Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Big Sqeeze - a meditation on suffering

Tonight I have a bad case of what Pema Chodron calls 'the big squeeze.' (Don’t worry, I don't mean diarrhoea! This blog attempts to be honest but I wouldn't go that far.)
Pema Chodron, a Western Buddhist nun, uses 'the big squeeze' to mean the difficult issues and feelings that replay over and over again in our lives.  For some it might be fear and anger, for others dullness or boredom. I think 'the big squeeze' is such a great term, because it describes viscerally what it feels like when those really tough emotions come along. I literally feel like someone is contracting and clenching my gut when I'm feeling two of my huge squeezes - confusion and numbness.
So, tonight, up pops these big squeezes. The numbness makes my body feel sodden and thick, as though I'm soaked with water and weighed down. The confusion broils away in my stomach as I try to fight my way out from this heavy numbness. I decide to do a meditation that I hope will be calming, and perhaps help me sit with these two contradictory feelings - one dull, the other querulous and anxious.
I imagine the Dalai Lama standing in front of me.  I begin to name whatever I'm feeling, thinking or sensing. For every label I give, the Dalai Lama responds - ‘I’m sorry for your suffering.'
'Heaviness in my leg'
'I'm sorry for your suffering.'
'Sadness...leaden sadness'
 'I'm sorry for your suffering.'
'Annoyance...tinnitus in my ear is annoying me'
'I'm sorry for your suffering.
A few minutes into the meditation, the critical voice in my head rises up.  As soon as the Dalai Lama says, 'I'm sorry for your suffering’, a judging response pops up in my mind. I'm finding it hard to sit with the judgements without becoming anxious, so I pull my laptop over and start writing whatever the voices say in response to the Dalai Lama's kindness. Here's what I wrote:
'I'm sorry for your suffering'
get over it
'I'm sorry for your suffering'
you have to do it on your own
'I'm sorry for your suffering'
there's no help here
'I'm sorry for your suffering'
don't be pathetic, it's all downhill for you
'I'm sorry for your suffering'
other people have a harder life that you, don't feel sorry for yourself
'I'm sorry for your suffering'
this isn't real, you aren't real, this suffering isn't real
'I'm sorry for your suffering'
kindness is rubbish, it isn't real, don't be a wuss ( Aussie slang for 'wimp' LOL! )
'I'm sorry for your suffering'
you deserve this suffering, there's no way out
After the first five minutes (listed above), the kindness of the Dalai Lama starts to sink in, and my voices change in tone:
'I'm sorry for your suffering'
oh, someone is listening to me, that feels good
'I'm sorry for your suffering'
it's not my fault, i don't have to prove anything
'I'm sorry for your suffering'
i thought it was all my fault, could this really not be my fault?  Is that possible?
'I'm sorry for your suffering'
Could it be that this suffering is real?, Could I be real?
And, after fifteen minutes or so, that's where the meditation ended.  Because I'd written my thoughts down I thought I’d make them into this post. 

I don't think I'm so unusual in having these critical voices in my head; not everyone's sings exactly the same songs as mine, but no doubt most people have a top 10 selection that's on fairly high rotation. One of the things I find most extraordinary is that these thoughts are all sitting there. They're not hidden beneath ten years of psychotherapy, or a three-month meditation retreat.  All I have to do to push them into action is to say something that provokes them - ‘I’m sorry for your suffering.'

These thoughts are like looking at a forest of trees, and not being able to see the forest for the trees. I can't see them in my everyday life - because they're everywhere. They are the foundation of my belief system; the rock out of which my reality is carved.   That's what makes them so pernicious and powerful.

For now, it just helps to have more awareness of these thoughts - to let them dance their dance, and sing their song. And, in response, to say:

'I'm sorry for your suffering...I'm sorry for your suffering...' 


  1. Girl, I totally dig this post. I so teared up. =) Honesty to the core. Clear and bright honesty of what goes on in the heart of those suffering.

    I heard my voice in this post "squeezed out" as you stated....and I am confident that everyone who reads this will hear their own voices of insecurity and fear, the loud voices of opposition, and hopefully, the voice of comfort and peace. For me, I picture Jesus comforting me. But I dig the Dali. =) Beautiful exercise.

    Thanks for reminding to me to allow him to neutralize my defeating thoughts more often. Again, Bravo! =)

  2. Phew! Thanks for this lovely feedback Lucy. I have to admit, I was a bit nervous posting this, just because it's so personal.

    FYI - I dig the Dalai...and Jesus :) Anyone from Kermit the Frog to Rumi is fair-game in my meditations!!

  3. Wow Emma...You've done it again.
    I can't believe the 'oneness' in suffering...I was so 'there with you'...I cried. I've sat alone for so lone in my suffering that to read yours...releases mine.

    Your honesty continues to teach me.

    And your final words..."it just helps to have more awareness of these thoughts - to let them dance their dance, and sing their song. And, in response, to say:

    'I'm sorry for your suffering...I'm sorry for your suffering...'

    Thank you for showing me this process
    You are truly a Jewel...


  4. Hi Ama,
    thanks so much, I'm glad this resonated with you. It's great that you got the bit at the end - that we can also see these crticial thoughts as suffering, and have compassion (rather than more self-blame) for having them.

    I am learning from your beautiful blog too - I really love its simplicity. Actually, that reminds me, I've been meaning to put it on my fave blog list on this homepage. Will do it now.

    take care :)

  5. You already know I am a fan but I have to say I really really like this post. You have a knack for verbalising what we all think in a very accessible and thoughtful and honest way. I like how you slowly reveal another path, yet at the same time the same path we all tread. We all learn through your journey and I'm glad you chose to share this :)

    PS I like the book better (not quite finished yet) than the CD too.

  6. Thanks for your feeback Rusty :) I'm encouraged to keep going - with this 'journey' and the blog - by all these lovely comments.

    Interesting that you had the same reaction to the CD. (For other readers: Rutsy got the Shinzen Young book/CD that I gave away a few weeks ago).

    I did the meditations on the CD faithfully for 6 months, all the while thinking 'why can't I get into this?' Then I read a few other reviews on Amazon and everyone commented on how dry and cold his voice was on the CD, and I think that was it. It was all just too scientific (and I know that's his background). I tried to listen to a podcast interview with him a few months ago and couldn't get through it - it was soooo boring! So, I'm sure he works for some, but not for moi.

  7. To date, I find this the best information on dealing with thoughts and a "path" to changing thought patterns, allowing new light to shine on which thoughts will help us.

    For me using the Dalai Lama as an audio visual will be very helpful. Fantastic.

    Buddhism is fairly new for me. Meditation and peace was the drawing force to simply my life.

    Thanks and thanks again for the visit.

  8. Thanks for your comment Wil Magnolia, glad it was useful. Just FYI, this isn't a particularly Buddhist meditation (although I suppose within Buddhism it would come under the category of a'LovingKindness' meditation).

    It can really be adapted to any spiritual belief system, or none. (Instead of the Dalai Lama you could have a kind grandparent, or a close friend...)

  9. Thanks for this post, Emma. As usual I'm way late at reading your blog but I found it really helpful yesterday when I read it I actually turned off my screen and meditated on it right then actually as I'm feeling so crashed and frightened by it.

    I have trouble visualising faces so I thought I'd look at a picture of the Dalai Lama before I started. It's amazingly hard to find one where he's not smiling and I didn't feel right with the smiling ones because I was feeling so bad. So here are a few I found that felt personal to me and don't have grinning involved (much):
    The last two were my favourite for the purpose.

  10. Hi Jeshyr,

    I'm so sorry you're having a down time at the moment, and I that meditation was helpful to you in some way. Thanks heaps for those image links - I guess you're right - the dalai lama does seem to spend a lot of time smiling!!


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