Some of the meditation teachers I admire write or say things I have never heard before. Often these sentences simmer a long time on the back burner of my mind before I understand what they mean either in the abstract or to me.
In his book Ending The Pursuit of Happiness Barry Magid, the New York Zen teacher, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, says meditation doesn’t make suffering disappear; instead, we disappear into our suffering. This means, as far as I can tell, that we learn compassion and caring for the parts of the self we don’t like, as well as the pain we don’t want but comes anyway (cancer, loss, fear of loss). Perhaps, it also means that we learn to love or have caring for some of the pain itself.
A related digression: Thirty years ago my father had a heart attack. We thought he would die. That same week the Soviet government shot down a South Korean passenger jet and the world seemed on the brink of an engulfing war. As I sat in the hospital waiting to learn my father’s fate I was doing two things: Frantically knitting a pair of turquoise mittens to pass the time between doctor reports and praying that my father lived to worry about nuclear war. It seemed at that moment close to wonderful, a privilege, to worry about nuclear catastrophe because it meant I was alive which is what I wanted my father to achieve. (He did.).
To bring it down a notch, let’s take something daily life-ish, something I’ve spoken about previously in this blog: Waking in the morning and not wanting to get out of bed. That is, being in a fight with myself. Recently, instead of trying to win or lose the fight, neither of which has worked in lo these many years, I have been trying to have compassion for the me who wants to win the fight. To smile at her, as one might smile at a small child with an impossible demand. She is part of me, part of life. She hasn’t changed; I still don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, but I am sort of mentally, emotionally embracing the not-wanting.
One last daily life example: my tires needed air this morning. This is a chore that requires stooping in awkward positions on cold macadam and then not ever being sure I’ve done it correctly. So I cheerfully loathed it, if you see what I mean. While I was finding my reading glasses in order to see the gauge and then twisting myself into an inverted pretzel in order to fasten the nozzle, I gave myself to loathing. I hated with all my heart, meanwhile somehow embracing my dislike and irritability. I have been doing this kind of practice about three days now. Ask me in a month if I’ve been able to maintain it….