Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Learning Calm and Living in Hell

In the Independent Newspaper (I think it's on sunday) they publish an interview with a famous person and at the end ask the person in question to sum themselves up in six words. Mine would probably include (amongst Lucky, Confused, Mother, Grateful) "British" and "Repressed".
Notice "logical" and "coherent" are nowhere to be seen.

I've never really been able to pinpoint what "repressed" means although I know it's something the British are very good at and something with which I live (am I allowed to say "reasonably happily?"). But what IS it? Well....I know where it may have started.

Whenever I or my two sisters as children would make our voice heard in a tone that did not indicate happiness or neutrality, my mother (single mum, stressed out, tired) would rush to the wardrobe, pull down her suitcase, stuff it arbitrarily with whatever came in sight, and shout "right! That's it! I'm leaving!". Or worse: "right -that's it we're all off to live in HERSDEN". Hersden was in fact synonymous with HELL. At least it was from the point of view of three girls under the age of 11. Hersden was the council estate next to our school (no offense to those from council estates). I knew people from there.They were in my classroom with me. They set fire to the maths room and threatened teachers with scalpels. SO the idea of living in Hersden terrified us and lowered our voices of discontent. Feelings were muted. Saying that, as a mother I can now completely relate (at times) to wanting to pack ones bags and disappear - although I think I'd choose somewhere a little more exotic.

I find it interesting that "the word "FEELINGS" has the word "FEEL" incorporated. What's even more interesting is according to the 76th book on parenting that I've read ("Between parent and Child" by Doctor Ginott - mind blowing ad it is valuable, if you are a parent get it)You can't help your feelings.
Feelings of your children are to be acknowledged not ignored,punished, criticized, laughed off or smothered (but reflected). Feelings are ok according to Doctor Ginott. Wow. I guess that must be true of my feelings too.

Recently I bravely calmly (for me) suggested to my angry screaming eight year old daughter/eldest sister to Nina, that she:
a) felt angry and
b) hated her little sister at that moment in time.
(little sister holding the twisting detached tail of a lizard that Melitta had previously found and lovingly captured.)
YES!!!!! She sobbed.
It's ok to feel angry. I used to feel hate towards my sisters too.
She stopped a moment, blinked at me in disbelief and then seemed almost grateful - Like I'd cured her of her guilt.

Whatever you feel is ok. ALL feelings are acceptable (hate, anger, saddness included) not all ACTIONS are acceptable (throwing a wooden block at ones sister's head is a no-no)
Recently a student said "how do you always stay so CALM?" "I don't!" was my reply. Once someone asked the same of Krishnamurti and he replied:
"I don't mind what happens.".
I love that. But how do you go about "not minding what happens?!"
Well, for those of us like me who are a little less zen, here's a step by step process which hopefully over time may become if not natural, then easier.

STEP ONE: Acknowledgement. First we have to acknowledge our feelings.
"I'm feeling angry!"

STEP TWO: Acceptance.
" It's ok. It's allowed." What ever you feel is RIGHT.

STEP THREE: Avoid self-criticism i.e.:
"I'm ALWAYS doing this! God, I'm so depressing! Why do I feel so ANGRY all the time? What's WRONG with me?"

STEP FOUR: As the word suggests, FEEL the feeling. Where do I feel it? Is my chest tight?Hands clenched? Do I feel hot? Cold? Have I blocked the movement of my ribcage as I breathe?

And THEN punch someone (I'm joking - I hope obviously)

And then wait.
Avoid internal dialogue and think kinesthetically.
That's it. It's simple but not easy.
And may be a way out of my personal "repression".

Unfortunately once we've formed an opinion (a judgmental critical internal dialogue)about what we feel , the feeling becomes stronger. Once we observe, acknowledge and accept that mental tension (like physical tension) it can start to dissolve (like a drop of ink in a bath full of water): the tension may remain but it's lost its power to harm. Just like the anger/hatred of my eldest towards her sister existed but failed to cause damage (at least THIS time around).

So to sum up on staying calm:
Acknowledge. Accept. Feel. And if you STILL don't feel calm...well...you know what? It's ok.

Thanks to the Eric Barret work shop I went on this summer I'm coming to the realization that STUFF HAPPENS. I'm not the protagonist. I can't explain it ( go see Eric!) but this too helps.