For the first few months of travel limitations and social distancing, I felt that I was doing OK, even celebrating the sweet connections to my family. After an RV trip where we are all in even tighter quarters than at home, rubbing up against each other with every movement, something inside me snapped. Was it perimenopausal mood fluctuations, past patterns finally catching up with me, other causes and conditions? Do the reasons even matter?
Opening to what’s happening in the relational field requires so much patience. I love my family dearly, but I’m not always going to like them, especially when we disagree. The nature of life is change. There is nothing new about this concept. We are not fixed beings, but processes doing our best to acclimate to external forces. And everyone has their own way of adjusting.
Pausing and taking a few deep breaths before speaking or acting can make a difference between clarifying connection or disastrous disconnection. I recently listened to a podcast outlining a four-step approach to communication designed to increase clarity, minimize miscommunication, honor each person’s individuality, and build a shared sense of trust and respect for long-term success. Remembering intentions for healthy relationships, I was grateful to implement the practice a few times in conversation.
Patience is not about getting my way or forcing a certain outcome. It’s gently engaging eye contact, using words as windows instead of weapons, and awareness of body language internally and externally.
Close relationships can often lead to perceived nuclear fallouts when monkey mind is active. It’s so easy to get triggered by past hurt with an overlay of old scenes coloring what’s actually happening. It’s also tempting to stay focused on thoughts like train schedules flashing in the mind, constantly rechecking details for the future in case I miss the train.
How can I trust the present moment as it’s playing out, especially when I’m conditioned to fight, flee or freeze when it’s uncomfortable based on the thoughts and feelings arising? Present moment awareness is all about dropping below the story line, below the cranium to feel the story as sensations in the body, connecting with whatever I am sitting, standing, walking, or lying down on as gravity reminds me to let go of everything but this moment. Beginner’s mind is all about a certain innocence and curiosity for the moment rather than prematurely predicting an ill-fated outcome.
So how do I transform monkey mind to beginner’s mind when conditioning is strong? I keep coming back to the practice of mindfulness or sati, returning again and again to the breath (or other meditation anchor) to remember. I could be lost for seconds, hours, days, even years, and presence is like a breath of benevolence. It doesn’t judge or ask why I left, why I don’t feel safe, why I feel the way I do. It simply opens the door, no questions asked, with an enthusiastic and heartfelt Welcome home! I’ve missed you.
2020 is certainly a year of much distress and heartache for many. And I need to remember that this suffering is not new. Our ancestors have faced such trials and tribulations, and so will our children. There is no escape from sickness, aging, and death, or the dissatisfaction that arises in response to it. While grief is a guarantee to all who live, so is gratitude. If everything is in a state of flux, then I must bring a sense of blessing to that change through heart practices like the Brahmaviharas.
Yesterday, I had the opportunity to practice metta with Ayya Anandabodhi. I’ve learned metta as a traditional Burmese practice of silently and systematically repeating phrases of goodwill towards myself, a benefactor, dear friend, neutral person, and difficult person. Ayya Anandabodhi led a guided metta meditation that revealed the radiant, unconditional, boundless qualities of metta. I began by visualizing and lighting a diya inside the heart, breathing into it to fuel the flame of love. With each outbreath, I was invited to send that sacred flame of metta above me, below me, around and everywhere, allowing it to spread in all directions. If specific beings arose as natural recipients, that was fine. If not, that was fine, too. There were no ‘shoulds’, no comparing to past practices, no predictions for the future, just one woman’s heart feeling more expansive and free from conceptualization than ever before. I remembered my own goodness and the capacity to hold distress in loving arms.
When I don’t resonate with a family member, can I also remember their goodness? It helps to reflect on the times when I have felt connected, and all the things I appreciate about them. Relationships are not easy. They are complex and rather messy. They can also be exquisitely tender and redeeming, growing the heart to hold beauty and terror in the same loving space.
Writing this does not guarantee safe passage for future encounters. It does provide a template for embodied understanding and growth. I am still learning…