without asking, (because I couldn’t risk that they’d say “no”). As soon as I got it home, took it out and rubbed my finger against it’s smooth side, I knew I would never be able to enjoy having it, no matter how much I wanted it, but I also was too embarrassed, too ashamed to return it, so I took it to a vacant field at the end of our street and threw it as hard as I could into the emptiness.

This led to more writing about theft, desire and longing, shame. But then the writing took a turn. You see, kind and gentle reader, yesterday Tammy from Rowdy Kittens included a link to one of my blog posts in her Inspiring Links. That more than doubled the amount of traffic I normally get, which gave me that feeling of “if I would have known you were coming, I would have cleaned up a bit.” It made me start thinking about changes I’ve been wanting to make on my blog, which is perfect timing because tomorrow is my one year blog anniversary.

Which ended up meaning that today wasn’t so much about book writing as blog writing, blog brainstorming, blog planning, blog design and redesigning, blog dreaming, blog inspiration, blog love.

Let Go and Come Back

In meditation, when you get lost in thought or a daydream, or caught up in a strong emotion and forget to focus on to your breath, the instruction is to let go and come back to the practice. Let go and come back. The letting go isn’t harsh, there’s no rejection or pushing or running away or resisting, but rather a simple and gentle letting go. To notice, be with the thought, with the feeling, to acknowledge it, to watch and soften as it dissolves.

To feel what that feels like, clench your fist, hold it as tight as you can manage for a few seconds, and then let it go, relax your fingers and open your palm. Do you feel that release? How ease replaces tension? There is such relief in letting go.

As does so much of my meditation practice, this instruction finds it’s way into my life off the cushion all the time. I struggle with being a “better” person, with improving and becoming and doing. I get so focused on changing, on fighting with who I am now in this moment, on self-improvement, that I forget I’m enough already, and that who I am right now is the gift, that there is no destination, no goal, nothing to win and no finished or done. There will be no summit I’ll reach where I’ll finally and permanently be happy and safe and well. As Pema Chödrön suggests, we should just go ahead and “abandon hope.”

Giving up hope is encouragement to stick with yourself, not to run away, to return to the bare bones, no matter what’s going on. If we totally experience hopelessness, giving up all hope of alternatives to the present moment, we can have a joyful relationship with our lives, an honest, direct relationship that no longer ignores the reality of impermanence and death. ~Pema Chödrön

One place this instruction keeps coming up for me is around my relationship with food. I’ve mentioned it briefly before: depending on when you ask me, I am either a highly functioning food addict or a recovering one. It’s gotten so much better in the last year, the obsession and the smashing myself to bits. The swing between rational and compulsive behavior is relaxing its grip, my wisdom in relation to food and eating is developing into something that can often look like health, and I go for long stretches of time where I could even say I’ve left it behind me.

Then something triggers me, and I’m right back in the thick of it. The stress of being an introvert and highly sensitive person at a party, or in the presence of people I admire and adore, or in a room full of 1000+ other people, or having to go in to my paid work when I’m supposed to still be on vacation.

The month we spent at the beach left me feeling relaxed and hopeful. I was getting enough sleep, spending enough time resting and playing, and was feeling so good about the opportunity I had to clean up how I eat and take better care of myself, so happy about how I’d “changed.”

Then I had to go in to work for half a day. I had been getting lots of emails about what needed to be done, what was coming up, pulling me back into that space, rushing me into fall. The night before, after eating so happily and healthy for days, I got out a bag of caramel corn and my ipod and ate and numbed out until I made myself sick, first my stomach aching and then my head hurting from sugar and tension. I thought when I went to bed that night how much better I’d feel if I could throw up, but I’ve never been good at that, ever since in grade school when a friend tried to teach me how by sticking the eraser end of a pencil down my throat. Back then, no one talked about Bulimia, so I had no idea and told no one.

I don’t talk much about my food addiction, even with how open I am about everything else. It’s because I’m ashamed and embarrassed by it, upset that I can’t control myself, shy about sharing the details of how low I sink, how gross it gets. And there’s the added bonus that in a thin obsessed culture, where your worth is measured literally in terms of your size, that I get to also feel guilty and ashamed of the extra weight I lug around as a result. I love to exercise and eat healthy food, but coupled with this compulsion, they can only keep me from becoming obese, not overweight. Add perimenopause to the equation, and I’m screwed.

This feeling bad about “failing” and what I look like robs me of joy. I get to go to this fabulous World Domination Summit prefunction party at Kelly Rae Roberts’ studio, with all of these women I adore and admire, and when I start to show up in pictures of the event on their websites, I can only feel happiness and gratitude for having been there for a split second before the disgust and despair kick in: “my stomach looks so fat.” I can’t even appreciate how amazing it is that I was at this event and there are pictures to prove it, on some of my favorite blogs even, can’t say “hey, look, there I am!” with any kind of excitement because all I can see is how fat I look, and am so sick in that moment that I actually think “maybe people will think I’m pregnant,” which is quickly followed up by a nasty voice that says “that doesn’t necessarily explain your arms or double chin.”

I can’t tell you–no actually I can tell you how much, how badly, how desperately I want released from this thing. Not the weight, but the obsession and confusion that is underneath, the self-loathing and despair that comes after. It’s not about the weight at all, it’s not even about food: it’s about hunger.

Rachel Cole did a reunion conference call for those of us who attended her Well-Fed Woman Retreatshops this past year, so I’ve been thinking a lot about hunger. Typically what is happening when I am obsessing about food or eating too much or making unhealthy choices, it’s not about food at all, certainly not about physical hunger. I am hungry for self-care, but I keep feeding myself food.

I was thinking about this in terms of taking a shower. It is important for me, unless I am planning to take the dogs on a walk or go to the gym, to shower in the morning as soon as possible. If I don’t, I won’t put on clean clothes, because I’m not “clean,” which means I’ll stay in my bathrobe or put on the kinds of clothes I wear to do messy chores, like painting or cleaning the bathroom, and this isn’t uplifting at all. These clothes, worn for that reason, make me feel depressed, dull and down, which leads to behaviors that are triggered by such feelings, like overeating or numbing out on the computer. I feel disorganized and discombobulated, stuck. Nothing sane or healthy happens and it’s hard to move on.

Taking a shower is one way to truly feed my hunger for self-care. Sometimes I am feeling unworthy, maybe my blog stats are low and I haven’t meditated for a few days and I’m comparing myself to others, beating myself up for not measuring up, comparing my blooper reel to their highlights. Sometimes it’s overwhelm, so much has to get done, so much I want to do. Sometimes it’s taking care of the should and have to work, the paid work, and the energy it takes, how much I’d rather be doing something else but can’t yet afford to leave that work, and that can lead to depression.

I have been feeding these real hungers with food, always with food. What are the real needs, what am I really hungry for? Physical tiredness needs rest and sleep, pure and simple. Unworthiness needs connection and a reminder of my basic goodness, of the real need for my voice, my light. Overwhelm needs to have permission to only do what can be done, and then to practice self-care, to rest and play, experience joy. Depression needs to exercise and reconnect with nature, be in the body and the world.

When you are in the grips of something so old and deep, sometimes you give up. You look back at the struggle and then ahead to your future, and you can’t imagine it will ever leave you, fear that you’ll be stuck in this cycle of obsession, swinging between control and crazy, gaining and losing the same 20 pounds forever, trying and eventually giving up on every new system, method, or plan, feeling the rise of hope and the sink of despair, like Sisyphus and his rock, never finding a way out. But you can’t divorce yourself, can’t leave or move out, get any kind of legal separation, split your assets 50/50 and wish each other well. You have to stick it out, are stuck, have to live with it, with yourself and your confusion.

When I really look at it, really think, trust myself, I’m pretty smart, pretty sure about what to do. I know the hunger, but still tend to feed it the wrong thing, still fall into the old habits, the discursive patterns, the way of being when I am tired, and I am tired a lot. But that’s okay, if only I can remember to let go and come back. This is what practice is, falling down and getting back up, falling apart and being whole, trying again, continuing to show up, again and again, time after time. This is what all of life is, isn’t it?

Let go and come back.

Day of Rest

On this day of rest, I am reminded of a video that caused a shift in me: Brene’ Brown‘s TED Talk, “The Power of Vulnerability.” The TED website describes it this way (TED = Technology, Entertainment, Design), “Brene’ Brown studies human connection–our ability to empathize, belong, love. In a poignant, funny talk at TEDxHouston, she shares a deep insight from her research, one that sent her on a personal quest to know herself as well as to understand humanity. A talk to share.”

I heard Brene’ talk about this video recently, and she said that if she’d had any idea how many people would actually see it, fear might have gotten in the way and she might not have said all that she said. I’m glad she didn’t know, I’m glad that she showed the power of vulnerability by allowing herself to be vulnerable. If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth a look. If you have, it’s worth a return look.

Here’s wishing that on this day of rest, you can let go of feeling like you need to perform, or please, or be perfect, that you can feel a sense of love and belonging, simply for being who you are, just as you are.

Wishing you ease, peace, love and rest.

Thanksgiving

Rather than share a list of what I am thankful for, I’m going to tell you a story.  Yesterday, I was in a big rush to get some errands done before I was supposed to meet with a friend. I went to the feed store to get dog food, the library to return a DVD and check out a book, and then to get groceries.

On the way out of the grocery store, I was irritated. I forgot to get hamburger for the dogs and bananas for the monkeys (that would be Sam and me), but I did not want to go directly back into that same store. I decided to make a quick stop at the grocery store that is right on the way home and get the rest of what I needed, but that meant hurrying even faster. Because I was really rushing now, I didn’t even acknowledge the Salvation Army bell ringer, even though he told me “Happy Thanksgiving.” And my internal dialogue was ugly and nasty on the way to my car, snarling at every person who got in my way and slowed me down.

Finally, I was in my car and headed to the next store. When I arrived, I reached for my purse…and it wasn’t there! I checked in the trunk, not there either. I had left my purse in the shopping cart in the basket return at the last store.

I told myself not to panic on the drive back, that it was the day before Thanksgiving and people were kind and honest, most of the time. And yet, the hurrying I did on the drive back was borderline road rage, following too close (to the point that people turned around and glared at me), going too fast, swerving, and changing lanes.

When I got back to the store, there were six customers in line at the service desk and I had to wait. I kept telling myself to stay calm, not to panic, not to get worked up over something that might not end up being true.  But, both of my pairs of prescription glasses where in there, credit cards, my driver’s license, calling cards, work keys, a usb drive with my writing and pictures on it. If it was really gone, I’d spend the rest of the day dealing with the process of canceling and replacing. When it was my turn at the counter, I asked if there was a lost & found, explained that I’d left my purse in a shopping cart in the parking lot about 15 minutes ago.  She asked me what my bag looked like, and leaned under the counter.

The feeling that flooded me when I saw my purse in her hands, heard her say “they brought it in right after you left,” wasn’t relief, it was sadness and shame. If I had been being mindful, like I always say is so important to me, I never would have left my purse in the cart in the first place. My rushing, lack of attention, and rudeness deserved worse luck than this.

On the way back out of the store, I stopped at the Salvation Army red bucket.  I told the bell ringer, “I am putting this $20 in the bucket, but before I do, I want to say why. When I was here just fifteen minutes ago, I was in a hurry and rushed past you, not even acknowledging you. I was in such a rush, I left my purse in a shopping cart in the parking lot, but someone was kind enough to turn it in. I am putting this $20 in for that person, and to apologize for being a jerk before.” He was quiet while I gave my confession, my speech rushed and my voice cracking from time to time. I’m sure he thought I was unstable, (which wasn’t exactly wrong at that moment), and he said “Well, thank you, and have a happy Thanksgiving.”

Photo by Jan Tik

For food in a world where many walk in hunger. For friends in a world where many walk alone. For faith in a world where many walk in fear. For kindness in a world where we aren’t always kind. I give thanks.