This was what I felt needed to be said during a retreat I led this past weekend:
It’s a difficult weekend. There have been tragedies in our world. Some of us may be feeling angry, sad, confused. All of these feelings are allowed to be here.
One way I sometimes tend to react to tragedy is to immerse myself in information: TV coverage, Twitter, all the articles my friends are sharing on Facebook. A friend wrote to me that he’s been rewatching the news coverage of the Paris attacks over and over, and it’s echoing for him the way he reacted to 9/11. I'm not sure it's possible to avoid this association, this remembrance, because it's here already at least for me, so I'm not going to try.
I remember being 14 and obsessively watching the 9/11 news coverage as so many of us did, trying to make sense of what was happening, trying to get rid of the confusion.
I remember I was overwhelmed by sadness. I had a doctor who was kind of a mentor to me, and I emailed him, asking him what I should do with my sadness. How could I stop feeling so sad? (I recognize now how rare this is--to have a medical doctor who is not a mental health specialist who you can email with questions about things like sadness.)
He suggested I turn off the TV, take a box, put objects in it that represented my sadness, and put the box in a closet.
So I did. I turned off the TV. I took an old shoebox and put in some pennies, a little elephant figurine, a folded up tissue, a seashell. I named them all sadness and put them in the box, and put the box in my closet.
Strangely, it helped. It didn’t make my sadness go away, but it felt more manageable, and not as unwieldy. I don’t think it was the process of putting the box away in the closet. I think it was the process of naming sadness, of touching it, holding it in my hands, in my body, being with it. It was real. It was something I could be familiar with. And it wasn’t dangerous--it was safe to hold this feeling.
I think that our meditation practice can give us something similar. It gives us permission to name what’s here, to hold it, to touch it; it gives us the ability to see what we are capable of holding in our hearts. It teaches us to be kind to our experience in this way--to give our experience the caring attention that we might give to a friend. We can see that it is not an enemy.
So as today continues to unfold, let's continue to bring this caring, kind attitude towards anything that arises in our body, heart, and mind.
Image source here.