Yesterday I put myself on retreat for the day. Why? Well, I really wanted to go to the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center and meditate for 3 hours, but I knew I had to do the mindbody work, so I figured I’d do all my practices and some creative stuff in my own way.
I meditated for 45 minutes.
Then I went on email (compulsively, of course, but only for 10 minutes.)
Then I laid down.
Then I got up and did 45 minutes of reading, writing and crying about mindbody issues.
Then I ate lunch.
Then I wrote some more on the play version of Saint John the Divine in Iowa.
Then I took a nap.
Then I got up and answered a phone call from a friend.
Then I did an hour of yoga.
OMG! I AM A LOT OF WORK!
The problem, of course, is that the back pain has reappeared. Here is the process–I went to the lovely Dr. Martinez, did my usual yoga/relaxation thing, started the mindbody work and PRESTO-CHANGO: 97% of the pain was gone. It stayed gone at that level for at least ten days, though the emotional reality got a bit out of control (meaning painful and not enjoyable in the least). Then, I got a really bad cold that laid me flat. I suspected that the cold was a direct rebellion of my mind to the assault on its mindbody distractions. The cold ended (I kept up the mindbody work all through it because no f-ing way I was giving in if my mind was trying to assert its right to keep back pain alive). Of course, I was really kind of miserable, feeling I was in a pitched battle with my own mind and not liking myself so much. (Sarno would say the battle had just become conscious.) Then the pain started inching its way back in. I had huge resistance to doing the writing/reading. When I did the pain went away. Then, I had 24 hours of it after I saw a picture of someone who, well, did me wrong in the past. Then that went away. And two days ago the pain came back. Fully. So I redoubled the mindbody efforts, but there’s still pain.
I AM TOO MUCH WORK!
This morning I did the mindbody reading and I started wondering if I’d misunderstood some vital components of the program. Somehow, I’d decided I had to grieve all my losses in order to keep my mind from doing its distraction trick. And that is, well, impossible.
Also, I had stopped doing some back care yoga that I really love–not for what it does for my back alone, but because at the end of the routine I feel relaxation and peace.
Also, meditation and yoga, which are main components of my ongoing practice, facilitate being in touch with what is and being in touch with my body in a spiritual way. They’re about reality and peace and acceptance. Mindbody work is about facing the truth as well, but difficult truths about emotions and how we’re programmed to avoid them. It’s just…not very peaceful.
Today I re-read the mindbody books, and I found these assertions:
- Mindbody disorders are an epidemic, caused by the current evolution of the brain. Everybody has at least a little of this going on.
- Inner conflict between the adult self who wants to be responsible, successful and powerful and the child self who still wants to be nurtured and taken care of is universal and part of the human condition.
- The feelings of insecurity that give rise to perfectionism and people-pleasing are also universal.
Basically, we’re all f-ing nuts.
I also found these questions:
- What is in me that lets my problems create such pain? (Answer: I’m f-ing crazy.)
- What is in me that needs distraction? (Answer: I have f-ing feelings.)
- What permits pain to develop and persist? (Answer: I’m f-ing f-ed up.)
Honestly, I did come up with much more elaborate answers. Some of them were about being feeling-avoidant, some were about these unbelievable (read: crazy) unconscious beliefs I have and some were about inner conflict–like ambition vs. fear of exposure and perfectionism vs. the desire to piss off the status quo.
I decided two things: (can’t you tell I’m having a field day with numbered lists today?)
- I don’t have to heal every loss in order to heal mindbody syndrome.
- I might have to change my life to deal with some of these ridiculous inner conflicts.
Obviously, stepping down as Artistic Director of a company I started is, well, a change. And so is meditating for 10 days straight and then continuing to practice every day. And so is going to couples therapy, however reluctantly, and telling the truth in between making jokes.
I grew up in a family that looked perfect. I grew up in the bourgeoisie, in suburbia, in the land of keeping up with the Joneses. Because I’m queer, an artist, and not stupid, I questioned the values I saw, the emphasis on the material, the inappropriate flirtations among my father’s church singing group, the ass-pinching, the drinking, the competition. I thought, as teenagers do, “Is this all there is?” And I have kept asking that question. I have wanted to learn the true nature of happiness. Dukkha is. Suffering is, the Buddha tells us. We don’t meditate to avoid feelings, Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg tell us. We find the truth of what is, we feel the feelings, we investigate them, we eventually liberate our minds, we find the feelings are not necessarily the truth.
In my mindbody search for unconscious emotions and internal conflict, I find that, of course, I have absorbed the ambitions I grew up with. I am frustrated by not having as much success as I want, I am frustrated by the fear that keeps me from trying to publish my memoir, which I actually think is very good. I keep thinking I’ll be happier when this happens, or this, or this. More money, more success, more money, more success.
I also know that this is complete bullshit, but it doesn’t let go easily, does it? Everywhere I look I find America.
Everywhere I look I find myself.
Acceptance, acceptance of what is. Happiness is not back pain. Nor is it the battle to dominate the back pain, to dredge up every unresolved loss in the hope of curing it all, in one fell swoop, so I can be perfectly healed. Perfectionism, again.
Everywhere I look I find myself.
So, in search of a practice, I go to the mat, to the cushion, to the chair on the back porch, to the notebook, to the computer, to the theatre, to the making of film.
Funny, I love each one of those things. If they’re not work, if they’re not shoulds, they become joy.
It’s not the what. It’s the how. If I can let myself love all of it, if I can trust that the pain will go away again, that I will find the right path into freedom…or not, and have to accept that, there is peace.
I’m already on the path. I already know the answer.
There is this one moment. In which to be alive.
Let everything fall away.
And the singing of what is…makes its song.