“Boil thou first in the charmed pot.
Double, double toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.”
“Fair is foul and foul is fair.”
(the witches of Shakespeare’s Macbeth)
Once again today my class met and found itself engaged with week four of our mindfulness programme. A week past, of engaging with unpleasant events. With noticing them arise. Noticing the emotions, thoughts, and sensations that they bring with them. Marveling at the effect that they have on us. Unraveling some of the triggers for these unpleasant events, noticing how our perception of events can make all the difference between labeling them as pleasant or unpleasant. What about neutral? Noticing how events can either take control of how we react or we can have some choice in how to respond. Noticing in our sitting that not reacting to small discomforts, such as the pressure points arising from the chair, allow these sensations to transform, and even possible to disappear. A class of sharing with one another what it was, and how it was, that “my blood boiled”! And of noticing, that when we perhaps are able to stay and sit with the boiling, to just wait a moment longer, that at times the boiling may settle all of it’s own accord.
One of the participants spoke, a couple weeks ago, of her tremendous anger at the suicide attempt of a young extended family member that resulted not only in harm to themselves but also destruction of property. She shared today how having waited and stayed with her anger, sitting for the past two weeks with it, and not reacting in haste, allowed her yesterday for the first time to visit this relative in hospital with an open heart, even as she was fearful and uncertain of the meeting, and to be able to deeply listen to and hear the distress and suffering behind the act and offer compassion rather than judgement. This ability to sit for a while with the anger allowed an open hearted and wholehearted engagement, offered support where little was before forthcoming, and an opportunity to meet with and open to the suffering of this young person that would otherwise surely have been missed.
As a young child I was very fearful of anger and of expressing any loud or overt negative emotions, even as I was a cheerful, happy child. At home it seemed anger and displeasure was frowned upon, my father, to my young self, loomed large, scary and authoritarian. I grew up with a sense that strong emotions in me were not acceptable. Not surprisingly I was a moody teenager and not in the habit of sharing my thoughts or emotions with my parents. It has become somewhat of a journey in my growing up to understand the value of allowing these difficult emotions that are present in my life, in myself, and give them recognition. Allowing them to be present without judgement or feeling shame in their simple presence. So heart wrenching to hear others have the same predicament. “What do I do with these feelings of immense anger?” What to do? For now? Perhaps nothing. Just stop awhile, sit, breathe, be. And stay with these most difficult of emotions with a sense of kindness toward the self that is suffering through this. Just sit, breath, be, without needing to push away, react, or suppress. Allow the burning and the boiling, for it is a charmed pot. All is not always what it seems. And in allowing the difficult emotions we enable and open the space for recognizing the joy, the love, and the laughter. For myself, at times I am still overwhelmed by the intensity of these emotions, but I know they will pass through for now, and my heart will have been opened just that split crack more. To let more of the light in, to feel the warmth of this moment.
How is it with you today?
Trust your wound to a teacher’s surgery.
Flies collect on a wound. They cover it,
Those flies of your self-protecting feelings,
your love for what you think is yours.
Let a Teacher wave away the flies
and put a plaster on the wound.
Don’t turn your head. Keep looking
at the bandaged place. That’s where
the Light enters you.
And don’t believe for a moment
that you’re healing yourself.
reproduced in Saki Santorelli’s book Heal Thy Self, Lessons on Mindfulness in Medicine.