This last spring and summer really sucked. I have been trying to get divorced for more than a year and it dragged on through the fall with lawyers and memos. My kids got caught in the mix and two of them are teenagers and one of them barely spoke to me for a few months. One of my closest friends dumped me, via text no less. And, I moved ninety miles north where I haven’t made that many friends yet, which is why it’s such a bummer that I got myself dumped by my best friend in the new town.
I went on a meditation retreat in July in Brazil and realized that I had a broken heart. I wish the father of my children no ill will and I don’t deserve to have any chucked at me. I love my kids and the cold shoulder is brutal. And why would anyone dump me? I am neither a dumper or a dumpee, but a loyal and loving snack fetcher and coffee sipper on the road trip of life. My closest friends are from high school. I am a keeper. I wept every day during that two weeks of meditation. I prayed that I would be able to forgive the imperfect people who had hurt me so very much. Rotten people.
But then I got home and I didn’t feel any better. In fact, I felt worse. My refrain during the month of August was that I didn’t deserve to be treated the way the people in my life were treating me. No one deserves that kind of treatment. And furthermore, I don’t deserve it especially. Why? Because I try to be nice. I meditate every day and that helps me love and forgive. I’ve been in therapy since Bill Clinton was president. I do yoga not triathlons (meaning that I develop my vulnerability not my invincibility, that I am more perfect than those cardio freaks). Any way you look at it, I work on myself (damn it). How could I live in a world of such meanness, a world inhabited by imperfect people, a world where nasty actions are accepted. Of course, I was hurt. Boo hoo. On a particularly bad day, I cried while swimming laps in the pool, which is completely doable by the way, and goes to show that if you want to wallow in self-pity, you can do it anywhere. The words and stories inside my head helped me organize my life to prevent more hurt. Others are bad. I am good. They say and do mean things to me. Therefore, I need protection.
As time passed, I realized that my reaction to the perfect storm that was my summer had changed what it felt like to be me. Every time I meditated, my attention went to my heart. My chest hurt, as if I had been stabbed. At first, I thought I was feeling a broken heart but then I realized that I my heart had was suffering because I was hanging on to hurt. I wasn’t letting hurt move through me the way water passes through a drain. I was clogging its passage by repeating to myself what had happened and what it meant: everyone had bullied me and my only option was to prevent more hurt, cauterize the wound. In fact, I had grown something like a Teflon plate behind my breastbone in order to cover my own vulnerability.
Without my own tenderness and vulnerability, I am a shell, a Star Wars star trooper in his plastic onesie, a person who speaks her words through a metal converter. The Teflon plate not only the prevented more hurt but it also prevented love and joy from coming into my heart. Not just the big love for my kids or intimate friends, but for the seam of the distant mountains on my early morning bike ride or the feel of the water when I first slip into the swimming pool. By holding onto hurt, I had moved out of the love of the present. No wonder I was miserable. I wasn’t living. I was preventing living. Even if life brings us something we don’t want—divorce, moody teenagers, people who push us away—we not only don’t learn from the situation when we get attached to the hurt, but we cut ourselves off from our own soft centers and in our soft center is our relationship with the day-to-day. Who are we if we aren’t our hearts? And what use are our hearts if they are not in their full vulnerability, taking each event as it comes over the transom.
Separating from the softness and vulnerability in my own heart took me away from others’ sweetness. People looked bad from the view behind the shield of covering my heart. It reminded me a little bit of when I was a teenager and I was embarrassed about my parent’s alcoholism and my own status as a scholarship kid. I was the child of the fascinating parents who didn’t have their lives together. When I covered up that shame in myself, I didn’t get to experience and identify with the same struggle in others. It would have been so nice to sit in my dorm room and have an open and honest conversation with another kid about the shame we shared. And those financial aid forms would have been more fun with a buddy. Instead, I cut myself off from my parents, from own vulnerability and those choices cut me off from the people around me. Holding onto hurt forced me into living in separation and isolation from others. The same thing happened last summer. To cover the heart keeps out the bad buys, but it also keeps out ourselves and all the other good guys.
As I started uncovering my heart again, I realized the worst thing of all. When we hang onto hurt and cling to the idea of ourselves as victims, we put the people who we perceive as hurting us in the role of the attacker. And is anyone ever really attacking another person or trying to hurt another person? I think not. My parents drinking was not directed at me. It’s just what they were doing at the time. Did my friend who dump me do anything to me? No, he has dumped lots of people over his life, including his mother. I was there when the fruit dropped from the tree. It wasn’t directed at me. Holding onto the hurt and believing I was the victim made it hard for me to have compassion for the people I perceived as my attackers. How can I expect my soon-to-be ex husband to sail sweetly through the divorce. Of course he has fears; I do too. That is part of our humanity. So when I moved into my own vulnerability, I found the tenderness of the people that I had rejected by perceiving them as my attackers. And, really, they are all just confused little chickens, just like me. Except for the teenagers who are just up and down and ridiculous. What idiot would take any of that personally? Only someone scared of her own vulnerability.