So broken.

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If you want to stir up your inner world, get to know your mind, dig up all the s*hit that you’ve been supressing/avoiding/neglecting, go on a week long silent meditation retreat. In 2014, I went on three week-long retreats. Each one was difficult, painful and completely joyful – all at the same time. In a single sitting, I experienced everything from delirious bliss to pain so great that I thought surely my heart will burst. As uncomfortable as it can be, I appreciate each experience. Every meditation session is an opportunity for deeper self exploration, understanding and healing. It’s like peeling away the many layers of who I am.

The most recent retreat at Esalen was no exception. There was one sit where my mind decided to replay every case I’ve ever lost like a movie reel. It felt as though my own mind was taunting me “you’re such an awful lawyer, look at ALL these cases you’ve lost! You’re such a loser.” I wanted to run out of the room screaming as loud as I can, “shut the f-up!!!” I wanted to cry. Needless to say, it felt… awful.

As much as I wanted to and as tempting as it was, I didn’t run out of the room. I didn’t go crazy or lose my mind. I noticed what was happening, gently reminded myself that I am not my thoughts. That this experience too shall pass. I brought the attention back to the breath and relaxed into the moment. The movie reel eventually stopped playing. Behind the reel was a feeling of intense anger. Anger is an emotion that I’ve become very familiar with. My first retreat of 2014 was entirely dedicated to feeling, understanding, seeing and working with anger. So, once again, I eased into the moment and dug deeper. What I realized was that behind the inner critic, behind the anger was the part of me deeply committed in pursuing justice, doing the right thing, and helping people.

Being a lawyer gives me the opportunity to fight for what I believe to be just. However, it also means risking losing. Risking falling flat on my face. Risking embarrassment. Risking failing. Risking feeling anger. Risking feeling sadness. Of course, it also means getting the result I was after, helping my client, doing good in the world. No risk, no gain.

A day or two later, I was in a sitting period where I came across yet another pain point. The thought I noticed was “You’re broken.” This idea of being broken is one I’m also very familiar with. For as long as I can remember, I struggled with an inner critic that always said “you’re broken. You’re like a broken toy. No one will ever want to play with you. You’re unlovable because you’re broken.” Broken. Broken. Broken.

One of my friend calls her inner critic Little Miss Perfect. I love that name. When I think about my inner critic, I imagine a little girl, dressed perfectly in her mother’s clothes, hair, nails, makeup, clothing, and pumps – all perfectly done. Pretending to be perfect. Looking for confirmation from others of her perfect-ness.

So, I’m sitting in a yurt at Esalen (one of the most beautiful places on earth), listening to the ocean, on a meditation cushion. Even though I’m at the most peaceful place imaginable, my mind is anything but. I’m standing face-to-face with my inner demon, Little Miss Perfect. I’m feeling frustrated and angry. Not only at Little Miss Perfect but because I can’t get my thoughts to do what I want – reach peace, joy, and giggly happiness. I’m judging everything – my poor meditation abilities, my inability to control my thoughts, the negative thoughts, and my mind fills with the dreaded shoulds. I should be happy. I should be having a “good” meditation. I should be savoring this amazing retreat more. I should be over this already.

Sometimes, when I’m faced with such strong, painful, and disturbing pattern of thoughts, the only thing I can do is simply surrender. Instead of fighting or arguing with the thoughts or with my mind, I just allow it to work its way through. It often feels like I’ve been hanging on to a tiny branch for dear life over a Rabbit Hole. Surrendering is where I let go of the struggle and let go. I commit to letting the thought/experience work its way through instead of fighting it. (Have you ever tried to get your brain to not think of a pink elephant? Impossible. Right?)

There I am, sitting with my brain full of awful thoughts about how broken, unlovable, unworthy I am. I let the feelings wash over me. Thought rises You’re like a broken toy! I see the thought. I let it go. Next thought rises You’re an awful human being. No wonder no one loves you. I repeat the mantra I am not my thoughts. My thoughts are not fact. That thought also passes. Next thought No one likes you because you’re broken! Broken! Broken! I breathe in. I breathe out. I notice the heat rising from somewhere deep in my stomach and rise all the way to the face. I notice the tension in my chest. I notice the tension in my eyebrows.

It feels like forever (in actuality, it was probably only 20 minutes) but eventually, the layers of thoughts fall away. Some wiser part of my brain kicks in and asks the question What if the only thing broken is your belief? What does it mean to be – broken? I’ve been trying to fix myself for as long as I can remember. Much of my efforts are spent on either denying that I’m broken (and therefore overcompensating) or trying to fix myself. This constant struggle to fix, to prove that I’m worthy, I’m good, I’m lovable, it only separates me further from authenticity.

I wonder, what if instead of going into fixing mode when Little Miss Perfect rears her ugly head, I just love her? What if instead of struggling and fighting, I bring compassion? I imagine sitting at the edge of a bluff, overlooking the ocean on a beautiful day and I have a pile of stones next to me. Each stone has a word on it. I grab the stone, one by one, read the word and I throw it into the ocean full of care and tenderness. Some words are positive, happy, cheerful like Love, Kindness, Gentleness, Acceptance. Other stones have painful or unpleasant words on it like Failure, Broken, Selfish.

During a sit, I reach a moment of complete bliss where I feel perfectly accepting and okay with myself and the world. I begin to see that I am not a broken toy. I have my strengths and weaknesses. I have good days and bad days. Sometimes I act with grace and courage. Othertimes, I fail. Miserably. I’m introverted. Often, socially awkward. I hate speaking in public. I often feel embarrassed when people pay attention to me. I feel, deeply. I’m a daughter, sister, wife, friend, teacher, student. I’ve won. I’ve lost. I’ve had my heartbroken, many, many times. Sometimes, I get angry. I’m often impatient. But broken? No. I’m imperfect, like everyone else. I’m just an ordinary human being with my insecurities, talents, intense curiosity, and all the things that make me who I am is what defines me. But I’m not any one of those things. No singular characteristics define who I am. It felt like a monumental step towards healing. And healing is one of the reasons why I sit, everyday.

May we have the courage to live courageously.

photo credit: iNafih via photopin cc

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