Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Dealing with Difficult People

I don't know whether I've mentioned before, but my parents separated a few months ago. It's a strange thing to suddenly find myself from a broken family at the age of 38.

One of my sisters, known for being a mild drama queen, reacted to the news by bursting into hysterical tears for 5 minutes and then saying, 'I feel like I'm in Kramer vs Kramer!'

'Have you even read that book?' I asked. (I was the one breaking the news to her). 

'No,' she admitted. 'But I've seen the DVD cover and I feel like, well...I feel like I'm in it.'  

I think she was hoping my parents would end up in the Australian High Court in a landmark court case - sueing each other for custody of their 36 year old daughter. (I have 4 siblings, but  in my sister's 'Kramer vs Kramer' fantasy I'm sure my parents were only concerned with custody of her...)

I'm sad to say that when I was told about the separation all I felt was relief.  I thought I might feel something else, like sadness or loss. But, all I felt was relief and a bit of happiness that I'd never have to be in the same room as my parents again.

I won't go into the ins and outs of their relationship, becuase that's not really my business.  But, since the separation I've spent 4 months living with my mother in the family home.  (My father moved out). And, here's where I get to the main point of this post - dealing with difficult people. 

At the best of times I experience my mother as a difficult person, and this has certainly not been the best of times.  We have some similar traits; we can both be bossy and controlling and perfectionistic, so living together isn't easy. My mother also has some kind of  anxiety and hyperactivity disorder, which has never been treated.

Over the past months I've been very judgemental towards her. And then, because I'm into meditation and have this idea that if you are a good meditator you will always be peaceful and kind and compassionate towards other people, I then judge myself for being so judgemental towards her. 

Here's how the inner conversation goes after something happens between us.  I'll give you a little example...I put some rice to cook on the stove, and come into the kitchen 5 minutes later to find my mother has moved it to the microwave, becuase that's how she thinks it should be cooked. This is what I might say inside my head:

"Oh my GOD.  I feel like I am going to %^&* KILL her!...Can't I even put on a %^& saucepan of rice without her trying to control me...What am I?  Five years old?  I'm so angry...Oh no, I shouldn't be angry, she's really just a suffering person. She's just causing me pain and being controlling because she's in so much pain...I really should just be feeling compassion for her...resentment, resentment...I actually don't feel any compassion for her...she's a pain in the arse...but I should feel compassion..."

So, you get the general idea.  I feel angry, and then I try to 'should' myself into feeling compassion, when I actually don't feel any.  All I feel is that I want this person out of my life, and would not bat an eyelid if I never saw her again. (Which may or may not be true.)

So, this week I've really been focussing on allowing whatever feelings I have to rise up in me, and just to be aware of when I'm 'shoulding' myself into feeling something different.  I've noticed that when I 'should' myself I have this accompanying body sensation that feels like a kind of crunch in my stomach - it's like a block of concrete is sitting there.

I've been practicing noting the 'shoulds': "oh...I'm feeling like I should be feeling compassionate towards my mother, and I don't...oh...now I feel blame...now I feel a tightness in my stomach." I try to do this noting in a kind, understanding voice, just allowing the swirl of sensations and thoughts as I feel my anger and frustration.
I find that it helps me a lot.  I still don't feel much compassion towards my mother, but I feel a bit more compassion towards myself, and I think that might be an important first step. I feel like it's a good thing to just lower the expectations I have towards myself.  I'm no Mother Theresa or Kwan Yin, and expecting that I will feel incredibly caring and compassionate towards my mother is probably just expecting way too much of myself at the moment. 

So, it's been an interesting journey over the past few months and I feel like I'm learning a lot about being kind and understanding towards myself. Seeing the amount of self-judgement I have towards myself has made me reflect on who is the most difficult person in my life at the moment - my mother, or myself?

Poor little headless Buddha.  Taken in Luang Prabang, Laos.

Monday, July 26, 2010

At home meditation retreat

I just love the creative folks over at Living Compassion.  They are wonderful at thinking up ways that people can participate in meditation, even if they can't get the their Zen Monstery Peace Centre (in California). 

I've just received an e-mail saying they are going to be running a one day, at-home,  meditation reatreat on Saturday, August 7. This would probably only suit people in US-friendly time-zones (not Australia - boo hoo!) 

Here are the details:

Workshop Description: Are you ready and willing for a day of supported practice at home and the chance to do some of those tasks that you never seem to have time for? It doesn’t get any better!

Retreatants will join with the monks first thing in the morning via conference call for a half-hour sitting meditation and an orientation to working meditation as it is done at the Zen Monastery Peace Center. 
When the work period begins, retreatants will work on their own, doing a project of their choice in their home. Could be washing windows, shampooing carpets, bathing pets, painting a room, getting current on all your correspondence, writing the short story you’ve been putting off, starting seeds in the greenhouse, baking for the holidays….whatever suggests itself.

We’ll check in at mid-day to see how it’s going and to prepare for the afternoon work period. Telephone guidance sessions with monks will be scheduled throughout the day. The day will end with a conference call group discussion.

Give yourself this gift of support for compassion and awareness!

Registration Pledge: $60.00 (Includes guidance with a monk); $40 for Monthly Donors (please use the special link below)
Wednesday, August 4 is the last day to register.

A photo I took in Chiang Mai - Thailand.  Beautiful, knobbly limes.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Meditation Resource List

If your illness or life circumstances prevent you from attending meditation classes it can be very helpful to have a good book or CD course to guide your practice.

Below are some resources that might be useful. They’re divided into two groups – the first is specifically aimed at illness/pain, and the second is a list of general resources.

Resources specifically for people with chronic illness or pain

Darlene Cohen - a Zen teacher, who has rheumatoid arthritis. One of her books is Turning Suffering Inside Out (A Zen approach to living with physical and emotional pain). She has a website with podcasts, written talks, and more books.  Darlene’s work tends to be thought-provoking, funny and wise.  She’s a real straight-talker, and shares a lot of her personal experiences with pain in her books and talks.

Toni Bernhard
– an ex-law professor now living with CFS.  Toni has written a book called ‘How to Be Sick’, which will be released in September 2010. The book is a beautifully written Buddhist-inspired guide for the chronically ill and their carers.  I’ve read a few chapters of it and found it eloquent, moving, and very down-to-earth.

Jon Kabat-Zinn - One of his books is the well-known, Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness.  His website sells CD’s of his books and meditations.

Miriam GreenspanHealing Through the Dark Emotions: The Wisdom of Grief, Fear, and Despair .This is a fairly intense book, and beautifully written.  Miriam talks about the usefulness of feelings such as despair, and offers many different techniques for working with the ‘dark emotions’.

Shinzen Young books, CD’s and a website specialising in meditation for pain management. His Book/CD set Break Through Pain contains a series of guided meditations with step-by-step techniques to help with pain management. I find some of Shinzen’s guided meditations to be a little clinical and dry, but they are certainly thorough and he's developed some interesting meditation techniques.

Steven Levine - a renowned writer and meditation teacher whose work focuses on death, dying, illness and the spiritual journey. He has written many books and has a personal website which sells CD’s of his guided meditations.  Steven’s books are intense, and can be heavy reading at times.  They are also profound, deeply moving, and very human.

Vidyamala Burch -  a UK teacher who lives with a spinal cord injury. She has a website, and a book, Living Well with Pain and Illness: The mindful way to free yourself from suffering.
General  meditation resources

Bodhipaksa – meditation teacher with a very friendly and informative website with free on-line tutorials. He will  answer e-mail questions about meditation and also has an excellent CD called Guided Meditation: for Calmness, Awareness, and Love.  I’ve got the CD and highly recommend it for anyone looking for guided meditations.

Meditation Oasisfree meditation podcasts and a written meditation guide. The meditation podcasts  are short, simple and easy to follow.  The website also sells an online medition course (US$95) and CD's of meditations.

Plumline – an on-line Buddhist meditation group, conducted through Yahoo Messenger. Useful for people who want to connect with other meditators, but can’t leave their home to do it. Currently they meet on Mondays at 10:00 AM and 6:00 PM US Mountain Time Zone. (The 6pm group is 11am in Australia).

Sharon Salzberg  - a down-to-earth teacher focussing on insight and Loving Kindness meditation.  Has a website with books and CD’s and here is a link to a podcast of a full-day workshop with Sharon.

Sounds Trueon-line store selling a wide variety of meditation and spiritual CDs and downloads. Has an excellent free weekly podcast interview series called Insights at the Edge. Many of the teacher s and writers listed in this article have been interviewed in this series.

Tara Brach  - Tara is a psychologist and teacher of Buddhist insight meditation. She has a particular focus on dealing compassionately with issues such as shame and anger. Her website has books, cd's and podcasts. A very gifted teacher who combines psychology and Buddhism.

I hope this list is useful to you.  Please feel free to e-mail me if you have any more resources I could add to this list. 

Thursday, July 8, 2010

I'm Back!

Yay!  I'm back from my little break.  I missed writing this blog so much.  I hadn't realised until I stopped writing, how much of a support it was to me to be able to connect with other people going through similar life experiences. I also saw that even if no-one read any of my posts, it was still really helpful for me to try to clarify some of my experiences around meditation and illness by putting them into words. 

To ease myself into blogging again I'm just going to use this post to put up some pretty pitchas. It is winter here in Australia and last week I woke up in the wee small hours of the morning (OK...7am...wee enough for me!) and took some photos just outside my bedroom window.  

Aren't these gorgeous?  There was a frost, and a heavy mist was rising as the sun came up. Before I got sick I always used to be up early in the morning - going for a run, or starting my piano practice.  I miss the stillness and quietness of that time of day.

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