Transforming habitual patterns

The Five Misdeeds, Beatrice Alemagna, Topipittori 2014, detail. 
“In its folds hide all the memories.” One of her 29 books. 

I am doing a daily exercise (Melodie Beattie) where I give thanks for things I might normally resist. I wake, self-reflect as a way to see what is meaningful, and within thirty minutes begin writing. Then I exchange my list of gratitudes by email with a partner who also writes a list. After reading my list, a partner writes back something like, “I’m here. I’m listening,” as a witness rather than as someone with an opinion, suggestion, or solution.  

Remember my gratitude practice? I commit to writing for 40 days just after waking. Well, I haven’t stopped. I’m on day 52.

Today I write this - "I’m grateful for that old Quaker adage 'let your life speak.'”
That phrase gathers my words. I utter to myself a gentle reminder, “Words, listen up. Take a nap.” Another way to say this is to "be a log on the forest floor."

This happened last night.

Terry spontaneously comes over to play with Grandson while we're babysitting. He brings Jenga, a block-building game and asks Dylan, “Want to play?” Seeing a happy nod yes, he adds, “Dylan, we need a table.”

Forgetting my name isn’t Dylan, I respond like he’s talking to me.

In a staccato, unsolicited-disguised-as-hovering-helpfulness voice, I point to this table and that one. “How about the peace table? I’ll clean it off. Here’s a chair.”

At home the next morning, Terry says, “You know, I felt some skittish energy last night. I did not ask you for help to find a table.” Oh. the first thing I notice is that I did not put my fingers in my ears making a lalalalalalala sound. I listen, interested. 


Wait. There’s more. (Here comes some honesty and memory.)

I recall just a few days earlier a dramatic but gentle vow-sigh as I sit on my cushion to meditate: “Susan, no discrimination about feelings. They are all welcome.”  (I’m laughing as I type this. Those words sure flow easily when I’m not feeling bad.)

I was vaguely aware of that vow when Terry said how he felt when I began looking for that table. Like sitting on an imaginary tack, I notice a wee bit of discomfort. A little bubble-up. I feel inferior, as if I messed up. Some “wanting to justify and explain” words are running around in my mouth looking for a way out. I feel a deep desire to say, “I was just trying to help.”

I keep quiet. I remember to be a log on the forest floor.

I know a little bit about what can happen when uncomfortable feelings arise. They can morph into angry, persecuting feelings. I could think or say bad things to Terry or myself. If I hurt enough, I might even go off-topic and remind him of when he did such and such about 5 years ago or describe all the times I haven’t messed up.

All to avoid feeling uncomfortable. 

So I stay with the discomfort, and it passes.

High ho the dairy oh. Progress. 

Feeling and accepting is invigorating and relaxing.

I notice my energy is different when I’m trying to make things all hunky-dory in a people-pleasing way. I’m grateful to remember Thay’s talk at retreat about peace being an energetic change. The energy of behavior at retreat was clear on the last day when 500 people who had not attended the retreat came for one of Thay’s talks. As I’m sitting on a rock outside chewing my oatmeal 30-some times without counting because I’d been practicing slowing down, I watch a woman get out of a taxi and walk with a Mad Hatter-I’m-late gait towards the Meditation Hall. Consumed and distracted, she misses by inches ringing the dinner bell with her head. Her energy is palpable.

I get it. I could have been her. Heck, she was me last night at Grandson’s house. 

So, I’m grateful for the capacity to listen to Terry and feel whatever comes up. I realize that the ability to listen and sit with my feelings is directly related to my meditation practice. It's easier to really hear what Terry has to say.

I remember listening to Pema Chödrön share what she notices in friends who have consistent meditation and stillness practice. 

Ani Pema says these friends with a history of practice are more flexible and content. 

They have a sense of humor and lightness.
They don’t get all worked up so easily and when they do, they are able to flow quicker through the workup. 

They’re curious and open, less clingy to their views. 

When they are clingy, they notice it quickly. 

They’re less angry (fearful). 

They allow themselves to feel and consciously let go of numbing. 

They don’t take on others’ lives and instead see others as "just like me" - wanting happiness and freedom from suffering. We can wish the same goodness, peace, happiness, contentment, curiosity, and friendliness to others. To live in a golden rule way, speaking in a way they want to be spoken to, behaving in a way they want to be treated.

I want to be more like this.