That title jumped out while I was flipping through Paul Fleishman’s Cultivating Inner Peace at the end of an endless day. It was day 3 serving as the kitchen manager at a 10 day Vipassana meditation course over the holidays.
Our crew was cooking for 90, and I had been struggling to find the joy in my service. The book follows;
“Some people can successfully avoid the depths of life, but if you try to deepen your feelings of peace, you’ll unearth within yourself and the world profound unpleasantness.”
Now perhaps this line sounds discouraging, but to me it was water in the desert. With a number of sleepless nights and stressful kitchen days under my belt, I had sunk into a quiet pity party for spending my holiday in ceaseless kitchen service.
Those words woke me up though. They called attention back to the fact that being with this unwanted feeling was a skill, and indeed an opportunity to practice.
I was reminded that this experience was exactly my choice, thus making even my dejection an important part of why I was here. I had chosen this as part of a life long commitment to freeing myself of mental and emotional patterns that hold me hostage.
Fleishman goes on to clarify that “sorrowing” is not about wallowing in unnecessary misery. The skill of sorrowing is about the human capacity for integration, for going down into the broken depths and coming up with a “perseverance and hope beyond prediction”.
This ability, he said, is a actually a human attainment.
To illustrate the essential need we have to sorrow he tells a story about a client who did not know how to. This man had had a painful childhood and had so aptly learned to push past it that he overcompensated with what appeared to be a very successful life.
Having become a master at ignoring pain, he didn’t perceive what was happening in the lives of his wife and children around him. He was shocked to find out his daughter had become addicted to drugs and was selling her body to pay for them. When he heard this news his reaction was wild, blaming anger, turning on everyone including his wife, daughter, and the imagined drug dealers with revenge.
In his pure reactiveness he had no capacity to go within and experience the art of sorrowing. Yet to feel his despair would have led him not only to a real understanding of the situation, but also to solutions.
And this brings me to food, kinda.
If I could give one gift to someone struggling with compulsive food behaviors it would be to find a practice that expands your capacity for feeling in a nonjudgmental way. This includes not only unpleasant emotions like anxiety, fear, and sorrow, but also pleasant ones like excitement and joy, both of which can throw us outside of ourselves.
Learning “to stay” and get curious enough to value uncomfortable feelings has been an essential tool in my own healing and for working with others. From my perspective this capacity, is the foundation for any lasting transformation, body-wise or any area of life.
I have been blessed to have had inspired teachers on my journey, and yet none of their collective insight could take root without finding a path to my own wisdom, and for me that’s on the cushion.
“Sitting” has strengthened my mind, in ways I didn’t know were possible. It has (oh so slowly) given me the ability to rewire deep unconscious habits that had always led to pain and given me the possibility of making choices aligned more with long term happiness.
During my last holiday service, the work never did get lighter, but I did. Reminding myself that this service was where I wanted to be for myself and the good of others, made my groggy 5am wake-up and race down to the kitchen, so, so worth it.
How about you? Have you ever stayed with a feeling that felt horrible, only to find it transform? I would love to hear about it, below.