“One of your greatest enemies, in this journey, on the road of dhamma, is the belief that this practice is not good for you,” said the teacher, dabbing his spotless white kerchief at his upper lip, which glistened constantly of perspiration and a hint of a smile.
I watched him on the monitor, crouched wrapped in my blanket on my thin square mat, placed somewhere in the middle of a hundred students, lined in rows throughout the dim meditation hall.
“You may have pains, you may have hard thoughts, big storms come up. Great discomfort. Great discomfort.” He dabbed at his cheek. “And these will make you think, ‘Oh no, this is not good! I must run away!”
He rolled his ‘r’ in a charming Burmese trill. His deep voice deepened and his faint smile hinted wider. A small chuckle rippled through the hall. A chuckle of recognition, of relief. Each of our silent struggles acknowledged, sending us sighing together, shedding the doubt, the tension of the day. Giving us the courage to walk off to bed and confront yet another long day of sitting. Until the next night when he would strategically gift us another chuckle.
It made sense what he said. I had some aches, I had some storms. But nothing I couldn’t handle, nothing worse than long travels, or heartache. We were sitting, observing our bodies, riding the ups and downs, learning not to react, not to run. Just staying with the sensations. Simple.
Now I want to run. These are not simple sensations. This is…everything. I huddle in my shack, exhausted and anxious. I turn on my phone, check messages, check classifieds, put it back down. Look around, at my little world, my light purple walls, my books, my guitars.
Is this world breaking up? Am I supposed to leave now?
Conflict rolls over me and plasters me to the bed. It ripples through my nerves, setting off every hair-trigger alarm I’ve rigged since childhood. I’ve got a grab bag, I’m making an escape plan. The ship is sinking, I’m sure. Where will I go when the bottom falls out.
The imagined bottom; that they will kick me out. The real bottom; that I cannot handle the drama, the tension, that I run from it. The best way to feel light again, is to fly.
I convince myself I have done enough to resolve the situation. I have said my piece, left the door open for them to say more. I did not compromise my sense of worth, nor shut the door on theirs. I am sure that saying more would just push them too much. That I should just get over it already. That if they are not talking now, they must be angry. That they do not want me enough to work through this.
I convince myself that I must leave to preserve the connection. Ignoring tension is not a tool in my belt. I must escape.
But this time escape eludes me. That ‘somewhere-to-run’ stays hidden long enough for this storm to pass, and I find myself on the other shore. I realize that, despite my panic, despite my frenzy, this time I stayed.
And a sly light hits my complex stone of anxiety, scattering it into a spray of simple sensations. This flight response is…a cramp in the sternum, a pressure in the abdomen, a pinch in the forehead. It is…a daunting concept composed of manageable pieces.
I stay with the sensations.
I see that conflict passes, like all those simpler storms from the meditation mat. Messier though. Those storms stayed in my head, leaving no trail of regret. These conflicts leave words said, reputations torn, relationships tenuous. They leave passionate proclamations that now, calm and loving, I cringe to claim. But that I know, really, I had little power against.
I see how, if two people are willing to sit through it, until the end, if they are both calm, collected, aware, like meditators, that the storm passes into rainbows. And glowing edges of electric clouds. And clean, sweet smelling earth. I see how conflict becomes breakthroughs, how breakthroughs become growth, how growth becomes intimacy.
I came to revel in resolution. To revel in talking, in processing until every last trace of tension had dissolved, every last coal extinguished. I tracked down tension like a huntress, plucking tiny strands from our skin, until we were clean again, exhausted and relieved.
Stay with simple sensations. Stay with complex relations. Stay all the way through the storm. Who has the strength to stay with the discomfort of processing pain, of sorting through webs of conflict. Of humoring your need to sort out all the threads. Those are the keepers.
But then, I learned, there can be too much. That push for complete purity. I get stuck in it, lock down around it. “Compulsive,” nodded a therapist, casually.
I am not OK as long as there is tension. I am too sensitive, it is too loud. My push pushes others away. I want complete resolution, they want to let it go. It’s not always fair to them. I take it too far, it is hard to know when to stop. Is the coal still lit, or is your hand just still burning from the heat.
There must be another road to resolution. I took a shot at giving space. Loving distance, I told myself. Even as the calm space I gave contradicted the anxious space I held right next to my clenching gut. Even as I made contingency plans without consulting the other.
We meant to talk about it, we just never had time, never made time. So I backed off, let my steam settle, waited for some little gesture, some peace offering. A nod, a kindness that said, inside of it, I am over it, I forgive you, I am sorry. We are OK.
Until slowly, the sting settled and the smiles crept back in. Then we touched hands, and then we were laughing again. And I decided to let it go, let it all go. Let go of the sting, my tension, my contingency plans, the little cracks in my trust. Anything less wouldn’t have been resolution. I smiled and let go of that part of me that needs to hash it all out. Which felt good. New. Powerful.
Until the next storm came, inevitably, as they do. A fiery wind, new sparks, new challenges. And blew up a puff of smokey ashes, uncovered a bed of glowing coals. I watched dismayed. I thought we settle that. I thought we put those out? I realized that no, it is not so easy. Moving on is not letting go. Those coals still burn. Left untended, they stay.
I am a very much a work in the middle of a messy progress. Conflict still tears me apart at the seams. I still hide, clamp down inside myself, doubt my goodness, expect abandonment. I reckon there are some who will be easy, some who will be work, and some who will never be up for the challenge. And some, of course, who terrify me too much to even try.
I am sure I will not do right by everyone. Some I’m meant to confront, and some I’m meant to let rest. Some I’m meant to stand up for myself, and some I’m meant to be humble. I will mix them up many more times. Love will slip through my fingers at words left unsaid, or squeeze out of my fist with words said too strong.
In all of it I must remember to breathe, to stay with myself. To reflect, and know that nothing is everything. That those who love us will try to stay. But even those that couldn’t stay didn’t love us any less. Maybe they just got confused too, of what was enough and what was too much. Of when to fly and when to wait out the storm.