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December 18, 2013

Learning to Work with Discontent. ~ Traci Millett

For the very first time in the 30 years since I started dating, I am without a romantic interest of any kind.

“It’s good to do new things!” This is one of the mantras I repeat to myself when the longing for a masculine body next to mine overwhelms me. The longing comes and goes; like the tides there is an ebb and flow.

Right now, the tide is in and Discontent is here. It came to visit on Thanksgiving and hasn’t left yet. I was able to mostly ignore it when it first arrived. Preparing a meal and sharing it with friends and family kept me busy enough that I was able to nod hello to Discontent without sitting down for a conversation. Then everyone left.

Friday came and I was alone. Alone with Discontent, who was now demanding my full attention. So I’m engaging. I am sitting here with these uncomfortable feelings and thoughts, watching what arises, practicing not getting caught up in the story line.

This time around, I am experiencing the feelings more strongly in my body than in my mind. Maybe this is because I am more in tune with my body or because I am falling away from story lines and keying into what is actually happening in the present moment.

What I’m feeling physically is a deep heartache.  I have felt this many times before; it is an old friend. There is a different quality to the ache now though, or the beginnings of a different quality, anyway. It is not as scary.

In the past, I would feel my heart contract around the pain. My body would unconsciously adopt a defensive posture—shoulders rounded forward, shallow breathing, anxiety, your typical fight or flight nervous system response.

I don’t like that bottomless pit feeling of being unloved, my monkey mind likes to spin into fantastically sad stories that it says are mine. So I’d quick look for a way to distract myself from the feelings.

I danced with all the usual suspects—alcohol, food, sex, drugs.

But, as we all know, avoidance doesn’t work.  So I broke up with alcohol about a year and a half ago.  And now I’ve broken up with sex.  Without my usual distractions, I am free to experience my feelings.

This time, when I felt the wave of deep pain and sadness arising, I walked over to the wall and leaned against it. I closed my eyes and imagined being held up by a strong physical presence. I opened my heart and allowed the feeling of isolated loneliness to move through me and into the solidness of the wall.  Then I hugged myself tight and the intensity of the feeling fell away.

I am left with an understanding that I am missing physical connection.  My body wants to be touched and held and kissed. I remind myself that it is ok to want. That it is an opportunity to practice patience and non-grasping.

So I sit and work with Discontent.

Here are a few of the practices that I’ve found to be helpful:

  1. Journaling: Writing about my fears, my disappointments, my hopes and my dreams. Basically allowing my mind to empty its thoughts onto paper. This makes room in my mind for a sense of spaciousness and quiet.
  2. Walking in the woods– I find that when Discontent is visiting, my meditation practice suffers. I’m just too restless to sit on my cushion. So I head to the woods and do a little walking meditation. If Discontent has free rein over my cushion time, it is at a complete loss out in nature. So it stays home and I go for a walk. Excellent for when I just need a break!
  3. Experiencing my feelings in my body: Whether it’s heart pain or cramped muscles or a sore back, being aware of how my discomfort is manifesting physically allows me to practice observing the sensations rather than being lost in the sensations.
  4. Pampering myself: I am so fortunate to have a big beautiful bathtub. Essential oils, candle-light, and soft music all create a sacred space where I can immerse myself in pleasant sensation.
  5. Listening to Dharma talks on patience, equanimity, and mindfulness: DharmaSeed.org is a great resource. I listen to dharma talks for a couple of hours every day. Often it is while I am cooking dinner or driving in the car. I find this passive style of study very appealing. Discontent even hushes up and listens sometimes!

I have no idea how long Discontent will choose to stay this time. It seems relatively settled in.  My practice teaches me that it will not stay forever. So I embrace its presence and welcome the discomfort because this too is the practice.

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Assistant Editor: Melissa Petty/Editor: Bryonie Wise

Photo: Flickr Creative Commons 

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Trci Millett