“As human beings our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world…as being able to remake ourselves.” Gandhi
This remaking process is life-long, our main task perhaps, to recognize more and more deeply the wounds and gifts transmitted to us by parents and ancestors and to transform ourselves into a gift to others. To understand and love ourselves, to understand and love our neighbor.
I have been aided in this process in the last few months by Emotional Alchemy by Tara Bennett-Goleman. This book was one of the inspirations for the women’s retreat I made in Florida in February and that Ruth Fishel (www.ruthfishel.com) and I will use for an upcoming retreat in WV May 31-June 2. Working with Bennett-Goleman’s notions of “schemas” or a “habits the mind uses to organize, store and act on a given task,” I have discovered some old, deep views of myself and patterns of behaving that no longer serve me. The author urges us to use mindful meditation as a prime tool for awareness of our patterns and also for changing the patterns.
Recently I had an experience that helped me look more deeply into one of my “schemas.” I heard that others had made a plan that I felt ignored my stated needs. I felt anger welling up in my throat and said, “No, that won’t work” in a way that afterwards seemed unnecessarily abrupt and defensive. Although I was glad that I had spoken up for my needs, I knew I would owe someone an amends for my anger. Following the recommendations of my meditation teachers, I immediately went outdoors to sit for a moment in the beauty of a spring morning and breathe. I had ten minutes before the person called back and in that time, calmed my body with conscious breathing, feeling the anger, recognizing my “subjugation schema” and opening my mind to my connections to the earth, the sky, the lovely redbud tree, the air coming into my body. My life was not being threatened. What I felt was an old, deep habit of feeling powerless and helpless, controlled by a church that dominated my every thought, word and action. My usual reaction was either grudging compliance (trying to be the good little girl who wouldn’t go to hell if she just behaved, pleasing the unreasonable god of my youth) or rebelling in anger that my needs and feelings didn’t count. “Ah,” I thought, it’s my “subjugation schema” acting up. I recognize you, have called you other names – the character defects of fear and anger. I have often acted upon these instincts and gotten myself into trouble. Now I have many tools and friends to help me change these deep patterns in my brain, my body, my mind and actions.
Throughout the week, there were other calls about the same issue, more drama, increased demands. Although I made other mistakes along the way, I was eventually able to extricate myself and find another solution. I now feel I’ve learned something to share with you.
Mindful breathing helps me no matter what the situation or feeling. It is a tool that I can use anywhere, any time to bring calm and peace to my body and mind. I stop, pause, try not to give a quick answer to a new proposal. I seek advice from teachers, mentors, friends who know me and love me. I pray to the Universe to remind me that I am never alone, that I am connected to all the wise ones, to the best in my ancestors, to all the beauty and freedom of the earth, that I have choices in my thoughts, feelings and behavior. It helps me greatly to have a firm daily meditation practice every morning, so that I remember to turn to meditation when I need it during the day.
Here are some the lessons I learned from looking more deeply at an old habit formed in childhood, seeing how it harms me and others today and finding some actions to take to change my behavior (with the support of loved ones like you):
1.Trust my gut, my best instincts.
2.When someone offers a plan I don’t feel right about or am too tired to make a decision, say “I’ll let you know later.” NOT “Ok.”
3.I don’t have to do ANYTHING I’m uncomfortable doing, unless I think it’s the RIGHT thing to do and need to walk through the discomfort to grow.
4.I have needs. I usually know them, but if I need time to feel what they are and articulate them, it’s fine.
5.If I feel anger or frustration rising, I can say, “I’ll get back to you” and hang up. Then BREATHE, look at my feelings, try to understand what’s going on in me.
6.I don’t need to adopt other people’s plans, drama and urgency as mine. I work hard to keep drama out of my life (except for films and novels).
7.I have a “subjugation” schema that either leads to anger or conceding to things I don’t really want to do. I need to speak my needs clearly and do my own work to meet my needs.
8.I can change these schemas and be FREE!
9. I spend much time relieving stress in myself and others, so why would I deliberately put myself into a stressful situation?
Just as those tiny redbuds burst forth from seemingly solid wood, so can fresh new habits form, new brain waves grow, new freedom emerge.