On Friday afternoon I got an email I'll remember for a long time. It was from someone I barely know; I couldn't identify her in a line-up. But this human being, whose face I will come to know next week when we meet with my director, had gone to great lengths to tell me what a terrible job I was doing in my professional life.
I CC'd my boss on my response to her, a response which relayed how surprised and deflated I felt reading her message and let her know I wished I'd been made aware of her concerns sooner. I was at home when this happened, and close to tears, I called my boss. He had just read the email and was as stunned as I was. A few minutes later we got another email: more aggression, but less intense. I stepped out of this communication briar patch as best I could, and my boss's assistant was left to arrange a meeting for the three of us--me, my boss, and the faceless woman--next week.
This was Friday afternoon. I wouldn't be back at work until Tuesday to talk with my boss and try to straighten this out.
I would have the vast expanse of four nights to "be" with this. Damn It. (and thank god).
Today is Sunday, and so far the weekend has been quite a ride. Anger has been a frequent visitor. Rejection, a familiar voice. Sadness. Exhaustion with a black hole quality. But the sneakiest and most insidious visitor has been Self-Defense. While the other visitors have been pretty noticeable in their comings and goings, Self-Defense has been much more difficult to see clearly, as it scurries around trying to build a capable, professional image that will withstand whatever is going to happen in the meeting next week.
On Friday as I went about my day, mindfulness occasionally woke up to the Self-Defense stories, but aside from occasionally noticing this was happening, it wasn't something I was deeply interested in. Thankfully, this changed when I met these stories on the cushion later that night. Literally every two or three seconds I was lost in Self-Defense, not noticing, lost. Again. Again. Again, I was waking up in the middle of an "I'm okay" story, with no memory of how I'd even gotten there. It was so pronounced--the frequency and insidiousness of it so pronounced--that I really began to watch the process, finally deeply interested. I resolved to keep watching, and I returned again and again to the body and breath to give me a stable place to watch from.
Within this process, an image of myself eventually materialized, but it was different than all the previous self-defense movies I'd been starring in all day. I saw myself punching and kicking and slapping at the air. And something clicked. I could feel Self-Defense happening in my body, and the effort of it was exhausting.
For the rest of that sit when I would find myself approaching or lost in Self-Defense, I would say very gently to myself, "Deanna, put down your hands," and in my mind's eye I would see myself slowly, gently lowering my arms, surrendering, and agreeing to just feel what was happening in me. Each time my arms lowered, my physical body softened on the cushion, awareness became bigger, and sensation and emotion washed in. These brief moments of "lowering the drawbridge" allowed new visitors to enter: Profound Rest, Love, and a Protection that had nothing to do with Self-Defense. In them, and in Acceptance, I had found a Refuge from Self-Defense.
There is more to say about how this meditation experience might apply to next week's meeting, where I will need to defend my professional work and set some interpersonal boundaries. What happened during the sitting meditation was not a happy ending, and I'm still pretty scared.
But for now, I really just wanted to share those few moments of Refuge and Rest with the hopes that it will speak to some part of your image-building experiences and all the pain and exhaustion the process entails.
We are a group that often uses poetry as a way of knowing. Shelley's "Ozymandias" occurred to me as I was thinking of how to share my experience with you, and here it is:
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away
On the cushion Friday night, I ended by sending lovingkindness to myself. In those moments, my wish for safety and protection was more meaningful than it had ever been, and instead of doing the normal round of phrases, I wished for myself, again and again, safety and protection. Inside this wish, a second deep knowing arose. It was like a whisper in the dark. For literary purposes, I'll call it the voice of Ozymandias.
I'm not making this up, even though I can still barely believe it myself, but this voice said, in a very gentle tone, that the only way I'd ever be protected would be through a willingness to lose everything.
Bit by bit, we work for our freedom from the images we have built, and we never know where the inspiration for this work will come from. I will try to remember this next week, when I meet the faceless woman who has done her part to set all this in motion. But now my heart burns, and my throat tightens as I admit that I don't know what's going to happen.