I had an epiphany yesterday. As positively as I may seem when writing about this experience so far, ending my posts on the positive note, I hadn’t felt that way offline. The entire past few weeks, I’ve been emotionally and physically tied up in knots. My shoulders have been up to my ears and I couldn’t loosen up despite stretching and massage. I was flailing about desperately. It put a strain on my emotional well-being, my physical well-being, and the well-being of a most important relationship. I have to say, I was really surprised when taking the perspective of the outside observer. I normally lean into the dark, messy, scary parts of life. I am not afraid of my emotions, I understand that they pass through like a storm or a cold, and know not to identify with them or let them envelope me. I normally would consider myself pretty strong and feel like I always pull through when things come down to the wire. I was surprised to see how difficult I was making this on myself, how much resistance I had, and quite frankly, with how little grace I was approaching this ordeal.
My Mom and I did a Native American ceremony, like we’ve done for most of the big events in my life, to help me to say goodbye to my thyroid the night before the surgery. I did some heavy emotional and spiritual work for over two hours. I realized that I have so many personal issues tied to this decision. In many ways, I’d felt like a failure by not being able to heal myself and that cutting it out is equivalent to giving up/quitting/failing. I questioned whether I’d been on the verge of healing and was I giving up right before some great success, like healing wasn’t possible sans gland. I’ve chosen to give up the illusion of control and the most fundamental form of self sufficiency. These are difficult things for me to give up. Letting go of my thyroid goes against some of my very strong convictions. Many times it’s the belief systems that are harder to let go of than anything else. This is the work I did Monday night.
I made some progress, enough that I was able to go through with it all before the surgeon called it off. I woke the next day feeling pretty depressed. I wrote about it. I did indeed go for a walk, which made me feel better, but those feelings crept back in later that evening. I couldn’t sleep, I was feeling desperate, looking to cling to something, some kind of guarantee. Looking back, I know that it was all in an effort to avoid, to resist, to shield myself from change, from fear, from the ache of loss. The irony is that all of these attempts just exacerbate those feelings that I was so desperately trying to avoid. We can not both fully live and avoid these messy bits. They are part of life. I was reminded of this the next morning.
I awoke Thursday knowing that I could not continue to approach the situation the way I had been, and I picked up Comfortable With Uncertainty, 108 Teachings on Cultivating Fearlessness and Compassion, by well known American Buddhist nun and author Pema Chodron. Among others, I read the following passage, which spoke to me and opened me to epiphany:
The Three Poisons
“In the Buddhist teachings, the messy emotional stuff is called klesha, which means poison. There are three main poisons: passion, aggression, and ignorance. We could talk about these in different ways — for example, we could also call them craving, aversion, and couldn’t care less. Addictions of all kinds come under the category of craving, which is wanting, wanting, wanting — feeling that we have to have some kind of resolution. Aversion encompasses violence, rage, hatred, and negativity of all kinds, as well as garden-variety irritation. And ignorance? Nowadays, it’s usually called denial.
The three poisons are always trapping you in one way or another, imprisoning you and making your world really small. When you feel craving, you could be sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon, but all you can see is this piece of chocolate cake that you’re craving. With aversion, you’re sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon, and all you can hear is the angry words you said to someone ten years ago. With ignorance, you’re sitting on the edge of the Grand Canyon with a paper bag over your head. Each of the three poisons has the power to capture you so completely that you don’t even perceive what’s in front of you.
The pith instruction is, whatever you do, don’t try to make the poisons go away. When you’re trying to make them go away, you’re losing your wealth along with your neurosis. The irony is that what we most want to avoid in our lives is crucial to awakening bodhichitta. These juicy emotional spots are where a warrior gains wisdom and compassion. Of course, we’ll want to get out of those spots far more often than we’ll want to stay. That’s why self-compassion and courage are vital. Without loving-kindness, staying with pain is just warfare.”
That was the one that blew it wide open for me. I’ll spare you a line by line analysis as to how this resonated with me, but the short story is; the reason I’ve been having such difficulty is because I’ve been using every trick in my book, every old pattern from childhood to try to avoid these poisons as if they’d kill me. Hilariously enough, as most of the lessons in my life tend to be, it is all due to a decision I made. Oh, life, you’re such a prankster! After reading several more passages on the heels of this one, I realized that I can simply decide to let go, let that stuff in, breathe, and enjoy the life I have rather than be consumed by avoiding. I did, and instantly my body loosened up, my mind freed up, I felt like I got my life back, like I could be me again. This surgery being delayed gave me a chance to do it over again with some dignity and grace. I found something bigger to lean on, something that won’t crumble under the weight of me and something that creates space and light within me. I just need to remind myself if the vices start to tighten again.