How to Love All of Ourself - the Sweet and the Bitter

Many years ago, on a 10-day silent retreat, I had an insightful experience. While sitting in chilly meditation in a hall with 80 other yogis, someone got up an opened a window. Right away, a flash of anger arose in me, and I started telling myself a story about the entitlement of the man who opened the window. 

Suddenly, my mind paused and I was able to see my anger arising. I had the realization that my anger was not something I could ever completely eradicate. Something in me had been believing that if I practiced meditation enough, I would be able to live anger-free for the rest of my life.

When I realized that I was never going to be able to be free of anger, a well of grief rose up, and I had to go into my room and wail and sob.  I let go of my hidden dream of being free from the "unwholesome" seeds of anger, fear, greed, and delusion. I would never achieve a life of moral perfection.

Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us that when we embrace our "wholesome" seeds (like happiness, kindness, and joy) with mindfulness, it helps them remain in our mind consciousness and allows us to be free from suffering. 

When we embrace our "unwholesome" seed (like anger, jealousy, fear) with mindfulness, the seeds are able to go back into our store consciousness, leaving our mind consciousness free from such unwholesome formations, at least for the time being. 

I find that there is a very subtle distinction between embracing the unwholesome seeds and suppressing them. If we want the seeds to go back into store consciousness and stay out of our mind consciousness, we may be in the territory of suppressing them. So, for me, the distinction between embracing and suppressing lies in the intention for our practice. 

Do I embrace these seeds with a secret hope that they will stop messing up my life and making me cause harm? Or, do I embrace them because I love them equally to my more "wholesome" seeds, like friendliness, love, and joy? Do I love some seeds more than others?

The practice of Focusing has helped me feel into that distinction - because it is more of a felt-sense, and not a thought. Imagine you have lost your dearest pet and are bereft. Suddenly, you see them coming down the road -- how do you feel? You are probably very happy to see them! You can feel that in your body - elation, possibly mixed with curiosity - how are they doing? Are they hurt?

Now imagine you are on the street, on your way to meet a friend to see a movie. Suddenly, you see a young person holding a clipboard ready to stop you and as you for money for the World Wildlife Fund. How does that feel in your body? 

Do we love all of our parts unconditionally and equally? Are we just as willing to love our bitchiness as we are our generosity? This is a challenging practice.

For me, recognizing how some part of me wants to eradicate my anger, jealousy, fear, despair, and other less acceptable parts, has been transformative. Because eradication is impossible. So any energy I spend trying to erase my unwholesome seeds, is wasted and creates more suffering.

Can I love the part of me that doesn't want to share my kids' attention with their Dad?  Or the part of me that avoids spending time with a sick friend? How about the part of me that doesn't want to love any part of me?

To do this practice requires us to remember that every bitter seed is trying to be our own personal super hero. When they see that something might hurt us, they swoop in and try to protect us. Even if we end up hurt or hurting others in the process, these unwholesome seeds are always intending for our well-being.  

Maybe these parts are more like little kids dressed up in super hero costumes. They don't have a lot of sense, but they mean well. Embracing them with unconditional loving mindfulness means seeing their good intentions ("Awww, aren't you sweet trying to help me.") And that is what they (and we) need most. 

Using mindfulness to try to make our unwholesome parts go away doesn't work. I've tried it. That's not unconditional love, and they will know it and resist it. As they say, what we resist, persists.

 In Anne Cushman's new book, The Mama Sutra, she writes about one of our more challenging parts - our fear of death. She says, "The only protection we have for death is that our love is large enough to hold even death in its arms."

And it's like that for me with my bitter seeds. Love - unconditional love-  is the only thing I possess that is large enough to hold my seeds of meanness, anger, and fear. 

David Whyte reminds us that every seed, even anger, deep down IS love:

"Anger is the deepest form of care, for another, for the world, for the self, for a life, for the body, for a family and for all our ideals, all vulnerable and all, possibly about to be hurt. .. the internal living flame of anger always illuminates what we belong to, what we wish to protect and what we are willing to hazard ourselves for." (From CONSOLATIONS: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words)

This Monday, after our sitting and walking meditation, I'll share a guided meditation to get in touch with our bitter seeds and practicing loving them, without trying to get rid of them. 

After that, we will have time to share about our experience in the meditation and with our "unwholesome" seeds. Some questions to consider might be:

* Which parts of yourself to you most identify with?

* Which parts do you dislike and/or deny?

* How does it feel when you notice that you are angry, fearful, or otherwise in an unwholesome place?

* What does it feel like when you can appreciate those parts?