“And when pretending to know gets too exhausting for you, friend, when you tire of being the expert and the world’s teacher and the one with all the clever memorised answers, just let yourself fall, let yourself tumble to the ground and question everything and weep out the old dogmas, and I will be here to hold you.”
– Jeff Foster, from Take Off Your Spiritual Mask
A few weeks ago, I was biking home at night. I like to think that the years of using bike rides as formal practice time (focusing on seeing outward) had raised my baseline of focus. At least I suspect it had a hand in my noticing the taxi in the oncoming lane as it suddenly ripped a u-turn in the middle of the block, barely slowing down, no signal. It swung around across 2 lanes, crossing into mine. I swerved towards the sidewalk and hit the brakes as the taxi accelerated through the turn and continued on its way. It missed me by maybe a foot.
Being a year-round commuter cyclist in a busy city for 20+ years, this wasn’t a first. It also wasn’t the first time that I would chase down the car to the next light to – shall we say – enlighten the driver as to what just happened. What came next, though, was a first.
I completely lost my shit. Like, pounded-on-his-window-while-screaming-unintelligibly lost it. And when he yelled back? I… (shudder)… spat on his window.
As I resumed my ride home I chuckled aloud at how ridiculous my reaction was. Who was that screaming maniac back there?! And as the humour of it dissipated, it laid bare a heavy ache in my chest and throat. I felt ashamed and defeated. Then came the mental talk: How could this have happened? After 8 or 9 years of daily formal practice, the dozen or so weeks spent on retreats, teacher training, countless hours of facilitating workshops and leading sits, attending lectures, reading books, etc. etc.), how could I have had such an embarrassingly unskilled, self-indulgent response? I was supposed to be better than that. Apparently I wasn’t.
I had avoided being hit by the cab, but was blind-sided by my reaction… and the realization that I had unwittingly been engaged in mediation with ulterior expectations and conditions. It was supposed to make me ‘better’! And ‘better’ looked like not behaving like an asshole! It didn’t look like me feeling inexplicably sad and lost, as I had been for a few months, losing interest in daily practice because I was no longer able to clearly track the benefits. It didn’t look like feeling like my practice was moving backward, rather than forward. It certainly didn’t look like being doomed to forever be the same asshole I was trying to escape in the first place.
There it was. There was still a part of me that was surreptitiously using meditation to bypass what I didn’t want to face in myself; masking it with ‘improvement’ without ever accepting it, let alone loving it.
Despite the gut-punch, this was actually good news. It was insight. And it revealed the opportunity ahead: accepting aspects of my experience that I had been denying or resisting out of fear, shame, or some other outmoded coping mechanism. It meant accepting my (and others’) humanness however ugly it might look at times. That doesn’t mean condoning harmful behaviour. It means lovingly allowing for what is true in my experience to be seen and integrated in a healthy way, rather than seething under pressure until it expresses in harmful behaviour. It means allowing for the ‘path’ to go how it goes, regardless of how I thought it would or should. For example, apparently spitting on a cab and reminding myself that I still have the capacity to be an idiot is how it goes. It means accepting that feeling inexplicably lost and sad sometimes, or like I’ve never meditated before is, apparently, also how it goes.
Can I open up to all of it? Can I welcome whatever arises? My commitment is a strong yes. But I don’t know how that will look or how long it will take. There will be more resistance, I expect: resistance to accepting feeling sad, feeling hurt, feeling alone, feeling unloving. Resistance to accepting the resistance. I’m sure there are countless attachments and self-images fortifying themselves as I write this. But I’m equally sure that, no matter how hard they fight for their survival, they will be relieved and grateful when they are eventually seen, allowed, and dissolved by loving acceptance. Some call this a kind of ‘purification’. That’s how it feels, to me.