I decided to share a long journal entry with you all today. The context is that my teacher has finally recommended that I consider counseling outside the Center, and I have an appointment tomorrow (Wednesday). I've never done any extended counseling before, though there was a short bout of couples counseling with one of my earlier relationships, and one or two sessions with various people over the years. I have a better sense of what I need to work on now, though, as a result of the work I've been doing the last 2-1/2 years.
Yesterday I decided I wanted just to write a bunch, without trying to keep it to one page, and I then put that together with what I had written the day before. Here's the result.
--- 5/31/08. Anxiety about this counseling thing. I just identified some of it -- expectations. The whole goal-oriented, quantified outcomes thing totally smacks of expectations and judgement, both of which I've been working hard to let go of. I have an hour and half every day (of zazen, sitting meditation) when I can sit and do nothing, when I can drop all of that. It's a treasure, and I'll be taking advantage of that for a while yet, even in the summer when it's not on the schedule.
I was thinking of "M." She was a student who we labeled "difficult" in some ways. Her resistance came out in interesting ways, criticism, sometimes going to anger, general complaining and bitching. She didn't cooperate in some ways, but she kept coming to class in the face of formidable obstacles -- most notably the fact that she lived a 35-minute drive away, outside of our bus range, and so she had to get herself and her children to our program on her own. She had a 5th grade education in her home country, and was barely literate. She had left two older children behind with her mother in order to pursue survival in the United States.
She kept working on it all. She gradually learned enough English to function. She got a work permit and got a job. She negotiated getting her car fixed, in English.
One of the things she "refused" to do was to write in her dialog journal. We figured it was because she didn't want to write about anything personal, that she wanted to stay private. After a couple of years she began to turn in journals with some English phrases that I recognized as being from an ESL text (by this time she was taking community college classes in English). I responded by trying to turn it into her own experience, to make it more meaningful. For example, she would write about going to the bank, and I would ask where she went to a bank, which bank, did she drive to the bank, etc. She didn't respond at first, just wrote more phrases from the book.
Finally, a few tentative sentences. I spoke to her one day and said I appreciated how she was beginning to write in her journal. Her response was, "this is very hard for me." I suddenly realized that I had been making a lot of judgements and labeling as resistance a matter of a task that was quite simply overwhelming to her, beyond her capabilities.
This is how I feel about emotional work. Tracing down anger is this dance that is very difficult, and sometimes quite simply beyond me. I'm beginning to learn, but I've been a helpless infant in this area. I'm beginning to try to crawl and maybe even to walk, but I'm still awfully wobbly. This is very hard for me.
My students used to express gratitude for my patience. I don't know where I learned patience and calm -- I have felt little enough of both toward myself during this emotional work. However, I do see it in my own teachers. They have been putting up with me as we all did with M. -- trusting that she would somehow find her way through. And she did.
I've had a fear of my teachers tiring of me, my own getting tired of it, of wanting things to clarify, to change in some way. This then taps into old habit energy patterns that say I'm not worth all of this attention and care and patience, that I don't deserve to live. And there goes that spiral downward.
I saw it happen last week, that tipping over from acceptance into despair. I couldn't seem to stop it. I just finally had to ride it all the way down. I do think these episodes are becoming a little shorter.
Sunday, June 1, 2008, 7:30pm
I waited in the sitting room of the Dharma House for Sanzen with Kyogen this morning. There was a green fleece blanket in the wicker wastebasket next to the fireplace in front of me. I recognized it, and wondered what it was doing there. It doesn't belong there, I thought, wanting to rescue it, put it somewhere else, find a way to let everyone know this isn't acceptable. But I was sitting zazen, and there were others in the room also waiting for Sanzen sitting zazen, and I couldn't jump and disturb them, nor was it the right time to do anything about this.
My mind was jumping all over the place. Sunday morning, cleaning up after Kakumyo, jumping into robes at the last minute, deciding on Sanzen at the last minute, mind whirling. I could feel fatigue alternating with all these thoughts of managing this, that, the other thing.
Calm down, I think. Settle. Zazen, sanzen, I don't even know what to talk about today. My student M.? Okay, maybe. My ineptitude at emotional stuff? What's real right now? What's alive right now? I tried to bring the mind of zazen to watch my emotions. They swirled around, slammed against a wall. I feel like a rat in a maze, backed into a corner. Want to hunker down, get small, disappear.
Okay. I know that reaction -- try to escape, be invisible. The only emotion I really know is fear, and my reactions careen off this wall and then the other as I ride the elevator sideways, out of control.
Okay, that's getting closer to what's really going on.
The person sitting next to me goes in for sanzen, and I look at my watch, almost 9am, close enough for the kesa verse. I take out my kesa and put it on my head, saying the verse silently. I put on the kesa, still chanting silently, ending in gassho.
Pretty soon the bell rings and I go in. I tell the story of M. I tell Kyogen that's how I feel about emotional stuff -- it's very hard for me (at this point I begin to cry, nothing unusual there). I tell him I have a lot of respect for M., though, because she kept at it.
It occurs to me now that she was only able to tell us hard it was when she was beginning to crack the code, beginning to see how it worked. She finally began to see writing as something she hadn't known how to do, something that was hard for her. It was an important turning point for her. It clarified something for her, something she needed to work on, something she could begin to see she could work on, not just some huge overwhelming blob that couldn't ever be penetrated.
My students have taught me so much.
Kyogen listened to me and nodded understandingly. We talked a little about difficult students we have known and how really we all know that we will keep working, keep trying to find a way to help each other get down the road. I confessed anxiety about this counseling thing. He reassured me that counselors were kind, not out to get me or show how inadequate I may be. Finally, he said he would be interested if I wanted to share something of my process with him. It might be better to keep it somewhat separate, but it would be up to me.
We looked at each other then. I saw his kindness. I saw his trust of me, and my own trust of him. "Thank you" was in my mind, and maybe in my eyes, but it didn't come out of my mouth. He smiled and rang the bell.