I’ve been struggling with health challenges for the last 4 months. Lately, it’s mostly fatigue that has been slowing me down. I sleep for 10 hours, then wake, then go back to bed again after 2 hours, then wake, then go back to bed in the afternoon, then enjoy some hours of relative alertness before going back to bed at night. The pattern has become predictable.
Even while the pattern is predictable, every day I wake and believe that today I’ll have a full day of energy and awakeness. Every day I believe this is the day I’ll be back to full health. It still comes as a surprise when I get tired and gravitate back toward my bed.
So, I noticed this surprise. Why is it that I’m not expecting exactly what happened yesterday and the day before and the day before? Why am I always thinking myself into the future? Why am I making assumptions based on old ways of being?
I started to get in touch with resistance to my present moment experience – an unwillingness to expect that this day will be like yesterday. An expectation that impermanence will be biased in the direction of my happiness today.
Then I started to ask myself, “Am I sleeping as a way to abandon my present moment experience?” My self-compassion training allowed me to connect the tension I felt in my system in response to not being able to work to the fact that I was shutting down regularly throughout my day – rejecting the experience of not being able to work.
My physical experience of this tension is mostly at the front of my torso, along the bottom of my rib cage and behind the lower part of my sternum. The pressure I feel in this part of my body is a common experience for me. It seems that every day I feel pressure here for varying lengths of time. I also have a family story of indigestion in my male relatives, which likely contributes to this experience.
So today I decided to explore this part of my experience rather than go back to bed. When I felt tired enough to head to bed, I headed for my meditation cushion instead. What might I find if I kept myself company rather than numbed myself out in the sweet embrace of sleep?
Abandonment Layer 1: This is what it means to be a human being
As I sat, I felt the desire to sleep as a way to avoid my experience. I identified this as self-abandonment. And the abandonment felt like a response to not being able to work. Earlier in my life story I was abandoned by those I loved for being sick, upset or setting boundaries around what I tasks I was prepared to do and not do. I learned that being sick, upset or setting boundaries meant abandonment, so the natural progression was to abandon myself in these scenarios. This is what my brain learned; this is the formula for being in relationship; this is how it is to be a human being. As I sat on my cushion I changed the direction of my awareness from outward abandonment to inward connection. This was not simple or easy because my brain has superhighways it likes to frequent. As I used willpower to move my awareness inward I felt the visceral sense of being connected with along with a little reconciliation tear as I returned home to myself (referred to as “backdraft” in Mindful Self-Compassion). My head moved from upright and forward/outward facing to bent down and downward/inward facing as my awareness returned to my dear body. The first layer of abandonment unpeeled.
Abandonment Layer 2: Resentment and blame
Then my awareness moved to those who had abandoned me and I started to move outward again in bitterness and resentment. I blamed my loved ones for not treating me better, for teaching me that to be a sick, upset or boundaried human meant to be abandoned. This, I realized, was the second layer of abandonment. My bitterness and resentment sent my awareness away from my dear body and flung my psyche to unguarded parts of the world. Like a mother leaving her baby in the nest in search of demons to attack, I was leaving myself. Once again, I used the willpower of my fierce self-compassion to bring my awareness back in from the blame game to connect with my own dear body. Once again, this was not easy – my brain was accustomed to deflecting responsibility, to pointing fingers, to being a victim. But I connected, nevertheless. I came home again to my body.
Abandonment Layer 3: Intellectualizing embodiment
As I sat some more, the third layer of abandonment visited me. This was the layer of abandonment that wanted to stop practicing and write down all that I was experiencing before I forgot it. I wanted to capture my experience because it felt so important. As I began to craft sentences and a heading, I realized I was, once again, abandoning my experience and sending my energy upward to my thinking brain and outward to imagining the words being read by others. Interestingly, this was the most challenging layer to keep peeled back. My mind continuously narrated my experience, and saw my felt experience captured in words. It also saw other people reading about my experience, and felt how it would be to connect with others over this experience, to be accepted and acknowledged through my words. Again and again I left what my mind perceived to be the brilliance of my own creativity to return to my felt experience. I asked myself, is it more important to have the experience or to capture it in words? I knew it was more important to have it and nurture it.
So I sat longer and moved back and forth from connecting with myself to thinking about writing. The connection with myself felt so delicious. An image of a warmly-lit cave in my belly appeared to me. No characters, just the cave. It felt like home. Some of you have told me about a similar cave-home in your experience. Seems the experience of wanting to find our way home to our cave is not uncommon.
I saw the cave and my mind started to manipulate it – was there a fire, were there people? But the raw imagery was just the warmly-lit cave. That was enough. That was plenty. The felt sense from this cave was all I needed. I was home.
I got curious about the tension at the bottom of my ribs and sternum and it occurred to me that that sensation might be a blockage to being in the cave-home. In one moment I felt the blockage give way and I felt a release downward, but it didn’t last very long. I wondered about chakras (but I don’t know much about that school of thought). I decided that this was OK – I could be curious with whatever was happening. I had faith that if I continued to do this practice, over time the blockage would give way again and again. Maybe, eventually, it would clear completely. But, my practice right now is to be with what is.
Eventually I felt my system tiring of the practice. It was challenging staying connected to my inner experience in such an intimate way. I wasn’t accustomed to it. I acknowledged that this was enough for today, opened my eyes, stretched my body, felt gratitude for my cushion, then got up. I did, indeed, move straight to my computer to write this down, and I’m OK with this. I want to continue this practice and writing helps me remember. I also want to share it with you. I want my practice adventure to be a gift, if it feels that way for you.
I discovered that I still do need to sleep for part of the day, but when I do, I’ll aim to do it in a state of connection and acceptance rather than trying to escape my experience. I’m interested to see what I learn in the days and weeks ahead.
Thank you for reading my words, for being in community with me. Thank you for supporting my practice, and I hope my practice supports yours. May we all find our cave-home (or whatever our home looks like). May we all unpeel the layers of abandonment our brain learned as we were developing as well as the layers we’ve since grown over as a way to make it possible to move about the world. May we know ourselves and love ourselves just as we are.