Like most everyone else, my Dialogic role shifts according to the scenario, circumstance, and how at ease I feel in a given moment. Generally, I am a Follower. Listener to a fault, very much invested in what the person in front of me is saying, what their sharing might feel like for them, and the effect of their shared experience on areas of their lives beyond the immediate. I’ve had to practice extracting myself from conversations that I’ve unconsciously encouraged with social skills that seem like common courtesy. I’ve been a Follower in the general definition, also, a great assistant, supporter behind the scene.
As a classroom art teacher, art teacher to adults in community center, and a recent year-long gig as an artist-in-resident at Baltimore Museum of Art, my Following changed it’s shape. In these environments, my role is to walk with my students or museum guests. I guide to an idea communicated with art. I allow the student or guest to walk ahead a few steps and contemplate independently while I observe from a distance, looking for signs that my assistance is needed, or that a thought has come up. Then we walk together, I ask questions for clarification and to excavate details. I listen, record, walk, follow, watch, reflect and hold.
The hazard of developing the skill of attunement, is that its hard to turn off.
One could argue that the Follower is actually giving the Mover momentum, and without the Follower, the Mover would be talking to the air. I’ve already practiced Standing-By, not investing, perhaps merely overhearing and chiming in once- mostly just watching the talking pass by.
I’m always craving my day to Move- or better, to Oppose! How does a nurturing empath do that?! Getting sick of stupid shit helps. Here’s where I admit that most times I don’t let minor things bother me until there’s a big pile of minor things, so is resentment. Resentment doesn’t need to get into the conversation, it’s just my threshold signal that something needs to be Moved or Opposed -like a boulder on my foot.
This week an opportunity to Move and Oppose came to me. I didn’t just walk up to it and start shoving it, because I’m concerned about feelings in confrontation. My habitual expectation is that no matter how I approach, some form of backlash will put me back in the role of Following. Maybe this has become a self fulfilling prophesy.
With new tools gained from a few weeks of class, I am ready to try afresh. The intended goal takes a terrific amount of sustained focus. Simultaneously holding validity, compassion, air-time for myself and my partner in conflict, all in a container is like lifting a bar bell in my own body weight. My emotions flood in for a moment or two, then I compose, and create another angle to gently apply. It’s beginning to be clear that I’m not a master, though I’ve had a good deal of practice with defensive people.
Spontaneously, the conflict turned a corner -I really can’t recall that tiny nano second. I’d been trying to Move my message clearly and respectfully. I began to think of third party interventions, to walk out, but I think what changed the direction of the conflict was my ultimatum. My point of view is that we really do work with degrees of unspoken ultimatums. You treat me like a friend and you can be my friend. You act thoughtlessly, then I move on. Its sort of the other version of The Golden Rule (particularly for people in my personal sphere). It’s not about passive aggression, it’s about establishing that respect is mutual.
I really think what changed the course of our conflict was that I spoke an ultimatum. Something like, “I thought we were going to be able to talk about this constructively, but it looks like we’re just going in circles. I don’t want to go in circles.” To be honest, I’m sure that’s when I started to cry. Do Movers cry? Hmmm. I really don’t aspire to use that as a technique! In fact, I get mad when tears interfere with my poise.
Whatever that nano-second held, afterwards my partner in conflict became receptive. And then I was really able to Move to risk exposure and be honest. I could see that my words were now being Followed. Could it be that my honestly spoken ultimatum became a container?
Working with Erik on the opportunity to try a new role means getting past the polite speaking quickly, and going right for “the jugular". For me, the “going for the jugular” means allowing myself to be exposed on a personal level for the sake of skill development. As impressed as I am by Erik’s perceptiveness, I am in equal measure squirming at the close attention. That is an “interesting” inner dynamic to witness. Hooray.
I suppose being exposed is a part of Moving, so I allow it a little. I describe the scenario of conflict in which I practice being Not-a-Follower, but initiating a conversation about a conflict. The other word I’ve heard for this is confrontation, I use no names or suggest the relationships of anyone in my semi- revealed story.
Erik asked if I’d had an opportunity to try a new role. I responded that I had, and felt satisfied that even though I might not have filled the new role, I’d seen myself come out of the old one. Transitions take time, and increments of transitions are important to make note of.
I continued to the part where the conflict changed into a sharing and receptive conversation. What made that change happen? I didn’t know exactly, but since I’d been kind of initiating and Moving, I’m pretty sure it was something I’d done. I explained that by that time I’d tried every trick up my sleeve to help the conflict improve. Erick suggested that it must've created the Container of Safety. Looking back after our session, I think it was actually a Container of Realness. How could I have created a Container sooner in the Movement? I have ZERO clues.
That is an honest answer.
So, we backed away form that story and I told a different one about interacting with a cousin who’s political views offend me (and mine offend her, as she makes clear). On one occasion she ranted about the how meaningless the recent Women’s March on Washington was. She’s a happy, powerful woman, no one is telling her what to do with her body, and she’s not giving up her Glock. So why did I feel the need to march because its stupid…My response was that I marched so that she could keep feeling exactly as she does. That there is a danger that soon she may not, if resources are taken away, etc. Then I shared my experience with a resource that has helped countless women, and if I hadn’t been there, I’d have been in chemo by the following year. Erik thought for a moment, and reflected back a similar experience. I think we both simultaneously arrived at the conclusion that speaking to the issue is more effective than speaking to the person. (Like Kate’s “Play the ball, not the man.”)
Erik is really great at listening and picking up on things I might yet be blind to. He inquires with genuine concern and curiosity. I will keep that in mind and practice trusting.
At the near end of our session, we determined that trying on the role of Mover may be a growing edge to check in on for future sessions. When I encounter openings to Move how can I crate a Container sooner, or right away?
Andrew and I needed to go with the flow this week, so we split our session into two parts. They were ideally supposed to be 15 minutes each, but as conversations go, they were twice as long. The benefit of having two sessions was checking in and making a reasonable and interesting goal for Andrew, which was to be a Bystander, not a Mover. WE thought about his week and when he was around people for opportunities to interact. He’s a postman, and therefore on his own most of the day. So we thought of various places where he could essentially hunt for a conversation need of a Bystander.
Another thing I learned about Andrew is that his work schedule is very demanding. Through the week I wondered how he found time to eat dinner and do school work.
Just before our session one, part two, I emailed Andrew to give him kudos on some work he did (he’s n both of my classes). What grad student doesn’t feel the benefit of some praise?
Now we’re on Skype, reviewing posts he’d made about a scenario at work where he Opposed. According to Andrew’s story, his workplace has a lot of regulations and standards that don’t really have weight. Typically, he hears the empty threats of authority and goes on his way, knowing that nothing comes of them. Typically, he is unfazed. However this time, he shared his thought, “Either way, I’m good.” And his supervisor was upset by his ‘insubordination.’ So Andrew and I explored why she might have been upset by his words.
We sorted through his story of the Opposition he practiced with his supervisor. By the way, it was originally his intention be a Bystander, but this situation came up and he found himself in the dynamic of Opposition. How did she react? Was she red in the face and yelling back at you? No, he said. She just threatened to write me up, and that doesn’t do anything.
At Andrew’s office, The US Postal Service, authority is confusing, over used, and too many people seem to have authority. One person might have ten direct supervisors to answer to, and each of those ten have ten more supervisors above them. So on and so on. It sounded to me like a recipe for a lot of pressure from higher ups and stress. So, I borrowed from my coaching to ask Andrew, What would it be like to find common ground with your supervisor the next time she confronts you that way? If you were in her place, all you would want to do is go home and put your feet up- just like you do now, am I right? Andrew considers earnestly, which is great feedback for me that I’m connecting. So how would you interact with her , if you could edit the conversation in your mind? Andrews voice becomes less aloof and more warm, I’d say- and he tries out a couple of phrases. I see empathy happening.
Then he tells me he’s “difficult”, which is an honest admission. He says, “I don’t rally like authority.” And I get to tel him that I’m no good with authority, either. So we compare what we think is over use of authority, and at what point is it bothersome/annoying/provoking. So, it seems like the challenge for Andrew in his work place is to practice Opposing authority without seeming disrespectful and insubordinate- because that won’t get he results he wants. He knows this, I’m just acknowledging it.
I asked him how he felt about he praise I’d given him for his creativity in school this week. He appreciated it. Something I think I understand about Andrew is that praise is good for him, and authority is problematic. I know this feeling first hand, “a problem with authority” doesn’t necessarily mean being openly rude or disobedient. For some, authority is a dark shadow. I think Andrew will perform best when he knows he is doing these exercises for himself, and that his effort will be seen as such.
My meditation practice must start with some kind of movement, even if it’s in the morning. I typically wake up at 6:30, have a cup of coffee, about an hour of Ashtangha and about an hour of meditation. This is on a good day when sleep is good and I’m not distracted. There is a beautiful devotion to Durga, the Mother of Shakthi Goddesses that helps me get into the right space in my mind. Some form of movement is necessary to clean out the mind chatter.
Recently meditation has been difficult because I’m not sleeping well. I start as usual in front of my small altar, sometimes light a candle. I hope to find my root chakra and go from there, sometimes this never happens.
This morning, Tuesday, I was sleepy, but went to the altar. Probably within ten minutes I began slipping into a light doze, but just enough awake that I could watch myself do that. Sometimes rigorous yoga makes me too relaxed. I kept sipping my coffee because it was still hot. Some would say this is not a meditation in the strict definition, but I say it can be. It’s in service to my body while sitting, and I did’t gulp it down without considering it. It was pleasant to “hang” between awake and asleep, sometimes I think I might actually find a new space in my mind- or at least get on a deeply restorative brain wave.
Then I didn’t hear the music. So I made myself sit up and basically asked myself if I was going to meditate or not. (It’s true that doing the same yoga vinyasa each morning is meditative, for sure!! But it also has completely different textures and embodied sensation. I do really like that in Ashtangha the breath carries the movement, and sometimes it’s a lonngg movement. The breathe pumps, rather than sips.) Focusing on my contact with the floor didn’t help, which is usually part of my approach. I skipped that and focused on the inhale coming down like a giant U shape, and then up like an inverted U. I didn’t try to go up past my heart chakra, it’s kind office to stay there instead of ambitiously thought the head and also down through the earth. I need to “see-feel” the breath, this time I did more feeling with imagining because it didn’t quite connect.
I didn’t sit for a full hour, I’ve been too restless to sit for long or even sleep well. I know the purpose isn’t to time myself, it’s to check in. So feeling like sitting any longer would be cross purpose, I just moved on.
During the day I felt some anxiety creeping in, so that means get moving around! I’ve been working on painting my house in small stages for many weeks now. So I listened to the class podcast and an audio for another class while cutting in the edges of my steps with light blue paint. The painting is pretty mindless, so it doesn’t distract me at all. For me, this is good and purposeful- it often helps me picture what I’m hearing, and how much sitting can one do in a day, anyway? I’m accustomed to moving much more through my day, so being able to do both simultaneously is a treat.
I know that yesterday’s prompt was to be in my body, but it didn’t dawn on me, because I’ve used breath as my primary anchor for so long. This morning instead of doing my normal yoga routine and making myself tired and sleepy, I laid on my back and experimented with different arm and leg movements that I could cycle my breath with, while keeping my back firm on the floor. I guess it was a little like Pilates, but I was making it up as I went. A lot of yawning! Which is ether very good for dispelling or a sign of sleepiness. I’m going with the former. I’ve been holding tension and believe that yawning and exhaling are built-in remedies.
While meditating today I didn’t listen to my music because it was so quiet outside- as if I could listen for miles and not hear anything. This is something special when you live in the city.
It seems weird to verbalize what happens during a specific meditation. Something about doing this is making me too analytical while I’m wanting to be curious and accepting. I have various “goals” if you’ll allow me to use that word here, and different things I like to explore. These days, I’m really interested in finding and feeling my Sushumna Nadi, sometimes I get it really clearly and strong. I have’t felt it in several days. It’s like I’m sensing the front of my torso, but I know that it’s actually somewhere closer to my back. It’s interesting to do a “depth charge” of this filament.
Because I practice yoga and meditation, I really know and feel how awesome breath is. I like to just breath consciously for a while before I open my eyes in the morning…its the BEST part of the day. The weather outside is warm and windy. I walked a bit today and found my breath long and my pace was up. My district is pretty commercial and not very pretty, but walking and breathing today was like food.
As far as shifting my place in a struggle…this is a really big topic for me that I could fill pages with. Because of my PTSD, breath is often the first thing to go in a panic attack. Panic attacks don’t come of relational situations, necessarily. So, my primary conflict is fear for being triggered and losing control when I need to be present and accountable for something. Hearing someone say they “expect” something of me, usually lines me up for a future panic attack. I know its my fear of fear, and that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself. But people tend to interpret that like, “Oh it’s only fear, so get over it.” And then wonder why they struggle. It’s because this is an unkind message to oneself. Fear is irrational, it gets in the body. And so, it takes a great deal of practice to bring presence here to break through the cascade of autonomic responses. Anyway, I guess my point here is that breath absolutely does make a difference all the time, but in this scenario, prompting breath really isn’t the best place to focus. I find that feeling my fat on the ground or any other contact points helps me feel solid, worthy and equally vulnerable as everyone else. — For that matter, this is where I also start in conflict with others. Breath is one of many choices to anchor.
I’m hoping that tomorrow’s meditation can block out the running commentary to use for these posts, and that I’ll have some better sleep. Common issues, I know.
This morning I did something different- not intentionally, but maybe it’s a good thing to try another time. While having my coffee I doodled. I bought myself a little spirograph kit and have made a few designs that I decided to embellish while I woke up. (Mornings challenge me). In a sense, this is a meditation, too, especially because of the repetition of loops in a balanced geometry. I outline the pencil and then give the loops layers and dimensional space. It’s quite soothing, and could be a go-to when my anxiety ratchets up.
So no yoga this morning.
My sleep was good, that temperature outside is a perfect, cool, chilly, fresh Spring. We didn’t have any snow, which disappointed me because hibernation is so great. Since it looks like Spring is actually here and it’s not just a warm Winter, I can lean into it. I found out yesterday that the temp is due to La Nina.
There was no resounding emotion- a clarity, a sweetness, maybe optimism. It’s easy to feel gentle when there are birds chirping outside. I remembered the mountains where I used to live, and missed them- sad and yet, comforted.
I’m hungry this time. My posture is clean and Im sitting, always directly on the floor for good contact, with a triangle base- seat and knees. My thoughts gift me away in little trails, but nothing convincing. My spine pops and aligns in a few breaths, a little oxygen fills up small areas in my mind side ribs. Then my belly expands , but my chest tightens and breath shortens. So I allow myself to slouch just a little into normal posture.
My base becomes more solid and heavy, and sinks into a firm cushion sensation. It’s a large cupped hand. I go with it, it supports my back. If only everyone could feel this sensation just once.
I sink lower, the support becomes a pond. This image is one that I’ve had recurrently. The water is moves just a little, it’s up to my shoulder blades. Somehow my arms rest on top of it like a table, but not in actuality.
In Vipassana it’s advised not to be fascinated with imagery because that leads to thinking. In The Kashmir Shivist tradition the imagination serves to access the wiser self, the Shakthi, and even Kundalini . I appreciate the sifting out of thought and thinking that Vipassana teaches- especially for being in the world and knowing the difference between the thought/thinking and the thinker, or the self/Self. After learning other meditation methods that felt juicier, and allowed me to use my strength- imagination- Vipassana is good for beginning the sit, and then I let my body murmur. It’s important to get out of the brain, and in my opinion, to get into the body.
I sat up suddenly and felt that was the end for today. I came right over to my computer to record this and still feel the grounding in my pelvis and lumbar. It’s so great when meditation doesn’t feel like effort..I know that there is no such thing as a bad meditation, but this kind is so great.
Last night as I drifted to sleep I started remembering dreams that I had earlier this week. Driving on a highway with exits that could either take me to a stream on one side, or to an unfamiliar part of town that made me feel upset. After a few rounds on the exits I discovered another lane in the middle. If I timed my speed just right between oncoming cars, I could cross the lanes and go from one side to the other easily. I mention this here not only because my sleep supports my morning meditation, but because it was a similar mind observation. I kind of looked into the window of my sleep thought and discovered a narrative I hadn’t noticed before hand. The only reason I can see that this is related is that when I really do sit, my ability to hang in this middle state is long enough, and I am aware enough to remember my dreams.
Compared to recently past years, my work with emotions isn’t as pronounced on a daily basis. There was a LOT of loss and acceptance then. Meditation and my spiritual development was about burning away what no kept me from healing and expanding.
These days my meditations and basic mantras are “sthira and sukha” - steadiness and ease. Also, just the amazing sound of Om. Nothing can top the meaning of Om in my mind. Occasionally I”m startled to look out of my car window at the cityscape and feel that it’s absolutely sacred. Then I blink and it goes back to plain ol’ Baltimore. But the perspective shift is so encouraging given the amount of fear I cope with. Especially since Baltimore and I have an unfriendly past. i lost my innocence here and vowed to never live here again. And here I am.
On a macro level, meditation cultivates a palpable feeling of worthiness- that I am a child of God (not defining, just knowing the creator is not me), and that all of life is sacred- even my own suffering. I guess this means that my meditation creates a container for me. I’m always building new container for my current challenges. I say, “Grow, Fill Up, Grow, Fill Up.” My study of Buddhism and Hinduism help me understand that “The Pain” is impersonal, like the rest of the human range of emotions. and that we all have the gift of experiencing them as humans. Then I cultivate that while sitting.
On a micro level, meditation gives me tools to ride emotions- grounding, breath, hearing, body scanning and self soothing.
My current growing edge is to nourish myself in a new community where I have yet to meet others who have similar intentions. Particularly in a city that is as harsh as this one, and also triggers my fear like this place does.
Travelled early on Friday, skip
This morning I sat. I pressed my re-set button several times, and ended my mediation feeling basic goodness. I’ve described previous sits and don’t have anything particularly different to add. Each of my mediations have the gamut of breathing, feeling tight chested, sensing contact points, legs falling asleep, ME falling asleep, ——- and I know that’s all useful. I do think of inviting my chakras to light up and that’s very close to thinking instead of being. Eventually, I let go if it doesn’t happen.
I don’t make explicit verbal intentions the way my friends and my yoga teachers do. I think arriving at my altar to sit is enough intention. Ultimately, I just want this space to be friendly to myself- I like “hearing” my organs and bones murmer- it’ like another form of dreaming!
Maybe if I continue to journal about my meditations it will be so normalized that it won’t interfere.
Maybe I will do that!
I’ve grown so much through mediation and therapy and finding more ways to live in my body and reading, and scraped away so much crud, that sometimes I think I’ve become too sensitive and nuanced- ? And maybe that has made me think that I have no blind spots. I admit. Apparently, Virgos have that tendency. To what end do I challenge my thought and when? Opinions and biases. Things I think I need. Narratives that hurt. I don’t think I’ll ever have as much mastery as Eckhart Tolle, because I like a touch of drama. What bar does Ekhart Tolle hang out in, anyway? Does he have three bowel movements a day because his body and mind are free?
I am/We are scaffolded by thought. I do EMDR and keep a figurine of Durga, Goddess of boundaries, lines in the sand, dispelling of illusion, clear communication, and no nonsense. After that, I like to take breaks from thinking about my thoughts. Enter Netflix, books, making things with my hands, playing with my funny cat and dancing like a fool. It gives me balance to acknowledge thinking and then go on because I’m prone to hair splitting and leaving the here and now.
My most recent Buddhist teacher and excellent friend, Cynthia is a master of being. Its frustrating and hilarious- she’s likely to leave a pot on the stove and start a house fire while wandering off and becoming absorbed in something else, just being. Its not ADD or scattering thoughts. She knows she does this and owns it with laughter and an eye roll. She also has a bigger sense of time and space, and it’s evident in her physical ease and centeredness. Her biggest conundrum is managing to just simply be in this world. I told her she needs to live in a mud hut and use shells and pebbles for bartering.
I think I’ve slipped past answering the prompts in some respect. If these questions had come to me two years ago, during a really big life change, I’d have had more concise observations. If the prompts were about applying meditation and mindfulness to healing from trauma, or art making I’d have more emergent discoveries to share. I think I might come across as a verbose know-it-all, who hasn’t shown my work. But this is all genuine to me. I'm honored that you read all of this!