February 1, 2021

Maitri: How I’m Learning to Fall in Love with my Sweet Self.

I question my worth, remember it, forget it, repeat.

Those are the words that came out of my fingers onto the keyboard, bypassing mental filters, when prompted to answer in 10 words, quickly, why I signed up for the Elephant Academy Maitri boot camp class. I wanted to play with the words until they sounded better, or until I had a tenth word to fit in there somewhere.

I love the question, by the way. Why are you here?

Counseling students are taught to be careful with “why” questions because they can feel critical or evoke defensiveness. It seems, they also invite raw honesty.

An established sense of trust helps. I needed to plug back into this awesome community again. Ha, that’s 10 words.

In a way, “I” didn’t sign up. “I” thought it sounded wonderful, but I didn’t have time for it, and worried what would start slipping if I added something else to my plate. It might be my mothering, my counseling, my adjunct teaching. I could go on.

Something inside me grabbed the rest of me by the ear and signed up anyway.

My eyes are getting misty when I put that together with the naked response about remembering and forgetting my worth. The part of me that signed up anyway knows my worth, knows it is inherently there, no matter what—regardless of whether I’m being a good mother, a good counselor, a good teacher…good at anything, or terrible at everything.

It was nudging me not to forget again. Plus, the playful invitation to fall in love with my sweet self was pretty endearing. I’d been thinking about giving online dating another try, and this seemed like a better option.

So, I’ve made a commitment to a path of practicing maitri, loving-kindness, if only for three weeks. I’ve taken some steps I wouldn’t have otherwise. I’m adding 10 minutes of meditation before bed to my 10 minutes in the morning. I even took time to journal about things that were stirring around inside me, in response to starting the class.

I doubted it would change anything about my life. I mean, it wouldn’t bring a fairy godmother or singing birds to help with my daily responsibilities. My inner curmudgeon had a tone almost like Jack Nicholson announcing that maybe my life is as good as it gets, and I better accept it. I noticed that sense of enduring my responsibilities had a touch of martyrdom, mixed with some shame and defensiveness about that.

Something in me snapped back, “I don’t have time to take better care of myself.” The sharp edge to that inner voice took me aback. Still, I instinctively felt compassion for the anxiety behind that momentary burst of rage, the part of me that gets weary of trying to be strong and positive and good at hard things but doesn’t want to whine about it. I wanted to hug it.

I felt like I got my money’s worth in the first few days of the class. I was so grateful. I paid attention to a neglected exile inside, and sent it a little genuine love. I can laugh with—not at (that would not be nice)—the part of me that felt like it “got” maitri.

I shouldn’t have been surprised to discover the parts of myself I’d neglected for a while liked the attention and became needy for more. This notion of falling in love with my sweet self was dissolving into an awareness of what a hot mess of an inner life I truly had. Sweet? Maybe in a Star-Wars-bar-scene kind of way, full of creatures only a mother could love.

A mindful rhythm of noticing and letting go runs counter to some of my habitual ways of being in the world. Overthinking, overlooking, and clinging, just to name a few. As David Sanford said in the interview with Waylon about meditation practice: you notice, and you let it go. You “don’t make a statue out of it.” That phrase really resonated with me. It may be my new touchstone. Pun unintended, but I like it.

I’ve made statues of things, especially things I loved in others. I didn’t know any better. I aligned myself with people and institutions whose values seemed to mirror mine. I felt bolstered by the association, basking in that, in the connection, the implicit recognition of my worth, at first. How did the same connections end so badly, leaving me disillusioned and bewildered?

Waylon made the point in our first live class that if we’re engaging in the world, doing good, without first making friends with ourselves, we’re going to create further aggression and confusion instead. Yes! I know this! I know this happens with psychotherapists and teachers, mostly from being on the receiving end.

I get so stuck, though, and go in circles when I try to put words to the contradictions, the impact, or what to do about it. Calling out others on their hypocrisy must be the wrong way to go with this knowing I carry. I say this because I notice what happens when I try. The buzzing of anxiety begins in the pit of my stomach, and my whole body responds by stiffening, right up to my throat. It’s as if I turn to stone myself.

The words of Martin Luther King Jr. reverberated around my paralysis, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter.”

I write but the words feel powerless, like a dream where I’m shouting without making a sound. The statues of things that hurt me are still standing tall in the sunlight, prized in the eyes of others, after stonewalling and casting their shadows on me. I internalize their silence as contempt.

I recall, early on, when the image of things I loved unraveled before my eyes, how hard I tried to do the right thing without offending anyone or exposing anything. I find myself again defending myself and my integrity to these pillars of my past that couldn’t care less. I’m mentally spent, emotionally empty, physically agitated. I sit with that. I notice it. I let it go. I come back.

A glint of something softer comes into my awareness, like a trace of empathy for those who hurt me. It feels risky to entertain it, to show vulnerability, but in my frozen state, I can’t help wondering…Is this how you felt? I get no answer.

I try something new. I shift my focus to the frozen statue of myself I’ve become, paralyzed all over again by events from years ago. I have the impulse to throw my arms around her, this version of me, and remind her she’s okay.

Cathartic tears. I let them come. And go.

I feel soft inside again. I notice that.

I let it go.

~

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