Regret, distortion, aging, what’s real, going forward

This quote today from Tricycle Daily Dharma resonated with me fiercely today. I’ve been resuming my sitting practice:

One of the main things that happens when you meditate is that regret starts to surface and you start to think about your life. Meditation neutralizes denial after a while and opens up the circuits and things start to flow in, and then you begin to realize that regret is a distortion of what’s real. What’s real is that this is your life, and it happened, and there’s no going back. There’s only altering your attitude and perception about it so that you can go forward.

The author is Lewis Richmond in Aging as a Spiritual Practice.

Regret is about the past. There’s no going back. You can just be here now and move forward.

I would add that forgiving and accepting yourself are important for letting go of past regrets.

But if you talk candidly to older people, I think they have an intimation that there’s something precious and new about growing old. 

But I don’t think anybody would trade their mind. I think that life is cumulative, and if I look at who I was at 35, it’s clear I know more now. I’m a deeper person. I have a deeper appreciation of other people. I’ve just lived a life—a full life. 

There’s some point in your life, early or late, when it hits you that you and everybody else that you care about and love are not going to be here eventually, so now what? That’s the gate. And when you’re at that gate, life changes on you. It has a different coloration. It’s more precious. It’s more serious. You feel a loss of innocence.

A lot of us nowadays will live to be 90, so part of the gate is, “Yeah, I’m getting old and I’ve got a lot of time left, so what am I going to do?” Play golf?

It’s [meditation is] good for knowing what’s real and what isn’t, and that takes time to emerge. There’s a tremendous actual liberation in knowing what’s real, and increasingly you can discern that in situations, through your meditation, “Well, this is just my stuff.” Or, “This is solid. This is real.”

Regret is the ego trying to distort what is unchangeable, and we have various words for how that happens. One of them is denial, which is very powerful. Research shows that it is largely neurological. The neural circuits simply don’t fire. The brain arranges to protect you from the pain; it’s like you literally can’t get there, and you arrange not to get there in terms of remembering, but I think transforming regret into appreciation is one of the main values of meditation.

Daughters, hospitals, trust, relating

I’m sitting in a chair in a hospital. Next to me is my daughter’s boyfriend, P. My daughter, L, is lying on a portable hospital bed with us in this little pre-op cubicle, waiting to go into surgery. The TV is on — cartoons.

L is a nurse, and she’s saying what a good job the nurse here did of putting in her IV. She’s marveling at the paper hospital gown that is more like fabric than paper, that can actually have warm air blown into it should she desire it. I marvel too.

Me? I’m out of my element. I avoid hospitals as much as I can. I’ve dropped stuff off for my daughter at the hospital where she works a few times, but other than those quick visits, it takes something like this to get me into a hospital. (God forbid I should ever need hospital services. I’m planning not to. I’m going to be healthy for a long time and when I’ve used up my full life, I plan to die lucidly, painlessly, and with dignity. Like doctors die.)

I’m watching L and her boyfriend. He’s holding her hand, stroking it. I see how they talk and smile at each other, how they enjoy each other and laugh easily. The affection is palpable. There is trust there, and love.

Now she’s telling me about her anxiety dream last night where they were making her eat little Tupperware containers with little plastic dinosaurs as part of her surgery. She thinks it’s from seeing a commercial about gummy vitamins for grownups.

Now we’re watching Spongebob Squarepants, with subtitles. So unfunny. I know it dates me, but I really like the cartoons from the good ol’ days, like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Bullwinkle, even Popeye.

I ask her to turn the volume down. Silence. Thank you. We listen to the sounds of the hospital. It’s 6:55 am. Bright lights, people doing their jobs, preparing patients for surgery. Anesthesiologist came around to introduce himself, ask questions. Then the OR nurse.

The patient in the next cubicle has been wheeled away to the OR. L is probably next. I tell her I’m scared and ask if she is too. She says yes. I say:

It’s like I have to surrender to a higher power.

Yes. I do. This is out of my hands.

I hug her, my baby, my only child, who wrapped her tiny fingers around my little finger shortly after birth and entered my heart forever. I tell her I love her and kiss her on her cheek. I can’t help but tear up just a little. She tells me:

Don’t make me cry. It’s going to be all right, Mama.

The daughter becomes the mother. I love that.

Now we’re laughing because I told her I have to take a drug test for a temp job. I remind her that the last time I did anything was taking a hit of pot at her birthday party last May. We doubt that will show up on the drug test.

She thinks Spongebob is funny — sometimes.

Now the topic is politics, the GOP war on women. She tells me she encountered this awesome saying:

If the fetus that you fought to save grows up to be gay, would you still fight for its rights?

Then she tells me this is why she watches cartoons.

I’m glad to have this laptop, this blog, to have something to do besides just wait and feel. If I was feeling, it would be anxiety. Okay, it is anxiety.

The surgeon is here now. He’s older, a bit weathered, about my age. I’m relieved. He’s experienced. He’s serious, not jokey. I like that in a surgeon. He tells P and me that he’ll see us in a couple of hours. It’s 7:20.

I hug and kiss her again. The anesthesiologist puts the knock-out drugs into her IV. She says she’s high. Then her eyes close. I kiss her hand. She’s out. They immediately wheel her away. P marvels about her arm going flaccid. He has never seen or experienced the effects of anesthesia before.

P and I are back in the original waiting room, each with our laptops. There’s a TV blaring about rush hour traffic, weather, etc. Early morning programming. It’s now 7:22. I pretty much dislike television. I ask the receptionist if I can turn the volume down. No one is paying attention, and I can’t stand gratuitous noise, especially right now. She gives me the remote, and I turn it down. Yay.

Trust has been a topic on my mind lately, what it takes to trust another person. You can like someone, enjoy them, have compassion for them, and yet just not quite trust them.

Sometimes people withhold essential information about themselves. It’s not that they’re lying. They may have revealed some tender vulnerabilities, while concealing others.

Doesn’t everyone want to trust and be trusted by a select few? To have a safe circle of people with whom you can relax and be yourself? To have at least one person in your life that you can count on and be close to?

People not accustomed to trusting others can do things that hurt, scare, and freak others out. I don’t want to believe they intend this. Not only is building relationships new, sometimes they carry ghosts from past experiences with them.

It seems to me that trust is constantly built with every encounter. It’s a process. Sometimes it’s so deeply ingrained, it’s part of the fabric of relating and makes relating flow easily.

Sometimes a lot of time between encounters is the best medicine when affection exists but trust isn’t there. Trust can sometimes be rebuilt when the people and the timing are right.

Rarely, sadly, people I once was close to have become somebody I used to know because trust left the building. Watch this creative depiction of the pain of that.

 

Forgiving is not about the other. It’s about you and your heart. We talked about forgiving at my 4th way book group last night, about how to forgive. One way that I like is to imagine that you have already forgiven. Keep imagining that and eventually you cross over to the other river. I’m working on that.

I’m upset that what I believe should have been disclosed clearly, cleanly, up front, wasn’t, and I’m working with the best pro I know on unhooking these recent fearful, painful experiences in my own psyche. I want forgiveness and inner peace for myself. I’m ready to move on.

Okay, now I have to get up and move. Going to the cafeteria across the street to get breakfast.

Hospitals don’t have really healthy food. You’d think so, but no. Nothing is organic. Of course, none of the delicious-looking breakfast baked goods are gluten-free. I settle on scrambled eggs, bacon, hash browns, sweetened ice tea. I’m not gonna think too hard about the quality of this food. I’m hungry.

As I walk back across the street to the surgery center, I think,

My daughter’s in that building somewhere, in an operating room, unconscious under general anesthesia, and people I don’t know have cut into her body to make it work better. God give them peak skills. God be with us all.

I eat, sitting next to P. We talk about our hopes and fears.

A nurse calls us to come meet with the surgeon. It’s half an hour sooner than we’ve been told the surgery would take. This makes me feel afraid.

P and I sit in a little cubicle waiting for the surgeon. I tell him how I like that the surgeon was serious. P tells me his dad was a surgeon in Poland who has practiced various forms of medicine, including teaching basic medicine to African villagers and also teaching flight medicine in the U.S.

We both cross our fingers on both hands and look at each other.

Then the surgeon walks briskly toward us. A no-nonsense man. He makes eye contact and immediately says that everything went well.

Whew. Thank you, God.

He explains what he did in layman’s words. I reach out to shake his hand and tell him I prayed. His grip is very strong. His eyes light up, he cracks a bit of a smile, and he says he appreciates the prayer, because it helps. He and P shake hands. P and I go back to the waiting room. L is in recovery and will be perhaps able to go home about noon. It is now 8:57 a.m.

At 9:45, P is called to the front desk. She’s awake enough for one visitor at a time. He goes back to be with her. Then it’s my turn. She is so groggy, and with unstyled hair, no makeup, and her glasses on, she looks about 15.

I hang out with her as she removes an ice bag and fusses with the oxygen feed at her nose. They’ve inflated the paper hospital gown with warm air!

Her speech is slow and slurred, her movements slow and weak. She’s still high as a kite.

She falls back asleep. I hold her hand, images of her at various ages popping into mind. I marvel at how her hair has changed from blonde duck down as an infant to dark thick brown now, at the skinny scabby-kneed tomboy who’s become this smart, likable young woman. I watch her vital signs on the monitor.

She sleeps, snoring lightly. I feel reiki flowing through me into her hand and begin to give reiki consciously, hands intuitively moving to crown, neck, shoulders, chest, heart, abdomen, hands. I stand erect to facilitate the flow. I close my eyes and let this prayer of gratitude and love happen.

I’m given paperwork to read and sign about aftercare. The nurse takes her off oxygen and tells her she can get dressed now. I give her my hand to help her sit up and help her get dressed. There’s some unexpected bleeding; I call the nurse back; she bandages it and says it’s happens about half the time.

She can go home. We leave. Once home, goofball that she is, she makes a video of herself talking so she can later see how fucked up she was.

Life. Change. Growth. Love.

Six great things about making mistakes

For most of my life, I have been afraid of making mistakes. Even the “MBTI Prayers” mentions my type as being perfectionistic:

INFJ: Lord, please help me not to be so perfectionistic! (Did I spell that correctly?)

Yes, I am a good speller, and I am also a fear-based Enneagram type, a Five, somewhat evolved but still a Five.

Fear! Fear! Fear! Boo!

I can poke fun at myself now, but used to, I couldn’t. I was a good child, didn’t make waves, did well in school, was serious and well-behaved, was friendly and funny with my peers — but was isolated, not close to anyone emotionally. I had a lot of fears and doubts and no one to talk to. My fears and doubts kept me from talking to anyone! I feared they wouldn’t understand me and would ridicule me, and I doubted anyone could do or say anything helpful to me. So I didn’t reach out very far. Adolescence was particularly lonely. I was afraid of making mistakes.

My fear of making mistakes meant being tense before I even started something!

Wow. When I think about that now, I can see how I made myself miserable. I robbed myself of the joy of failing, trying again, and doing better. I didn’t understand the learning curve.

By the way, here’s a great video about the learning curve. Watch this baby learn about her body and what she can do, and notice how complex rolling over is, and how she learns to do it:

 

I’m not sure exactly when this happened, but I recently realized some Very Important truths in life that changed my mind about making mistakes:

  • Mistakes are inevitable. Every single person is different from me in values, history, habits, expectations, thought processes, communication styles, emotional make-up, priorities, and so much more. I can’t read minds. Also, I filter things out that I should have paid attention to, had I only known or really understood. I forget, get distracted, am preoccupied, and so on. As the politicians say, mistakes are made.
  • You grow more from making mistakes than you do from perfection. When you do something or see something done perfectly, you and others can appreciate the beauty, elegance, and righteousness of it. Perfection lets us appreciate that someone has reached an ideal. You can reflect on what made it perfect, respect the luck or skill that went into it, and then you store that memory and move on to what’s next.

When you make a mistake, well, there are all kinds of opportunities to develop yourself and grow as a human being:

  1. You get to reflect on your behavior and remember what you were thinking/feeling and (with hindsight) what you were distorting/deleting/generalizing about that led to your mistake. So you know more about your subjective experience and your behavior, and you understand yourself better.
  2. By understanding yourself better, you have an opportunity to develop compassion for yourself. If you can understand how making the mistake really happened, moment by moment, you can have mercy on yourself, be tender toward yourself for your limitations, forgive yourself.
  3. If you can forgive yourself, you can extend that understanding and mercy to other humans who make mistakes (and of course to all sentient beings). Next time you realize you’ve made a mistake, after you’ve held yourself accountable and developed compassion for yourself, think of someone whom you hold a grudge against or judgment about because they made a mistake with you or someone you care about. You can now understand that they had limitations and were doing the best they could at the time. Just like you. You can extend your tenderness and compassion to them. We all live in the human condition.
  4. You have an opportunity to understand how you could have done it better. With hindsight, what could you have done differently that could have resulted in a better outcome? Of course, there’s no way of really knowing what the actual different outcome might be because there are always innumerable variables beyond our control, but you can at least imagine moving in a different and healthier direction, and it can still be soothing to your heart and mind to retroactively right your wrong in your imagination.
  5. You now hold the key to actually doing it better next time. Imagine a similar situation in the future, and see yourself not making that mistake.
  6. Depending on the severity of the mistake and the person you made it with, you may have an opportunity to make amends and reconnect in a healthier way. You may want to talk about what happened, listen, apologize, reset boundaries, and/or make a peace offering. Who knows? They may have something important to tell you. You invite them to understand you better and perhaps to understand themselves (or what they project) better through seeing how you misperceived them. And mostly, you get to spend time valuing each other’s humanity, and that’s a simply awesome way to spend time with people.

There’s still a part of me that doesn’t want to make mistakes, because there’s pain involved. I don’t want to cause anyone pain or suffering. But I can’t let that paralyze me. Intent counts, and it’s more complex than that. This is where the Serenity Prayer comes in:

Mistakes are perhaps the best education available for the heart and the mind when it comes to gaining skill with life. They teach you how to be heart-full and mind-full.

With the attitude that mistakes are inevitable and there for me to learn from, and the recognition that I have learned from them and will continue learning from them, life feels more playful, free, promising, and joyful. I’m moving in the direction of Big Mind and Big Heart. And how much better can it get than that?

What you can do to be happy

This article, 12 Things Happy People Do Differently, lists things you can start doing today to experience more happiness in your life.

Besides the usual suspects like gratitude, optimism, and forgiveness, some tips were unexpected, like this one:

Avoid over-thinking and social comparison. – Comparing yourself to someone else can be poisonous.  If we’re somehow ‘better’ than the person that we’re comparing ourselves to, it gives us an unhealthy sense of superiority.  Our ego inflates – KABOOM – our inner Kanye West comes out!  If we’re ‘worse’ than the person that we’re comparing ourselves to, we usually discredit the hard work that we’ve done and dismiss all the progress that we’ve made.  What I’ve found is that the majority of the time this type of social comparison doesn’t stem from a healthy place.  If you feel called to compare yourself to something, compare yourself to an earlier version of yourself.

I also liked what it said about how just watching kindness in action increases serotonin in those witnessing it as well as in the person performing the kind act. By being kind, not only do you feel better, it’s contagious! 

Nurture social relationships. – The happiest people on the planet are the ones who have deep, meaningful relationships.  Did you know studies show that people’s mortality rates are DOUBLED when they’re lonely?  WHOA!  There’s a warm fuzzy feeling that comes from having an active circle of good friends who you can share your experiences with.  We feel connected and a part of something more meaningful than our lonesome existence.

Thanks to friend Shelley Seale for posting this link on Twitter.