Sometimes I surprise myself. In a good way. Those occasions when, put on the spot, my response has been inspired. I am impressed.
Back in the late 70’s I went on a two-week self-discovery retreat with a group of earnest young people, camping rough in the bush somewhere in north-eastern New South Wales. Each retreat activity was designed to break down inner barriers, and, in the spirit of the times, gentleness was not always a priority. The leader was a powerful, rather charismatic Frenchman. He was a big man; strong and fit. Let’s call him Ivan.
About day six, the morning activity was a game of British Bulldog. If you don’t know the rules, players had to run from one end of the playing field to the other without being trapped and brought to the ground by the team of ‘bulldogs’ who patrolled the area. As each player was caught, they joined the bulldog team.
At a certain point I found myself facing Ivan. Big strong Ivan. I recognised that there was no way I could match his strength. And I had a moment of inspiration! I decided to go to the other extreme, I’d make myself soft.
While maintaining eye contact with him, I did softness. What does that entail? I don’t really know. I just did it. I opened to that sensation throughout my body. I let myself be soft. Not passive or weak. Soft.
And it worked! He was totally disarmed. I was not captured, in fact Ivan halted the game at that point. He was not happy. He later told me, grudgingly, that I had been flirting with him. Really??? In my book flirting has an element of playfulness, with a sexual undertone. What I had done was quite different. I’d meet his extreme macho yang energy with its opposite.
Over the next day or so, Ivan verbally attacked me two or three times. I recognised that this was no longer a safe place for me. Early in the morning, while everyone was still asleep, I gathered my belongings in my pack and walked out of the camp. It felt good. It felt right.
I hadn’t thought much about this incident until recently. Now, however I am fascinated both by my response and the effect it had. I am appreciating the remarkable resource I uncovered at that time. It is a resource I can call on when dealing with that most challenging of adversaries: obdurate resistance within myself.
I experience this most often when negative or uncomfortable emotions and sensations show themselves. Emotions and sensations that I have willingly suppressed for most of my life because they feel overwhelming; too strong, too powerful, too scary.
Recently, as I sat for meditation, I experienced a crushing sense of defeat. It came, seemingly, from nowhere. My first impulse was to push it away, and distract my mind from this devastating sensation. I have a sense of the story behind this feeling, however exploring the story was not going to change things in the here and now.
Instead, I remembered my superpower: softness. I said to myself: just wait it out for two minutes. That is bearable. And I met the strong and powerful sense of defeat with softness, with gentleness, with love. By the time the two minutes was up the negative state had itself softened and begun to dissolve. I was able to continue my meditation.
I’ve noticed that when I experience an unpleasant emotion or sensation, my first response is to resist, to steel myself against the discomfort. ‘Make it go away’, is a response that derives from childhood when I certainly didn’t have the resources to deal with emotional pain.
This response may well have been an appropriate survival strategy at the time. In resisting, however I am also constructing energetic walls and laying down patterns that reinforce resisting as a way of operating. The unpleasant feelings don’t go away, either. They go underground, locked in the dungeons of my psyche. Ultimately, they will re-surface and demand my attention. Often surreptitiously, sabotaging my relationships, undermining my capacity to function effectively.
Meeting these emotions and sensations with softness, with acceptance and presence is the first step on the path of healing, of integration. The inner walls and the uncomfortable feelings both slowly melt away, the dungeons open to the light, and gently, softly, we reclaim our inherent power.