There’s an expression: listening to old tapes. It’s sort of pejorative, referring to the inner thoughts we have that seem to dog us for years on end and keep us tied to our emotional baggage. They’re never fun thoughts, either. No, we don’t dwell upon parental messages like, “I’m proud of you, kid.” Instead, they’re the bad ones like, “You’ll never amount to anything” or “nobody’s going to like you if you act like that.”
Sometimes they’re not anything that someone said, but rather a message that came through their actions. Like my father who ignored me completely – at least that was my experience of it. Being less than seven years old, my ability to understand this was limited, so I assumed, like so many children do, that there must be something rather dull about me. I didn’t notice that he was pretty much ignoring everyone else because he was off in his own world.
Now, after many years of self-examination, I understand that he was simply self-absorbed, wrestling with demons, not ready to be a dad. I know in my head that it wasn’t really about me at all, but my heart hasn’t really grasped that yet. So when I have experiences in which I feel ignored, bang! – that button gets pushed. And instantly I feel very very bad about myself.
Like other people, I do all sorts of things to avoid feeling that way. You know how we avoid stuff – we eat a lot, or obsess over the Internet, or drink too much or exercise compulsively. All to avoid feelings.
So my friend suggested I listen to some old tapes, in order to stop listening to my own old tapes. Huh? But the ones she offered are some old talks by Jack Kornfield from 1992 – on cassette tapes! (She loaned me a cassette player too).
Jack Kornfield is a wonderful Buddhist teacher who talks about settling into the heart in our meditation, not staying up in our heads. And that means allowing feelings to be there, without jumping away from them. Listening to, and examining, the scary stuff.
And knowing that the scary feelings that come up are as impermanent as everything else.
The scary feelings are impermanent too.
So I tried that yesterday. Just sitting with the emotions I usually avoid. It was just beyond awful. It ended up being a horrible day, because I dipped into some pretty nasty core stuff, without running away. I cried and cried and dragged myself through the workday like something from “Night of the Living Dead.” I kept thinking, “Jeez, I thought Kornfield said these feelings would arise and then fall away! What a crackpot!”
But today, I feel great. Not that I think I’m done. But I feel lighter. More free.
So maybe he’s not a crackpot after all. Maybe. But the jury is definitely still out.