Day 259 - Ropes of Breath
In Buddhist thought, emotions are like weather. Constantly shifting and changing. Never solid except for the story that is spewed from the high emotional charge. We feel something then our mind jumps in and begins to justify, argue, defend or explain why whatever just made us scared, angry, happy or threatened happened. We, ever obedient mental servants, reinforce the story over and over and over again.
But what really happened?
We had a feeling. That is all. The experience was the emotion. Then we layered on a whole bunch of other stuff onto that feeling: disdain, discontentment, pain, elation, possessiveness, control or good old fashion fear. We had a feeling and now we have created a story that puts the feeling into perspective...except the perspective is quite delusional. Also, while we have been weaving our story that explains it all, this feeling, we have missed all the other feelings that could have arisen but were stifled because we were preoccupied telling the story...
And so it goes...for lifetimes.
Me too. I do this, and I used to do this more. A lot more. Like I did it and I didn’t even know that I was doing it. I would have a feeling, which created a thought which triggered something in me that caused me to tell a story so that I could neatly and succinctly place that emotion into its proper categorical story and then move on. Learning nothing...
However, some time ago I began to view emotions as weather. They come and they go. And while I may really be upset when I look outside and it is raining. If I am not present, I will miss important details like it is not raining inside my house, or there are fires burning everywhere so the rain, while I may not like it, is really needed. But because I don’t like reality I create a story that somehow makes something like weather solid, formidable and lasting.
When you begin to work with your feelings as just fleeting things that while they like to pretend they are all that are really just a cloud passing over or a brief squall. If I can just remain still and open my mind, it passes without a big harangue.
Sometimes though, emotions are thick, black and heavy and so opaque that they obscure the path forward. I am mired in the hotness of it all and I cannot in that moment see that this feeling I am having is anything less than a shitshow that I am wholly unable to extricate myself from. What to do then?
This is what I do...I think of my anger like a well that I either going to fall down or, if I am willing, lower myself into because I am angry and there is no getting around that! So I have learned to use my breath as a rope to softly, slowly lower myself into the feeling. Taking it one breath at a time and lowering myself into the angry abyss. It feels scary to do this but that is what the breath of rope is for...I can allow myself to lower into the feeling breathing each jangly descent while maintaining my balance. The rope of breath my life line to the safety of the top of the well. If it becomes too hard, I can use the breath to bring me up to a higher perspective at any time.
With each breath I see what my well of anger has to teach me. Where does it reside in my body, where am I in pain, where does the anger come from? Is it hot and passionate like a resentment or is it cold and icy like contempt? What do I feel like doing with it? Striking out, striking in, disassociate from it? I use the breath to lower myself into anger’s ugly crevasse and then I stay awake and open and see what is there. I allow myself the full option of experiencing it all, whatever is there.
But like a tea bag steeped in hot liquid, I do not become the anger. I may shed some emotional “tea” but I am still capable of being lifted out of the well at anytime by using my rope breath to bring me back to safety.
Sounds like a lot of work right?
And it is, in the beginning. It is hard to stand at well’s edge and look down at all the terrifying monsters that live just below the surface. It seems hard, it seems like something I could more easily sidestep and avoid any trips into the chasm anger punched in the fabric of my life. But if I take the life giving breath of rope with me, I can lower myself steadily into the gorge and see what is really down there. While I am doing this it is almost impossible to tell myself any story about any of it...my full attention is required to get me down there and back safely.
End result? I come to know anger well. I see how it manifests in my life. I see where it warps me and robs me of sweet relationships and infects the ones closest to me with resentment, fear and apathy. And who the hell wants that? Not me. Not ever.
My descent into emotional benders has drastically changed since I began to visualize them in this way. I may be steeped in anger but like the tea bag doesn’t become the tea, I can likewise not become the anger I feel.
This works with any emotion, all the time. Sometimes it takes more effort, sometimes it is more painful. But my practice of coming back to this place where I sit and allow myself to lower myself into the frothy emotional tide, is where I change the experience for myself and then for others. I also sidestep the entire mental process of writing a small, poorly written narrative about the feeling I am having. My complete attention is demanded by the presence of my body and breath and the treacherous work of roping anger. But unlike a lasso, I am not roping anger to the ground in some rodeo heroic where I come out the victor. I am using the rope instead to choose to descend into the pit to come to know it and myself better.
It works every time. I am not always able to do it. I am not always able to do it quickly and I still get caught bull riding some emotion of mine to my own detriment. Usually resulting in me being flung into the stands onto some poor unexpectant spectator, sometimes onto someone I love dearly and we both are injured.
Today, when I wake every day, I mentally connect with my breath in meditation. I do this so that when the day throws things at me, emotional currents and charges that are designed to drop me to the pit of that psychic pain. On my way down, I remember the rope and I grab it and hold on and then lower myself to the bottom with the understanding that I am not a victim or resigned to spending the rest of my life in this well. That it is only temporary and that since the rope can bring me down, it can also be used to bring me back.
So everyday while I sit in lotus on my cushion I arm myself with my spiritual guide wire of breathing rope. It gives me comfort to know that I have within me all I need to handle the psychological demands of the day regardless of whether I jump into the pit or am flung there. I always have the rope of breath to bring me back...