The Emptiness Working Month 3: Rage

Posted on January 15, 2009
Filed Under Breathing practices, Buddhism, elemental work, emptiness, liminal space, Magic, meditation, mystical journeys, Taylor Ellwood | Leave a Comment

Dec 17 We’ve just moved into the new place and I have online connection again. The last half week has been hard. We got moved out quickly and right after it snowed in Portland, which pretty much brings this city to a crashing halt. Mainly though, I’ve been dealing with rage, with anger, and this makes perfect sense to me in context to emptiness, because one of the first emotions I learned to repress was rage. I had to repress it, because I wasn’t really allowed to express it to anyone. And although I eventually did learn to express it, how I’ve expressed it hasn’t always been healthy.

The repression of rage is, I think, what first lead me to emptiness. I pushed my rage down and in pushing it down I also pushed my other emotions down. So I became empty, because emptiness was safer than feeling emotions. And yet that very emptiness was so haunting that I cut myself physically to feel something…it was a catch 22. I wasn’t even really feeling emptiness so much as I was feeling the blockages I created in order to survive on a day by day basis. But feeling those blockages was enough to make me feel emotionally dead and so I cut myself back then to feel. It took me a long time to overcome that addiction to cutting.

The last few days put me on edge because of moving. I felt uprooted. Plus I’ve been dealing with past memories and current emotions in regards to some of my family. So rage has been close to the surface. Yesterday I felt so ready to just snap and I took the day to just get away from people in general. Some alone time to feel emotions, think and work through stuff.

Not surprising some of my thoughts turned to what I’d written about in the last update about emptiness. I thought back to times where I’ve sometimes emotionally led someone on or been less than forthcoming about my emotions and how I felt and realized that everyone, to some degree or another does this. I still felt ashamed though, because I realized just how much I have done the same behaviors that I experienced the last couple of months. It just provides me more motivation to change that to more genuine and authentic communication, because even if that communication hurts at the time, it’s better than the eventual hurt that occurs down the line, which is usually worse because a person feels led on. And truth to tell I’ve experienced both sides of that equation before, but it’s only now that I honestly can say I recognize how hurtful it can be to lead someone on out of fear of displeasing or whatever else motivates the action and how hurt one can feel when one realizes s/he is lead on. It’s that conscious awareness which allows a person to make a genuine change, because you also see the consequences of the actions and can recognize the effect on you and others.

Feeling the rage I’ve felt lately hasn’t been as intimidating as it used to be. It’s something I feel, but I’ve been developing better coping strategies for it. I don’t need to repress it, nor do I need to lash out and so I can find a way to manage it and express it that involves more communication and less reaction.

Dec 18. My mom is visiting for a week. She actually came in last night. I spoke with her at some length about my emptiness working and the feelings I was working through in regards to her and my family in general. It was a productive talk and when I drove home, I started to cry. I just felt something loosen up with me and that wounded child gave vent to some emotions that I hadn’t realized needed that release. I felt less burdened afterwards. I’ll be curious as to the rest of this week and what it brings.

I also got further confirmation that my decision at the end of last month is a good one, i.e. to just hold back from getting too involved with anyone, and focus on the internal work. People come into your life for a reason, I tend to think. Sometimes that reason is to show you what you’re missing right in front of you. or within you, in my case. There’s a part of me tempted to bury myself into a project that already is involving a lot of my time. I know better than to busy myself to avoid feeling something…it’s a classic route to emptiness, but better to feel the pain and let it go then repress it and find it comes back with a vengeance later on.

Dec 19 A lot to write this month. Today my mom was telling me a story about an aunt and I ended up remembering something similar about my step mom. And I felt a surge of rage go through me toward this person who I’ve not see in years. Later tonight, Lupa and I had an argument about some stuff planned out. I was angry with myself for not thinking of her and thought about that pattern of anger as it had manifested over the last couple of weeks. Where does this self-anger come from?

And I meditated tonight and traced it to the root which was, of course, my childhood…remembering how I’d try and do everything as perfect as possible to avoid getting punished or yelled at or shaken. And how when I didn’t do it just right, I’d get angry at myself, as a way to show someone else, usually my step mom, that I knew I had done something wrong and was punishing myself (not that it ever stopped her from punishing me anyway). And that’s the root of my self anger…an attempt to punish myself to avoid punishment from someone else and I felt anger at her all over again. I wanted to shake her, yell at her, tell her what a disappointment and failure she was…all the things I’d been told when I was a child. I wanted to make her feel powerless. I never realized just how much my self-anger, and all of my approaches to anger came from this individual, or how toxic she was in my life until today. And feeling that today…was good, but it also did have me thinking about something I told my therapist: I want to learn how to manage my anger better, so I don’t explode, so I express it safely, so I speak to how I feel, but respect myself and everyone else in how I speak. So I learn how to not repress my anger any longer, but also release it in a way that is ultimately healthy for all involved. I can do this and yes this is part of my challenge with emptiness.

Dec 22nd I found myself thinking about a recent situation and the other person involved in that situation last night. A sense of helplessness filled me, because I realized I had no sense of control or ability to do anything about the situation, except to accept it, and no idea if there would be further interaction with this person at all. Later that night I started re-reading Pema Chodron’s When Things Fall Apart, and the following passage spoke perfectly to how I feel today and felt last night:

“Instructions on mindfulness or emptiness or working with energy all points to the same thing: Being right on the spot nails us right to the point of time and space that we are in. When we stop there and don’t act out, don’t repress, don’t blame it on anyone else, and also don’t blame it on ourselves, then we meet with an open-ended question that has no conceptual answer. We also encounter our heart.”

I do feel right on the spot. And though I feel helpless, I don’t have blame for this person, for asserting boundaries that needed to be asserted. On the other hand, I can’t really blame myself for feeling what I do, because it’s how I feel. So instead I’m in this place where I’m encountering my heart, encountering the emptiness and encountering a place where the only control I have is to let go of any control at all. It’s not an easy place to be.

Dec 25 Due to the Snowpocalpyse I was not able to drop my mom off to the airport today. Instead I saw her one last time for lunch yesterday. We both felt frustrated that we didn’t get to see each other more. This visit went really well and for me ended up bringing some closure to some feelings of anger I’ve held onto for way to long. Being able to talk with her, and tell her about how I felt and listening to her was a release for me. Given that I’m working on anger and its relationship to emptiness her visit came at just the right time and left me feeling more at peace with her myself, a needed feeling right now with the rigors of this emptiness working. Especially in the beginning of the elemental, having these triumphs can make all the difference.

I also, today, decided to finish letting go of someone from my life. I’d mainly kept the connection out of a sense of guilty, which is hardly healthy for either of us. That’s not a reason to stay connected, not for me, and so today I finally felt I could let that guilt and the lingering anger go. I wish peace upon that person and more importantly I wish peace upon myself. I don’t need to continue to weigh myself down with the mistakes I made in that connection. I think the biggest lesson for me today about emptiness is that it is about letting go of whatever is holding you back…

Dec 27 Over the last couple of days I’ve continued to sit with my feelings about being in situations where I’ve felt romantically thwarted, and/or have romantically thwarted someone else. The shame I have felt in the latter case, because of my actions has been quite revealing to me. I ask, “Is this the action of an authentic person?” and the answer I receive is, “No.” Given how I have felt lately, in response to the last couple of months, I feel some empathy for how I may have hurt other people in the past. Nonetheless, as I’ve continued to process these feelings I came across another passage from Pema Chodron which is helping me put these feelings into perspective:

“The very first noble truth of the Buddha points out that suffering is inevitable for human beings as long as we believe that things last – that they don’t disintegrate, that they can be counted on to satisfy our hunger for security”

The attachment to an outcome is, I realize, what has caused me to feel these feelings. I’ve been so focused on the desired result, I forgot about the process. Yet having these feelings, this suffering, brings me back to the process, until I can learn to let go of that attachment to outcome and accept the moment as it manifests, with boundless potential and options waiting, if I am willing to be open to them. I’m still wrestling with my feelings about what’s happened in the last couple months, but I do feel closer to releasing those feelings. They are attachment to a desired outcome which hadn’t occurred. I can’t make it occur as it is, so learning to let go could free me to experience it as it could be.

I’d said the other day that I was letting go of a connection with someone, but today I happened to look through old chat logs and felt such shame go through me again. Shame buried deep within me. That shame relates to my feelings of anger and also to some of what I’ve discussed above. I know feeling this shame is healthy for me, and that at some point I’ll heal from what happened, but even a year later I feel haunted by what I did. Guess that’s another reason to do this emptiness working.

12-28 Today I got some inspiration in the form of a friend who told me how she’d changed a particular behavior by tracing it back to the root of its expression in her body. I thought that was interesting and decided I might do something similar. As you might recall, last month’s title was obsession and I thought I might look at that emotion today in my meditation. Tracing it back inevitably took me to to the feeling of abandonment, and my first memory. I am going to do some more intensive work with that memory to achieve a sense of closure with it, as well as the associated emotions that are rooted in it.

1-1-2009 My new years day involved me realizing that one way I’ve tried to fill my emptiness up has been through sexual activity. Not so much to enjoy sex, but to escape feeling empty. It explains some of my behavior when it comes to how I’ve handled people afterwards, the sometimes stringing along I’ve done has been a discomfort on my part with dealing with the reality of the person, as opposed to what I initially got, which was a temporary escape from feeling empty. When I realized just how much that feeling of emptiness has motivated my behaviors across a wide spectrum of activities, it was hard. Yet it’s a good realization so long as I turn it into something more than just that.

1-5-2009: I’ve been spending the last few days meditating and working through my feelings about sex for escape vs sex for connection. There’s definitely a difference for me in the acts. For escape isn’t about anyone else than me, and mainly me using the sensations to get rid of the emptiness. Sex for connection is about letting the other person in, connecting and being with that person in that moment. Sex for escape doesn’t leave much of a lasting impression…it doesn’t have the same feeling as sex for connection, which does leave an impression. It’s telling I’ve only realized this in the last few days though, because it’s such a hidden part of the emptiness…the underbelly of my desire as it were.

In terms of emptiness and anger, I’ve lately been recognizing that my relationship with anger when I apply anger to myself has involved a lot of punishment, a tendency to turn the anger toward myself as a way of expiating my guilt. Yet that anger doesn’t seem to serve a constructive purpose. The fact that I still feel guilty for what happened a year ago is a dysfunctional process in a way, though on the other hand I suppose it has motivated me to change. Still, at what point does the anger and guilt get let go of?

Today I asked someone, “Please be gentle with me.” And thought sometime later, “I wonder if others thought that with me.” Gentleness, for me, comes from compassion and awareness of suffering…The last couple of weeks of conscious awareness has made me want to be much more gentle with people.

1-8-09 It seems that in one form or another a lesson that seems to be particularly hard for me to learn is one I’m experiencing in different forms and manifestations. The attachment I’ve felt toward a particular result has in one way or another painfully been exposed in terms of the unhealthy aspects of it. I continually find obstacles and in those obstacles painfully see myself and my weaknesses in ways I have never wanted to. Yet in seeing those weaknesses I am given a moment of perspective and clarity about them. Chodron says the following:

“Perhaps there is no solid obstacle except our own need to protect ourselves from being touched. Maybe the only enemy is that we don’t  like the way reality is now and therefore wish it could go away fast. But what we find as practitioners is that nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know…It just keeps returning with new names, forms, and manifestations until we learn whatever it has to teach us about where we are separating ourselves from reality, how we are pulling back instead of opening up, closing down instead of allowing ourselves to experience fully whatever we encounter, without hesitating or retreating into ourselves.” (Chodron 1997, p. 66 from When Things Fall Apart).

I read those words above and I realize rationally that this describes exactly what I’ve been struggling with for the last few months in terms of my relationship to emptiness, to other people, and to the habits I’ve utilized to try and fill myself up. Emotionally I want to rebel again those words and shrink away and yell and pout and whatever else. I recognize emotionally I am too attached. I’ve been reminded of that this very evening in a correspondence with someone. I can clearly see how much of this is an issue of control with myself, a control an attachment to something, and yet I feel helpless in the face of the suffering that this attachment has caused me. I cannot seem to let go of the attachment, even though it causes more suffering. Chodron also said “We are killing the moment by controlling our experience”. To the magician in me this is antithetical, strange, and fearsome. to the human in me, this is something scary to experience, this realization of control and the suffering it causes. For whatever affirmation control seems to give me, I am nonetheless faced as well with the realization that clinging to a desired outcome has lead me to a lot of suffering and even when fulfilled, not nearly as much satisfaction as one might think it would provide. That is such a hard lesson for me to learn is frustrating in itself. I’m reminded of what a friend of mine has said, “I just want it to be over with.” Yet what Chodron writes above is undeniable…it won’t be “over with” until I learn whatever I need to learn from it…and I’ve seen this repeated with various lessons in my life. I’ll get there eventually, when I actually get it.

When a person tells you that s/he understands your suffering, that person is sympathizing. Suffering is not something which is understood. It is experienced. And that experience shapes and sculpts a person in ways that can be considered alchemical. The dross is burned off, purged, and otherwise destroyed. The left over remnants are purified through the rotting putrefaction of the person’s agony. The refinement into alchemical gold is a process which involves a lot of destruction for the rebirth of a new creation, which is refined by all the lessons learned in the process toward that creation. But the suffering is a heavy price to pay for that refinement. I may very well be a “better” person after all this work I do, but sometimes I wonder if the cost is really worth it, and today is one of those days. I can’t say I’ve ever understood anyone else’s suffering, but I have and am suffering and it is an experience I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

1-10-09 The other night I gave vent to grief over really what these last few months have been like for me. I just allowed myself to feel something I needed to release. I didn’t want to be touched by anyone, I didn’t want anyone to give sympathy. I just wanted to feel my anger and grief and suffering from the last few months. The next day I caught myself acting passive aggressive about some stuff and talked about it at length with my therapist. We seemed to agree that the passive aggressiveness boils down to issues of authority with women and not always feeling capable of expressing the need for boundaries or just needs in a way that is straightforward. It’s something I’ve been working on this month and even before that, but it’s good I’m recognizing that the root of my passive aggressive behaviors goes back to what happened with my boundaries never really being respected in my early years. Recognizing all of this gives me hope in terms of changing the behavior…it’s something, though right now, not enough (which is so appropriate to emptiness)

On a different note, in reading the notes on the Star wars wiki about the emperor, and specifically how the emperor approaches anger, the emperor notes that a person must balance anger with intelligence, using the intelligence to control the expression of anger. And sure I see the sociopathic potential with that, but otoh, there’s also something to be said for stepping back from a situation and feeling your anger and then intelligently discussing it. Likely not what he would mean…but I’m not a sith lord.

1-12-09 The quote below is from a character called Darth Plagueis from the Star Wars universe

Tell me what you regard as your greatest strength, so I will know how best to undermine you; tell me of your greatest fear, so I will know which I must force you to face; tell me what you cherish most, so I will know what to take from you; and tell me what you crave, so that I might deny you.

It is, I think, the embodiment of what I might consider the more demanding aspects of emptiness. This month, and the last two months has put me in a place where this quote is so accurate, because it has pushed me to my edge and forced me to really face my fears, while being denied my desires. It’s fitting really that it’s happened, and so fitting that the Emperor has taken such a prominent role in this working.Whenever something has occurred this month or the last couple, I’ve heard his gravelly voice, and felt his hands on my shoulder. He berates, admonishes, threatens, and occasionally praises me, telling me that I am being shaped by all of these experiences and learning not only the power of my emotions, but what it is really like to fully feel them. And of course he’s teaching me something about how to work with the emotional energies in a way which I know will be helpful for a variety of experiments.  All the same reading those words now has really brought home the full force of this emptiness working. This is what I invoked into my life for the last three months and for the next nine months as well, at least to some degree. It isn’t the entirety of emptiness, but it is a big part of it nonetheless.

I do feel Xah in the background. He’s occasionally come up and reminded to go at my own pace and to respect the pace of others as well. He’s teaching me, slowly but surely a lot about pace and what pace means when it comes to interactions with myself and others. His is a much more subtle undercurrent in this emptiness working. He leads me on, a mocking smile on his face, but also the occasional gentle prod.

1-13-09 Talked with a friend today about events that occurred last week. At one point he stopped me and said, “You’re still holding so much anger in. Just let it out and vent.” I realized he was right and just started yelling and venting about what had occurred and how angry I felt over feeling disempowered in the situation I’d been in. He said afterwards that he holds back sometimes as well because of the fire inside him, a fire he noticied in me as well. I am a fiery and passionate person and I do leash my anger around people I’m close to, even when I’m angry at those people, which speaks to the repression cycle. Yet today just venting and letting lose felt really good. It helped that the person I’m angry at wasn’t there, but I wonder how healthy it is to hold back my expression of anger. The repression eventually leads to a volcanic eruption of anger, which certainly isn’t helpful either. Finding a balance point would be helpful. At the beginning of this month, I recognized that rage was going to be the theme of this month and so much has played out in my interaction with this feeling. I feel simultaneously wiser about how I handle anger, and less empowered because I feel that anger and am in a way intimidated by feeling it and expressing it. Given how destructive anger is, I suppose some warieness is wise to feel, but part of me wonders if I’m just running from myself. Given that I wrote at the beginning of this month that I feel less intimidated by my anger, I feel humbled in realizing that this isn’t really the case. The illusions we give ourselves are quickly destroyed in the face of this kind of work.

1-14-09 Sometimes surrender is the best option to take. I have been fighting my feelings of emptiness all my life. this month has embodied that fight with the rage and helplessness I have felt. I was told today that instead of trying to fill my emptiness up, that I should see if that desire to fill it up is the dysfunction. I suppose it’s as clear a message as any this last month. Stop trying to distract yourself. Give in, surrender, submit. That is simultaneously the hardest and easiest act to do. I’ve tried filling up the emptiness. Now I’m just going to give in…surrender, and see what happens. Let go of attachment to what you think you want…or maybe just recognize how much that attachment leads to suffering and ask yourself if it’s worth it. I’m told if you can’t find it within, you won’t find it without. Pretty words, but it doesn’t solve anything for me. It’s easy to offer such words, but the action is mine to take, and giving up, surrendering runs counter to so much of how I lived my life. But if life is a conflict that hurts so much, trying something new can actually be worth it. So…I’m giving up…I just don’t know what I’m giving up…how terrifying. See you next month.

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