If you didn’t read last month’s blog, this month won’t make any sense. (You can go back on our website to read Part 1!) This is a two part series where I’m describing an experience I had on a meditation retreat recently and reflecting on just how powerful (for good or for bad) our minds can be. We left off where I haven’t gotten any communication from my partner (who is NOT on the retreat), and I’m extremely worried that something has happened to him.
I texted him one last time in the morning, asking him to text me right away and let me know he’s okay, and then I went into another 2 hour meditation sit. So here I am, desperately using all of the skills I teach to clients to get out of this crazy emotional panic. I'm relaxing. I'm focusing on sight, then sound, then body sensation. Trying to ground myself. Daggers of thoughts, like, "Maybe he sees how weak and whiny you are and he's disgusted. Maybe he's having second thoughts about being with you because you're so controlling and dependent. Because you ‘need’ to say goodnight. Because you can't stay cool. Because you're too attached. Maybe he's not texting because he needs a break from your sniveling demands for connection. " These thoughts would pierce my fragile calm. I would immediately question the truth of the thoughts. "That's probably not true; I've never gotten the impression that he's disgusted by my frailty before." But I have been needier lately. And this is not his style or way of feeling. He wouldn't freak out this way. So potentially he does feel a little of this toward me?
I then had vivid, wrenching images of him actually being dead. I couldn't help it - they pummeled me. It became very real. I imagined canceling our wedding. Being paralyzed with grief. What would I do with my clients? What would I do for my staff? How could I go back to our apartment? Where would I live? Would I see his family again? How could I grieve with both them and my family? I'd never feel his touch again, or see his beautiful, pure face, or hear him saying one word-the right word. I literally felt my whole life shattering. Everything-love, purpose, delight, joy, ripped away. I felt like I had died. My body shook, my mind raged and went blank, into a deep, infinite black hole. It was, internally, what I imagine animals who are being eaten might experience – full body shut down one minute and fight for your life the next.
I sat quietly, still, in the midst of all the other mediators. No one would have detected the immensity of my pain. How often is this the case, with people we pass on the street, or in the grocery?
I knew this scenario (of him having suddenly died) was unlikely. And so I tried to "talk" myself out of it. I was harsh with myself, reminding my reactive brain that I really didn't know why he hadn't communicated, and that probably everything was fine. But there was still a piece of me that whispered, "You're so weak and dependent. So full of needs and desires. You'll never overcome this loss. He’s gone and so you’re dead too. Death is so much more powerful than you sniveling weakling." These thoughts were insidious, vicious, trying to protect me from the abject despair, but doing so in a mean way.
We moved into a self-compassion meditation, and I placed my hand over my heart, comforting myself with, "This is hard. Accept the panic. Accept the terror, with gentleness not judgment." This helped. I felt a little better. I tried to imagine a love bigger than my partner. I tried to take comfort in impermanence, and that one day, if not today, he would die, and I could survive, like I'd seen so many others do. That maybe this was just practice for facing and allowing the death that overtakes you when someone you love has actually died.
My mind fought against this comfort and the pain of imagining all this. It screamed at me, “Too soon! I don't want to deal with this yet! I'm not ready!”
I bravely sat the full two hours, doing my best to toggle between facing these existential fears and seeing through them into impermanence and the peace of something beyond comprehension.
The bell rang and I ran back to my room, to find out if my nightmare was true or not. No communication. I sent one more text, and this time it bounced back to me: "Failed." I checked the Wi-Fi, even though I don't need WiFi to text him. I resent. Failed. Resent. Failed. I have no idea what could be going on. I take my phone outside. We'd been successfully texting inside and out of the building all week long. I marched away from the building, tried again, and still no luck. Finally I turned my phone completely off, waited, and then turned it on again.
Immediately a flood of texts come through. Responses to my funny texts the afternoon before, confused texts about why I'm not responding, apologies for missing our "goodnight" the previous evening. I started weeping. My body couldn't hold on to the panic one more minute. In an instant I was lighter, warmer, and literally more solid. No more shakiness, or sense of floating, unmoored, through a cold, confusing universe. My literal sensory perceptions, of light and darkness, of temperature and weight were distorted by my panic and terror. It was so clear at that moment how thoughts, and our belief that they are “true,” can change everything.
This was a particularly intense and dramatic lesson for me, about the power of our minds to shift how we feel about ourselves, how we experience the world, how we interact with others. And about the power of attachment to other people and our own life. But these thoughts and beliefs color our everyday, mundane experience too. Be gentle with yourself, maintain perspective so you can see clearly, and don’t be afraid to face and move through what comes up.