This is part two of a two-part series. You can catch up on the first part here.
I've come to realize recently that there are parts of me that I'm not proud of. These parts always lingered, but I never fully recognized them until I started meditating. Or at least not until my first silent meditation retreat. I came into the experience expecting to find mindful bliss, but my monkey brain was having none of that shit. Without the distractions of the world, I actually noticed my thoughts for the first time in my life. And it was not was not a pretty sight.
I had plenty to think about at the time, so I shouldn't have been all that surprised. My parents had passed recently, and things didn't work out with a girl I liked. But what did catch me off guard was the way I was meeting these thoughts. I was being outright cruel to myself. Every thought that arose was met with a whip of self-hatred. Especially if I wasn't fond of the content.
I think always sorta knew I could be hard on myself, but I never faced the extent until this retreat. I wanted so desperately to be free of these painful thoughts, so I tried to beat them into submission. But it was clear this wasn't working. If it was, my mind wouldn't have been running so rampantly in the first place.
I had a hard time making sense of this dictator policing my thoughts. How can this absolute menace coexist with the sweetheart of a boy (me) who would never dream of saying these horrible things to another person?
This was my first taste of the sense that there isn't a single me to identify with. There are parts of me. And some of these parts didn't fit the nice-guy-yogi-type I'd envisioned myself to be. I had a dark side. And with this new recognition in place, the next step was to figure out what the hell to do about it.
I wrote another post by this title which got some criticism. I made the point that I'm going to reiterate here that you should meet the parts of you that you might not like with kindness, acceptance and compassion. In my previous post, I used the parts of myself that were insecure and had some racial biases as a means of exploring this point. I think it could have come across that I was giving these obviously mistaken parts of myself a free pass. But that's not what I'm advertising. I see this method of embracing the parts of ourselves as a means to giving them the space to sort themselves out. I think it's the aversion to these parts that allows them to remain. At the very least, this was true of my experience.
On the silent meditation retreat, I got a chance on the second day to speak briefly with one the teachers. I explained my experience and the pattern that would arise. At this point, we'd been given the instruction to just accept thoughts as they'd come.
The teacher reassured me that this is common, which was frankly news to me. Everyone else at the retreat seemed to be perfect Buddhas. At least as far as I could tell from staring at the back of their heads in the meditation hall. She shared that she had a similar experience when she started meditating as well. She then said two things that have helped me to this day. "You don't need to figure it out." And, "you're not in control."
The first bit of advice was especially useful for me. My mind tends to go straight into problem solving mode, and my weapon of choice was a Louisville slugger. Any respite from these beatings was okay by me. And the second piece of instruction took some of the onus off the me that I imagined myself to be. I really wasn't in control. If I was, I wouldn't be thinking the thoughts that brought me such pain and I wouldn't be meeting them with a baseball bat. I spent the rest of the day sitting with these two instructions. And as I watched a thought roll into awareness and simply allowed it to pass by without needlessly punishing myself, tears of pure relief streamed down my face. I'm not in control.
As I continued to practice in the days that remained, my mind began to quiet. It's as if I had been playing a never-ending game whack-a-mole with my brain, and all I needed was to put down the mallet.
I wanted to take another pass on this topic, as it's one I've been continuing to wrestle with in my own life. As I continue to practice mindfulness, the parts of me that remained hidden from my awareness have begun to reveal themselves, and frankly, it's been scary. I'm just not who I thought I was, and it's been hard to come to terms with that. I'm becoming acquainted with a part of myself that's delusional. And while my first reaction might be to disregard this part for not having served me at all, I'm starting to realize that even the delusion has served a role. Albeit a misguided one. Delusion is a safety blanket of sorts. You can't be harmed by a truth you don't want to see if there's a part of you that blinds you to reality. But I can't change what I can't see.
We're all made up of some mix of nature and nurture, and I didn't get to pick the values in either of these variables. None of us do. That's not to say that we can't change and that our choices don't matter. I wouldn't be writing this otherwise. We can change, and you and I do have the choice to become better human beings. I just think the choice should be awareness and kindness instead of delusion and hatred. It sounds sappy, but who cares? If it works, it works. And hatred doesn't fucking work.