The Reflex Is A Lonely Child.

Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes…including you.

Anne Lamott

Ah, to be reflective instead of reflexive. To be less affected and more effective. To be mindful that I have a limited amount of fucks to give, and to make sure that the fucks I do give are really, really good ones…

Being reflexive is a knee-jerk reaction. It’s the “pinch, ouch, pinch back” response. Or, in my case, the “Slap! OUCH, FUCK YOU! and I SHALL DESTROY YOU with my arsenal of words until you’re a shuddering, naked and wounded small, tiny animal” response.

But it doesn’t stop there. I withdraw, get cold and calculating and spend my mental free time securing the perimeter, erecting more battlements, filling the moat and pulling up the drawbridge to the fortress around my heart (I know, I know–I warned you of my penchant for using 80’s song lyrics in my posts.) And then, I start looking with my spyglass for a reflexive remedy. Someone, or something else that:

  1. Provides distraction
  2. Is shiny and new and with no visible flaws
  3. Is immediate and pret-a-manger
  4. Numbs the pain! Now! NOW, DAMMIT!!
  5. Feels really super-duper good for _________amount of time
  6. I can use, discard, and go about my day until the pain resurfaces, then, repeat. I become a consumer. A user. Yuck.

I hope all of this rings a bell. I’m grasping here, folks–anyone? Anyone else do this? Yes? Bueller?

Let me ‘splain. I attended a workshop in June called “Awakening Your Inner Healer” with a fantastic mindfulness and meditation instructor named David Ji. (Check him out:  He’s got some really good stuff there.) It was WONDERFUL. Four days of meditation at sunrise on the beach and yoga, twice daily, and plenty of dharma talks on how to heal from the inside out, as well as from the outside in. Not only good work for the clients I serve who are living with HIV and mental illness, but a wonderful experience for my healing. It was beyond valuable. It was like going into the wardrobe and visiting Narnia for four days, which ended up feeling timeless, like I’d always been there, in this centered, loving place. In fact, David Ji sorta kinda reminds me of Aslan…or a hippie-Santa-Jesus…with a dash of snark.

Then it was back to the “real world”, tumbling catty-wompuss out of the wardrobe, past the fur coats and back into the crap that is this thing called “life”…electric word life that means forever, and that’s a mighty long time…(okay, okay, I will stop.) Here’s how it unfolded:

I recommitted to working on strengthening my relationship with my partner. No more needless arguments, only compassionate listening, negotiation, understanding, and living together with an open heart. I recommitted to understanding which crap is mine to deal with and which crap is his to deal with, and focusing solely on mine, and being supportive of him addressing his. I recommitted myself to my job and all its challenges and rewards, feeling less burned out by it, strengthened in my commitment to serve and facilitate healing and thriving for those in my community living with HIV. I committed myself to twice daily meditation, and the continued practice of writing in my journal and blogging here.

The first week was awesome. Crushed it.

Well, screw me for getting an A. Life was like, “Oh, yeah? Feeling cocky? Nice. Here, for your next assignment…”

And in the span of two weeks, I was tempted by the possibility of a major career advancement opportunity, sent in a great resume and cover letter, felt really good about the chance for (at the very least) an interview, and was greeted by…silence; the Ogre of Relationship Strife awoke very hungry and proceeded to pummel (again) what my partner and I are trying to rebuild; a major restructuring of funds in my department occurred which requires me to seriously rethink the counseling strategies and prevention focus I’m doing (and they are working REALLY WELL! WHY??? WHY can’t I have nice things???); a friend attempted suicide and I helped to keep the friend on the phone and talking to me until (thank GOD) help arrived to save his life; my dear sweet cat went in for a regular checkup and came home with the news that he has a “persistent and strongly irregular heart murmur”…

And now, the pain of all that is hitting me today. The last thing I want to do is just sit with it because, well, DUH…who in their right mind would WANT to do that, right? Avoid! Avoid! Exterminate! Run away! Fight or flight!

But, that’s not being “right minded”. When we avoid that “crap”, and when we become “reflexive” instead of “reflective”, we miss the heart of what is happening. We miss an opportunity to notice that we have become hooked, triggered, sucked in. When we reflexively avoid the pain, and we react in the way we always have in the past, we pass on the freedom to choose a different path. When we turn instead to seeking pleasure in order to avoid pain, we think it’s the “right minded thing” to do.

It isn’t. I promise. Here’s what I posted to the group Facebook page from the meditation weekend retreat I went to in June:

“Just logged 32 days of meditating, twice daily. The one thing that is “better” is that I’m not reacting to crap as frequently…I’m being just a teensy weensy bit more reflective instead. But the other thing I’ve noticed is that since I’ve been meditating, the dragon has awakened and he’s like, “oh yeah? oh YEAH? You’re meditating? You’re living more in the moment, eh? Enjoying yourself? Well, not so fast! Let’s throw THIS at you, and THIS! and a little of THAT!”

And I’m trying not to take that personally, just notice, just root myself in the present moment and perform right action from there. And also just notice how difficult it is to just…do…that…and then…just…do…the next thing….and remember it’s all just stuff, not real, not even “reality” per se.

And it’s damned hard. But screw it. I’m doing this mindfulness stuff anyway because I have the freedom to choose something different.”

And because we are not alone, and because no one is immune to crap, a member of the group responded with this wisdom:

“So here’s a tidbit that I shared with David Ji…When I came back from doing my teacher training last Sept with (David Ji)…I felt so well. Mentally, emotionally and physically. Grounded and solid. Had the tools, had the support and was really clear.


Reality hits again. Life happens. It happened hard. Our toddler almost died from a once-off low blood sugar episode that had never happened before nor has happened again. Being an ICU nurse (and the one who found her unresponsive…and being a Vata) it threw me over the edge. Chaos. Throw in the regular “life stuff” of having a marriage, 2 other kids and a job. I derailed.

And I told David Ji my theory: Get us all nice and Zen’d out then send us back home and watch us explode. Like a test. Like “Meditation Survivor.” And, although I said it jokingly to him, there’s a lot of truth and pain behind jokes sometimes. I felt like I was failing.

Kevin…you’re hitting home with every word. It’s the awareness. *Whereas before we may have lived a more “dulled” existence, when you sharpen everything up by being quiet, the clarity often comes at lightning speed. It was happening before too, we just may not have noticed it.

My coping strategy is to “stay in it”. Don’t resist. Because all I’ve ever done is resist. Get me the heck out of here was my mantra. Make it stop. It’s not going to stop. Ever. But it’s to know it WILL not last and there are “gaps” in the crap. And they are so beautiful.

It’s the ebb and flow. And it’s not to get attached to the “crap” or to the “beautiful” but to try to hang in between…as peacefully as possible. (*in bold to emphasize the point here, folks).

Sharing like this is one of the most powerful tools. We are ALL the same. Different details. We are all dealing with it and it is crucial to know we are NEVER alone.

So much love to every one of you!!”

Meditation helps me. Instead of running away from the crap, both literally and figuratively, I sit with it. I don’t sit IN IT, mind you. There’s a difference. I set my timer for fifteen minutes, close my eyes, and allow my mind to rant and rave, fantasize about all manner of possibilities and outcomes, plan and destroy, then go back to my mantra, back to breath, back to this moment…until the mind starts up again with the next onslaught of chatter, and then back to my mantra, back to breath, back to this moment of stillness…and again, and again until the bell rings signaling the end of the meditation.

Somehow in the midst of this mental dance, I become aware that I am dancing. I become aware that I am not the follower of my mind in the dance, but the leader. I am no longer passive. I am active. I can choose to stop dancing and be still, observe, detach and awaken. I become aware that there are “gaps in the crap” as my friend so wisely said above.

It’s in those gaps where I find myself again. I have the freedom to reflect on what is going on, weigh it, measure it, and decide what, if anything, I need to do about it. The Buddhists call it “rooting oneself in the present moment, and then performing the next right action”.

So, I mourn that I didn’t get the interview. I am sad that relationships are often really fucking hard and require a lot of work. I am compassionate toward the part of me who wants to run away, self-medicate, and hide in a fortress. I accept that change and innovation are necessary parts of working in non-profit. I accept that change is the only constant in life, and I accept that change will always suck, always. I am grateful my friend is still here, now surrounded by love and support and healing. I hope he continues to walk with confident steps out of his darkness and towards a lightness. I am grateful that I got hooked, and that I recognized the hooking quicker this time. I forgive myself for acting reflexively to all of this crap, and am grateful that because of meditation, I was able to realize it’s not too late to reflect and sit with crap instead. Most of all, I am grateful for evidence of presence in this life: my loving partner, my awesome job, my dear friends and family–especially my wise Seester, and my dear, sweet and loving Buddha Kitteh Mister Crab, who I hold a little tighter and kiss a little more until he is feeling better. Then, rinse, repeat and start that gratitude list all over again…and above all…breathe.

Then, I come here and write about the crap, and you read it and give me feedback. Which is cool.

It doesn’t fix anything. But, it does make it easier to sift through, and choose what’s really mine to fix and what’s too difficult to handle today. And that makes everything a bit lighter.

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