Post for tomorrow*

I feel anger in the face. It feels like a setting stone, very hard, very unmovable. It’s just below the skin, but it’s visible, like a face through a net curtain at the window. Below that, there’s frustration, and below that, fear. Fear, but not in being afraid of being hurt. When hurt happens, it never feels quite as bad as you expect (except if what hurts, you never expected). Rather, fear of being unable to change, fulfil potential, learn. Fear of making the wrong choice. Fear that I don’t have the strength, that the life I want (‘want’—the certainty I want to be attached to, I suppose) is always just out of reach.

Yesterday (Tuesday) morning, I felt bereft.

Sunday had been a great day—running, socialising, drinking, not really caring. As Pema Chodron might have noted, if she had seen me, I was blunting the edge of the difficulties I was feeling with easiness, alcohol, escape.

Then Monday was hung-over, a day of little achievement, except a good hour or so at the allotment and a bit of editing on the novel (so, some achievement) and then in the evening leaving drinks for a good friend, at a performance of her boyfriend’s short play. Another friend was there. I felt out of place because of her—hardened, uncomfortable—even if I was able to chat, be friendly, ‘normal’. An explanation follows. That night, they carried on for drinks, I went home. It’s easy.

Then the next (Tuesday) morning I felt stiff (from the running, and the alcohol) but also hardened by an anger directed towards this person and the feelings she stirs up in me. I was doing my usual morning writing, putting down on paper why I felt so tired, figuring it out, admitting that it was not the day of drinking or the PhD or anything else that was leaving me weary. It was the incredibly draining anger I was feeling—targeted at her, I first thought—leaving me weary, and all of the concomitant acts that such anger/fear leads to, such as overworking, not listening to the body, drinking too much—although this is very rare these days—ruminating endlessly on bitter tastes. I was writing about this and trying to find a better way to live a life with less of this draining energy, of what to do about this person, of committing to a writerly life, when this popped out of me:  

(ha, what a joke, you don’t live a writerly life, you fucking idiot, you live a nothing kind of life, an amateur in everything without the strength or commitment to become an expert or good at anything, you’re not worth anything…)

I went dumb. Stopped typing-for a few seconds. Stopped in my tracks. Such vitriolic, hateful anger directed at myself. So clearly articulated. I didn’t cry (not straight away; that night, I welled up a little, so sad at the anger I have directed towards myself). And after the initial outburst, I wasn’t that surprised, either. Going back to the questions in Module 1 of 21 Soul, and how other people would characterise me, they’d probably say “you’re too hard on yourself.” I had hardened, absolutely. But this hard?

Where did it come from?
Well, the trigger was falling into bitterness towards this other person. What, in a better light, I see as no more than a personal drama of small matter. (I love the idea of how becoming intimate with fear makes your dramas collapse in on themselves, keeps them tiny. Oh, I so want my dramas to collapse into a never-to-be-rebuilt pile of rubble!). But this personal drama in the present presses on other, deeper, perhaps older, or perhaps just bigger, sore points. That’s something that’s often difficult to remain aware of, while knee-deep in bile. That’s something that a good swim in the sea can wash away, or half-hour nap with my cat curled up for warmth in my armpit, or smelling the flowering rocket on the allotment.

The context is this: I gave a lot of love and support to this friend over the past eighteen months. But she has made decisions to move her life in a different direction and has cut me out. It feels also that she has cut me out of a social group, too, by weaving them around her—if I were to be sore about it, because she is not done taking yet—and leaving me on the outside. That hurts a lot.

I didn’t really want to admit any of this, to anyone. I feel as if I should be older, better than this, that my mooring points in life should be stronger, that I kept my distance, that I can put it in perspective. And you know, I mostly do—when I don’t feel I’ve lost a friend. But it hurts. And so it got stuck again, under the skin, because of the sore points it presses on:

  1. A sense of not belonging in this social group and community
  2. A sense of not having stronger boundaries myself, ‘losing’ that energy ‘spent’ on her
  3. A sense of letting myself down
  4. A sense of letting my close friends down—that they will think poorly of me
  5. A sense of losing a potential lifelong friendship, which I thought I was building

I’ve been full of resentment and anger towards her—or rather, my anger, and these sensations, attached to her. Some of the time. I know it is my responsibility for how I act and feel (and I know I stepped over boundaries, could have been more careful with my own time, love, energy, etc.—but still, it hurts). I know, in probability, it is my anger that widens the wedge.

I don’t see her much now. But when I do, it’s with a particular social group, and her growing friendships in that group, that edge me out, hurt even more. Why not me any more? (Oh, the woeful me!) Essentially it’s because she’s married and the traumas that I helped and supported her through were with how rubbish her marriage was, how trapped she felt, how unfulfilled. That was, her marriage was breaking down. She took a huge amount of support from me, emotional mainly, sometimes spiritual, academic, physical (hugs, etc., walks) but not sexual. She burdened me with a great deal of her stuff: letters, journals, diaries. When her parents came to visit, it was I who helped entertain and balance their energies. (Her father can’t stand her husband.) I thought my soul was deep enough to accept all of this. And maybe it was. That I could really help, love, care for her. Maybe I did. Then she resolved her issues, almost, it seems, overnight, and now gets that support from her husband, as if by magic. She didn’t even tell me this. She just disappeared for a month (and the soreness this disappearance presses upon will become clearer, below). Then a few months later she apologises for disappearing, as if that was enough. I suppose it has to be. And now she just makes tremendous effort with everyone around me, and not me. Seven hundred, eight hundred, nine hundred cuts. More.

I feel used. I saw it coming, too, which makes me feel worse. Not only in the end, much of the way through, I was telling her to go and sort it out, grow, regain her independence and self-esteem, make her choices, talk to her husband. All of which she did. I didn’t realise she’d abandon me too! I thought there would still be room for a close friendship. Apparently not. So, it still hurts—that really hurts. When I see her, my face is stolid. It’s like a nut that won’t crack. The one that gets left in the bowl at Christmas. That’s what it is. I feel pretty bloody rejected. All of that energy I could have given to others. To myself.

How honest can I be here? More. Did I want something to happen with me and this friend? Yes. But not prescriptively a relationship. Not in the predictable terms. I was happy with a close, intimate friendship, and in the end, when I said to her she needed to act, that was my choice, it is what I wanted, told her was all I wanted. It is the loss of that, that I am mourning. I know I am not wholly innocent in the way things played out—I saw her side of things, not her husband’s. I was seen and warned by others for being too close to her. Maybe my judgment was poor. But, still, I am sad that there is not some friendship to come out of it.

Or maybe there is. A friendliness with myself, because of this.

Because what came out of me Tuesday morning, that anger, was directed at myself, not her. It wasn’t only self-beratement for my actions in relation to her. It was much harder. It made me realise, in one very swift sentence, that this anger was something much more personal. It didn’t really belong to her at all. And this anger towards myself, now manifest, is a gift.

It all started to make sense later that evening. I’d spend the day with a stiff face. After a day of being drained I came home, went to bed in the afternoon, then got up, went running, had a great time pushing my body to new limits (although I know, in Buddhist terms, that is ‘exhausting’ the monkey-mind, not ‘taming’ it), socialising with friends at the group, and then in the evening reading Pema Chodron, and suddenly it is making sense. That lots of people feel hardness in and towards themselves. Lots of people, lots of the time. That’s why the practice of loving-kindness towards the self, and others, is so important. “Am I going to make peace, or am I going to war?”

I think this anger is to do with the knowledge of mortality. It could come simply from poor practices of rumination. It comes from a loneliness borne out of isolation and not trusting my own feelings. But mostly it is my battle with meaninglessness. That I am not meaningful or don’t do meaningful things or don’t mean anything: that I am not important.

But in a way, I’m not. As Teresa Brennan says: “When we forget ourselves we live, when we think of ourselves, we die.”

It’s a battle with the social world–looking for meaning for the social self, and being fed up with it. And living in a Western society that does not cultivate loving-kindness at all. At all.

Maitri, it’s called, this philosophy of loving-kindness. I think of May Trees, if there are such things, cherry blossom. And somehow the drama of it (and all the scripts in my head of what I need to say to her, to do in defence of myself, to find voice for my anger), well, it all drops away. My face melts. The skin reattaches to the body, there is no gap there. I feel lighter. I feel compassion towards her. And myself. And the words I wrote this morning in response to that angry outburst now begin to do their work. I wrote them yesterday morning, straight after, figuring it out (about where such anger comes from, how it manifests, what it would feel like not to be angry with oneself, hardened towards oneself). That was an intellectual process. Now, they are beginning to gain emotional and soulful significance. They are working in/on me.

I’ll include a small bit of it here, so this makes sense for any reader:

Where does it comes from?
It doesn’t only come from a source, although my childhood was a typically unsettled one (alcoholic wounded father, now a missing person—hence why someone disappearing on me would be so howlingly painful; and a closed-up, depressed wounded mother; two divorces, insecure financial home-life etc). It is also not the world’s problem that is the source, even as there are myriad problems in the world. Rather the problem is not feeling the emotion, but the model of interpretation. The habit. That is, feeling frustrated is a model for behaviour. Anger is not the sensation; it is how I react to certain situations or sensations that leaves me in anger, acting it. Choosing war.

Is it low self-esteem?
What does this mean? I was writing some of this on the metro on the way home earlier, and a guy sat down next to me with an ‘Overcoming Low Self-Esteem’ book (one of a series. I own a copy of ‘Overcoming Insomnia’! Which, by the way, I did. I hope that guy works it out). In terms of the 21 Soul programme and the three realms of the self, self-esteem feels to me, at least initially, a purely social self concept. It must be, right? Because it’s a measurement, and I don’t feel as if the soul or ecological selves are measured against some yardstick (high, low, about right). For me soul is love, ecology is interrelation. There’s no high or low, no self-esteem issues.

And it’s important to say, in case anyone does read this(!), that I don’t feel I do suffer from self-esteem problems. I believe I have negative thoughts because I struggle with the sensations of isolation in a world dissolving (quoting Alice Walker), of thinking that I am too small to save species from extinction, and, more personally, of going through life with almost no family, and with a deep, sore memory of not being good enough for certain people’s measure of me. But that is no judgement on my soul, and I feel much stronger than in other certain situations (such as caring for animals, such as running, such as teaching, such as writing, with my close friends, many of whom I’ve now known for 20-25 years).

What would it feel like not to feel angry at myself?
It would feel light, easy, that life can be lived, that I’m okay, doing enough, open to people, able to communicate, able to take my time, able to cope with things when they don’t go well, able to respond to people and the world with compassion, able to accept contradictions and to work with them, able to produce work without burden, able to simply enjoy myself producing work. Calmly, peacefully, with compassion for myself and others. This is what mindfulness is aimed at for me. Not to deny this anger, to move beyond it, and to not let it impact on my communities, relationships.

When do I not feel it?
When I am belting out a fast run. When I am making things (gardening, poems, making things with the hands). When I am with animals or thinking about animals (not humans, who inflict incredible suffering on animals). When I am loving or loved. When I am laughing. When I am reading. Writing, some of time (actually, most of the time).

So what to do now?
The aim is not to control emotions. My aim is to grow awareness of my choices, to act to change damaging choices, to use a different script. To deal with anger when it arises in a different way. Compassionately. Accepted. Dissolved. Gently, as a tool for further awareness along the spiritual path. Have a conversation. Read Pema Chodron. Read Jung. Make things. Garden. Run. Write. Deal with things. Gently come back to the experience of your life. Meditate mindfully. Join a community. Don’t simply stand off at the sides. Start things. (I nearly forgot love. To love, care for.)

What do I do in the moments of manifestation of this lack of self-importance (this impotence)? I come gently back to the experience of my life, accept where I am at, accept ‘mistakes,’ but also commit to change, commit to being purposeful, accept the pain and suffering, but don’t add any more to the world, don’t let it compound, and don’t let it stop you from building beautiful relationships or from committing to the saving of the world.

So. I think the reason I’m sharing this is because it’s tied up with resisting the 21 Soul process. I know all about resistance—at least in psychoanalytic terms. I know the theory. Was expecting it. But didn’t see it coming, I suppose. But I’ve definitely been resisting progressing. Using excuses not to engage. Wanting to contribute to the posts of others but also holding back. Some very intense feelings, but mostly baulked, caught in that very thin gap of life between body and world somewhere under the skin, like a sore spot, but covering the whole face. I used to call it a feeling of being sandbagged. Prepared against the flood, it really did feel like this, when I was younger, of my body being full of sand, thick, heavy and immobile. Stuck waiting for the worst.

And that’s how I’ve been for the last week or so. (This friend coming along and sparking off such intense feelings of anger is not the reason, though. It’s the excuse. Or the moment of breaking. As again Pema Chodron puts it, the coming of pain can be a gift, a way of moving past resistance. My friend’s actions may have saved me. She certainly has helped me understand some poor habits of mine in friendships and relationships I certainly won’t be practising again. And without me hardening into any fear of giving to others; just feeling out that giving of care and compassion a little better).

But more than that, the reason I’m sharing this, I guess, is the question that is important here: what was I resisting? What I was resisting was being honest and exposing myself. Was accepting that this is me, anger and all. Anger at myself, and all. Sometimes making poor choices, or perhaps good choices, for the right person, right community. (Because, damn it, I gave a lot of love and support!) That if I really was going to engage with 21 Soul, I’d have to admit this. To myself, and others. I’d have to see myself. And I guess I didn’t want to do that.

No more than that. And no less, either.

One more thing
I knew the right thing to do was to confront that anger, to challenge the angry voice. So I did, and in response to this:

(ha, what a joke, you don’t live a writerly life, you fucking idiot, you live a nothing kind of life, an amateur in everything without the strength or commitment to become an expert or good at anything, you’re not worth anything…)

I wrote this:

You’re wrong. And I love you, even though you act this way. I love you and recognise how much you have been hurt and how much you have reinforced these feelings of being alone and isolated. You’ve been let down by people who should have been looking after you, emotionally as well as materially. You’ve been abandoned by people. But I will not abandon you. Scream and shout, it doesn’t matter. You are not a fucking idiot. You are not without strength and commitment. You are not a joke. You are moving towards the kind of life you want. You have not ruined everything. You are, now, gently and carefully building a life and finding your better self. You may not have found a great deal of happiness (whatever that is) but you are finding more purpose, and finding the things you believe in, and recognising, as you have, this morning, what are the things causing your weariness and holding you back.

And sometimes I slip into the voice of a guardian owl, the same one that appeared when my grandfather died, and that I think will appear to me when/if my missing father dies:

Here I am, says the owl. Here I am for you. The barred owl. The spirit of the dead people who have loved you and whom you have loved. This is how you will know if and when your father has died/is dead. The owl I am will come to you, the hooded owl, or the owl who is afraid. You can do something about this before that moment. Don’t abandon me. But first don’t abandon yourself; if you show yourself love and compassion, then you will be able to do this for others, better. You will be able to stand strong.

I don’t want to cry because in 15-minutes I need to leave and head to the running club and run in a Veterans(!) relay race. (Over 35s, seriously, and I’m a vet?!). So I well up, but don’t let it out. And the voice of anger, it doesn’t go away so easily. The voice is there. Just now, the anger. I was going to close this down and look at the novel, the final few tweaks to do before handing it in to my supervisor. And immediately the voice in my head, oh you don’t care about this, you hate it, this fucking burden… but I stopped it.

So, this: choice. I choose to finish this piece of writing, and to find in it, re-find in it, the things I love and that are important to me. As David Whyte says, I am not an accident, I am invited here to do my work. It is up to me to choose how to do it. War, or peace?

*The post title: I kept the original one, the sense that I could always put off posting this until tomorrow. It’s an honest title.

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2 comments

  1. emilywilkinson

    Beautiful Alex, and again very honest. Just a few thoughts and questions.

    It’s always infuriating when a friend transfers negative emotional energy in this way, and won’t accept ways forward that you might offer. What you describe often happens when someone wants to leave or change a relationship but aren’t courageous enough to end it or relate to their partner differently. I guess what I’m trying to say is that a little of your anger may be justified, but as you eloquently express that can be a double edged sword when it comes back towards us.

    It feels like you are at the edge of making contact with what Steve is calling the higher social self i.e. questioning a lot of existing social structures & patterns (something I am thinking about too, and hope to write about in the next few days). The relationship with your work also seems important, when you ask the question at the end ‘War or peace?’ I would respond by asking you if there is a third way?

    Also, you write about the voice of anger. Is that voice yours? In a technique called Voice Dialogue, people are invited to speak from their inner critic, censor, protector, liberator (etc – the number of voices can go on and on) on the premise that we all have different voices speaking inside us. Some of these voices (like the critic and censor) are not our real voices but the sound of inner dialogues that have developed throughout our conditioning and experiences. It is a great tool for seeing past opposites and polarity.

    These words you write responding to the angry voice are very strong: “You are, now, gently and carefully building a life and finding your better self”. Take heart and be proud of yourself because that gentle, careful rebuilding takes time, will, creativity and guts. Not everybody has the courage, commitment and patience to do that.

    • alex lockwood

      Emily thank you, that’s a lovely response. The Voice Dialogue is new to me as a technique, but makes a lot of sense (perhaps because you articuate so well what it is and for) and makes very clear the difference between inner dialogue and actual voice. That voice… what or which is my voice? Sometimes we listen to the inner dialogue so much the tones and sounds of our actual voice can’t be heard. Thanks for reminding me of that.

      War or peace, or a third way… I will think about that. My initial response, from the gut, is yes: creativity. Which as Schumpeter said, is often destructive first. It’s an interesting question, and one I’ll think about.

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