Parts 2 and 3 will be posted on the next 2 Wednesdays.
Cold winter night, big comfy blanket, a fire blazing in the fireplace and Netflix. May and her husband were completely relaxed and enjoying a light-hearted family movie We Have a Ghost. Then one of the characters began mistreating the ghost and May began to get agitated. When the character finally realized how wrong she was, a tear dramatically fell down her cheek. May imagined the ghost saying: Forget you, I’m out of here! But he didn’t. He looked deeply into her eyes and with incredible compassion lifted a finger and brushed away the tear. May was stunned. As she told me later, she thought that she had come further than that. She thought that with all of her studies and years of meditation, she would have felt compassion for the character instead of outright hostility. Without expressing her own emotion she asked her husband his reaction to the scene. He said that it was moving and beautiful. She told him what her reaction had been and how disappointed she was in herself. He said: You realized what you did immediately! Don’t you know what an accomplishment that is? Your whole life experience has been about protecting and defending yourself and now you can see things differently right away. You did great. May realized that it was just another layer to accept, face and learn to grow from.
What happened with May is universal. We think that we’ve learned a major life lesson and then weeks, years or decades later a situation is thrown at us and we react in a way that we thought we had outgrown.
Pete has dealt with depression as long as he can remember. After a decade of therapy and meds he researched alternative healers and found one that was highly regarded. After seeing him a few times he began to feel better, let go of his therapist and had a few months of no episodes. Then the depression came back. He had thought that was it, that he was cured. Pete then allowed himself to be convinced that he had experienced a placebo effect. He felt like a fool, a fraud and a total failure.
But that’s not how it works. We are not onions, When one layer is removed, we can’t throw it away and act like it no longer exists. We are complicated beings. Our thoughts, feelings and ideas are intertwined and they’re there for a reason. Situations whether pleasant or unpleasant present themselves at a time and a place to grab our attention so that we can learn from them. May’s studies and meditation practice and Pete’s healer both helped them see and move past layers. Layers don’t dissolve. They ease to the point that we can accept that they are a part of us without carrying their original emotional impact.
We learn, we grow and we think that we can leave our behavior behind. And for some behaviors that might be true, but most of the time behavior comes from layer upon layer of imbedded beliefs and experiences. And even when we have the courage to go deep and face, accept and deal with the causes, we are only capable of learning so much at a time. That’s why it’s important to recognize and appreciate every accomplishment. When you repeat a behavior that you thought that you’d outgrown, you’re not backsliding. You are actually moving forward and accessing another deeper layer. This is what happens: when you accept that you want to change, doing the work will be hard. But as you move forward recognizing the layers will become easier and facing and dealing with them will become easier. As both May and Pete found, when we delve into our never-ending layers of self-discovery, we are able to let go of some of the emotional weight that we carry. And letting go of the weight means that you’re opening up more room for joy.
There’s a Buddhist proverb: If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking. If you are facing your issues with a kind, loving and forgiving gaze, you are facing in the right direction and all you have to do is keep on walking.