“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”
~Thich Nhat Hanh
“Feel the feelings and drop the story.” ~Pema Chodron
“This is one of the peculiar problems of our culture: we are terrified of our feelings. We think that if we give them any scope and if we don’t immediately beat them down, they will lead us down into all kinds of chaotic and destructive actions.
But if, for a change, we would allow our feelings and look upon their comings and goings as something as beautiful and necessary as changes in the weather, the going of night and day and the four seasons, we would be at peace with ourselves.”
~ Alan Watts
“Peace isn’t an experience free of challenges, free of rough and smooth, it’s an experience that’s expansive enough to include all that arises without feeling threatened.” ~Pema Chodron
I am wondering, as I write this lying in bed, how many of you are feeling a little blah or low energy amid all this uncertainty? Or maybe you are feeling a lot blah, and understandably exhausted because of the new technology you are being asked to learn and implement in a flash? Or maybe you’re feeling relieved that things are slower, or really scared, or guilty that you aren’t feeling gratitude for your health at this moment and instead are frustrated by the lack of sports or availability of lentils at the market? I offer us all a great big, “yes,” to it all. The changes we are all encountering are enormous, even if our lives are relatively unaffected if we already work from home and live a solitary, sanitized life, we are all connected to this tremendous chain of reactions, worries, and feelings that are spilling into our homes via television, internet, and social media.
Some of us are finding it difficult to hold all this information and the reverberations of global suffering, worry, and anger. We may find we spiritualize and attempt to dismiss our worry and overwhelm as just thoughts we don’t have to believe—or to get entangled with the suffering and find it hard to focus. We can’t read or do anything but watch the news and get some satisfaction that we know all the current infection rates and death statistics. Like it or not, as embodies being who share space on this planet, we have a response to this collective upheaval. When we are able to acknowledge that we are affected, without suppressing, denying, or become swallowed by our feelings—we can begin to calm our nervous system and to allow our feelings to come and go—the way feelings do.
People I have spoken to are impacted by learning new technology and being challenged by working at home, trying to stay at a distance, feeling scared of contamination and despite the lack of doing, there’s a tangible feeling of anxiety and unrest in the world. This morning, I listened for about half an hour to the news. Afterward, I noticed that even that much exposure created a response in my limbic system. I was afraid, angry, blaming, there were flashes of despair and wondering. It was like an electrical storm. When I stopped and sat and left the door open to all these flashes of information, my feelings manifested, fed by the conditions of listening to collective fear and suffering—and then, when they were no longer fed—they left.
I’ve noticed that recognizing and allowing what is can feel like we are doing the opposite of what we should be doing. We would like to be patient and positive, the people who are unflustered by the empty shelves at grocery stores and respond with equanimity when our children ask us for the fifth time if they can go visit their friends and we say no. But sometimes we aren’t equanimous. Sometimes we are hurting because everyone around us is hurting. Being honest about what’s manifesting in us is one way stop the struggle and be able to relax into what is. My dog Daisy has offered me a very apt analogy.
Daisy is one of my rescue dogs. I didn’t meet Daisy before she came to my house. My daughter picked her out from a website because she was fluffy and had pretty eyes. Daisy was one of two dogs who were suspected of having Parvo, a highly contagious disease for dogs. Daisy and her littermate were kept confined indoors in a small area and saw one woman who took care of them. Daisy spent three days being trucked to us from South Carolina. When she arrived in my life, at three months old, she didn’t know what grass was and was terrified of noises. She barked at men, distrusted shopping carts, trash cans, ladders, and anything that moved quickly. Three years later, Daisy is reasonably well adjusted. She is a highly effective watchdog, bred to guard sheep. She has decided that I am her sheep. She may look like she’s sleeping, but she tracks if I make a move towards the door or put on my shoes; she’s ready. She is on guard to protect me from the cats who want attention and intervene if any humans dare to get close to me—including my spouse.
When I sit and meditate, have a Zoom meeting, or want a quiet phone call, if I think closing the door to the anxious Daisy will give me peace, I am mistaken. After a few minutes, there’s whining, scratching and it doesn’t stop. She lies down and waits; she makes more inventive noises. She becomes very distracting. When I open the door, she is excited and circles, checks me with her nose repeatedly—she is once again, distracting—her anxiety is reignited. She doesn’t let me out of her sight, and I can sense she’s on alert, knowing she might be banished.
What I have learned, is that when I leave the door open, Daisy comes in quietly. She lies down; she gets up and leaves. She comes back. She’s quiet. She isn’t frenzied about being in the room because she can come and go. She has permission to be there. She doesn’t touch me repeatedly with her wet nose or look at me with that wounded dog look. She is so quiet that sometimes I notice her, sometimes, I don’t. It’s the same with our emotional states. When we create these boundaries and set up conditions of shame and aversion, we increase the tension and anxiety we are trying to mitigate. When we open the door to what is there, we can learn to notice its coming and going without making it wrong, forbidden, or even something special. Feelings come and go. That’s the nature of feelings.
And please remember that there are no wrong feelings. Leaving the door open lets them come and go, lets them relax and know they too have permission to be here. We don’t have to carry them and to be bowed down by them. They can come and go knowing they are all allowed, they all belong.
May we all trust our light,
If you have some time and would like to listen, Nishant Garg and I take a deeper look into mindfulness, self-compassion, and forgiveness. Here’s the link http://nishantgarg.me/2020/03/24/celia-landman
And an article by me in this month’s issue of EPIC Magazine on Fierce Compassion. https://epicmag.org/pdfs/tricountyct-march-april-2020/?page=12