Last Wednesday was our fifth MBSR Classroom! It was the best classroom so far. I went into it unidentified, with an attitude of “I don’t give a flying fuck”. My arms were jittery and my heart was sore. I wanted answers. Earlier that day, I experienced an extremely stressful event. When I am feeling courageous, I will post what I wrote regarding the event, but for now, just know that it was really, really awful.
When I stepped into the building, Jini was waiting to let students in as always. The building is an office building so the doors are always locked at 5pm. Nodding hello, I rushed upstairs. Halfway up, I stopped.
Fueled by the destruction of the day, fearless and on the edge, I turned around to talk to Jini. I knew she was the teacher of the self-compassion course and I wanted to know what it was all about. I desperately needed some self-compassion this night. I wanted to glean her wisdom.
This lady is fierce and composed. Her eyes are deep wells: dancing, laughing, crying, knowing, and enveloping, so incredibly deep. I asked her what the course is like. Her gaze was incredible. She told me that we learn to smile at oneself because when one can smile deeply at oneself, one can smile deeply towards others.
I almost started crying. I so needed to hear this message this night.
Today’s class started off with a sitting meditation where we watched our thoughts. I spaced out while Natalia’s soothing Latina accent floated by, a disembodied voice that may as well have been living in my head, it fit so serenely there.
Next was a moving meditation. We stood up and felt our mind – body connection. A connection born from presence.
This session was very similar to the last one in that there was a lot of dialogue. I opened up immediately about the difficulty of this week in keeping with my practice. I shared that when I encountered a challenging time, I slipped into my regressive coping habits, instead of all the new tools MBSR provides me. I kicked and fought and punched and screamed. I burrowed in the bed upstairs, slipping into my melancholic skin.
Gently, Jody reminded me that was the homework – to observe how we respond to stress without trying to change it. She noted my use of the word “regressive” and suggested reframing it instead as just a normalized habit of mine and to simply observe it as it is. Natalia stepped in to say that growth is not linear and when we notice something even after the fact, it is also learning and all a part of the process.
Someone else offered up their frustration that their mind continues to wander during the meditations and how frustrating it is and how wrong she makes herself for not getting it right. She referred to her background and experience as a teacher and student, which has instilled in her a need to ace things. With this practice, it’s hard for her to get the “right answer”. Ain’t that the goddamn truth.
Our MBSR instructors replied that the practice isn’t to not let the mind wander at all because that’s what minds do. The practice is learning to bring it back once we’ve noticed it has wandered. Through this, we practice re-wiring our neural pathways.
Towards the end of class, the two teachers introduce a quote from Victor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”
The words shook me. I am seeking that space. That is the space.
A Healing Balm and a New Friend
After the class, I approached the teachers and asked what I can do for myself if I’ve done something for which I am extremely remorseful. She suggested applying kindness to the experience, like a salve or a balm onto a wound, or when someone is sick and you can just be with them.
With that advice in hand, I went to the nearby Bukowski Tavern to wait for Jim. He was picking up some friends from Logan Airport and dropping them off so would be some hours late. For two hours, I sat at the bar with a hoppy IPA and just wrote, aka spilled my guts out. Clicking and clacking on my laptop, letting everything out.
Once I came up for air, a man next to me asked me what I was writing. Carefully I said, “A reflection.”
“Reflection?” He inquired.
“Yes, I fucked up. I hit my boyfriend. Multiple times.” I professed.
Without skipping a beat, he said, “Oh, I’ve been there. I’ve had a few girlfriends where we had to tell people we get frisky in the bedroom to explain why we black and blue.”
Stunned, I stared. I couldn’t believe the candidness with which he spoke of his experience. Me and this stranger at the bar, over a beer. I guess, if not here, where?
He went on to share that eventually he had to acknowledge that there was a problem and went to get help. When he went to the group therapy session, there were only minorities sitting in the circle- blacks, Asians, and some Latinos. The teacher opened the session by declaring, “Let me guess – everyone’s parents beat them growing up, and their parents beat them?” Everyone nodded their heads.
My new friend was raised in the deep South in a minister’s home with expectations to be seminary-bound, so he is no stranger to a Culture of Culture. However, he reclaimed his power when instead of seminary school, he enrolled at MIT. To this day, his mother is still not accepting of his life decisions.
It gave me much comfort to know that I’m not alone in this experience of growing up in an abusive and repressive household with domineering parents. I was stunned. How did I end up sitting next to this man at this bar and have this conversation? Through his story, I saw clearly how I am playing out the generational trauma of my family. I am playing into the programming of my family to yell and hit each other when we are angry.
He shared with me the difficulty in breaking free from habitual ways of doing things and gave me hope that there was the possibility of getting through to the other side. That despite being raised in a family home that inculcates certain values, actions, and ways of being we can break the habits that no longer serve us.
“No response is a response,” He quipped. “If you gotta take time to do your breathing exercises and calm down. You do them! Don’t worry about being a weirdo in a corner, just let ’em know that you need to do this right now.” I nodded.
He was the first person I’ve told about this rare but repeated occurrence between Jim and me. After his open and accepting response, I had the courage to tell my best friend. She, too, listened without judgement and offered her support.
In the past, I would never have dared share this about myself. Instead, I would have just reiterated the story that I’m a piece of shit for what happened. I would have dived deep into the sad wells of my soul to be in misery alone, telling myself that’s all I deserve – to be alone. Instead, by applying some kindness to this situation as a salve, we’ve been mending the cuts and bruises that afternoon left on us.
It’s now been almost one week since then and things are still settling. There’s been a nervous energy, something skittish in the air between us. It’s not ideal, but it’s what is right now and I can allow it to be the way it is. I can be with the fact that I am hypersensitive to perceived stressors instead of wishing I were someone different. Right now, I engage with my world differently than “normal”. It doesn’t mean I am wrong for it and it doesn’t serve me.
In the days following, I’ve been noticing myself when I am anxious and on high alert. I sense my breath and pay attention to the sensations in my body. This isn’t a new practice, but what is new is my perspective. Now, I am intentional about not making myself wrong for the sensations and my irregular breathing. I am practicing how to be detached from what is, and not only observing, but doing it with kindness to myself. Overall, I am being much kinder to myself and who I am, embracing my insecurities and neuroses fully and letting them be, instead of wishing I was someone different. I am appreciative and loving of this neurotic inner self who jumps around maniacally in my head and is so incredibly protective of me. I love you.
Now that I’ve written my post and processed what was there, I feel safe enough to post my original writings about the event. The stuff that I wrote at the bar. If you’re interested, you can read it here.
Featured/header image source.