This morning I woke up with that vague, jittery, anxious feeling. It was a sense of something ominous, and I felt it in my body as well as my mind. It was early morning, but still dark outside, and I decided to get up and meditate.
Caught in the midst of these feelings, I am pulled down by any decision–sit on my cushion or sit in the chair (resistance to cushions, judgment about chair), light sage and sweet grass to clear the air yes or no (rote or habitual–without thinking, or “have to”), plug in the space heater or not (open vent, burning electricity)–you get the idea.
I lighted candles, plugged in the space heater, burned sage and sweet grass, and settled into my chocolate-brown faux leather recliner that is also a rocker. With my fleece blanket draped over my feet and lap, and the altar softly glowing from the candlelight, I dropped in to the quiet of the deep hum of the space heater.
Tara Bennett-Goleman’s words (from Emotional Alchemy) floated into my awareness. Sadness, anger, loneliness that many times underlay our mental schemas and emotional triggers. Impatience, cultivated by schemas that demand perfection or fear failure. In this moment, as if I were looking down upon myself, I witnessed the impatience of my parents, each in their own way, passing into me and manifesting out in my actions. I could feel that impatience, and realized close up how I had learned it very well myself. As I child I said (as I am sure many of us do) I will never do That when I grow up. But I mimicked what I saw, what I felt directed towards me. And I didn’t even wait until I was an adult. It quickly became part of my own repertoire of reactions and responses. Over the years, mindfulness and meditation practice have helped me to be more patient. But the patterns of many generations lie deep within us. The work of transforming them is slow. Even now, I see how I don’t give space fully for emergence of what might occur naturally. With myself. With others. Impatience. Anxiety. Still there.
Then something else floated in. Alice Walker wringing the neck of a chicken when she was a child. Sent out to fetch the chicken for her family’s dinner. I can still feel it’s head in the palm of my hand. She said she believes that when a child suffers injury (emotional, mental, physical, spiritual) they go to a faraway place–they leave their own bodies, sometimes for years.
My mind went back to many times of sadness on our small farm outside of Madras, Oregon. The steer, my first pet cow, that my father butchered as I watched. I couldn’t eat the meat. It made me sick to my stomach to think of our pet, now meat on the table for dinner. I could not reconcile that within my seven-year-old brain. The chickens with their heads cut off, the rabbits squealing and then the skin pulled right off of them, the pigs that were sent away. And the gassed puppies. One night, in a gunny sack, wriggling sweet puppies, from the fumes of my dad’s old Studebaker car. We used to sleep in the seat/trunk (the back was cut out) of that car on trips, and I sometimes wondered about the exhaust fumes I could smell. Those puppies. Their soft, plump, lifeless bodies rolled out of the bag and into the dirt hole my dad had dug for them. The night was cold, it was late, but I had to be there. Somehow. Maybe they were the blind Australian sheppard puppies. I don’t quite remember.
Sadness. Sadness. Sadness. And that familiar sick feeling about so many things that went on back then, that I felt in my bones were not right. It all came into me, through me, like the anger and impatience. Even as I was sick about killing animals, I was also fascinated and drawn to watch. Even as I was horrified. Was I an accomplice? To what I experienced as unimaginably horrific acts against animals? And also humans? Several times I have witnessed a deer being shot (I could never bear to shoot one myself, or even pull the trigger of a gun), and wished in a panic in that moment that the deer would escape. But I ate the meat. We survived on that meat. I don’t remember our family ever thanking the animal for giving it’s life. It was game, and part of the plenitude God offered to human beings. That was what we believed.
Still today, as I think about it, it is hard to reconcile. But I am part of a larger human system. The mass slaughter and unthinkable treatment of pigs, chickens and cows could be lessened if we collectively changed our eating habits. But the realist in me says that the troubles are much deeper than just what we choose to eat. Every time a new gadget is developed, like the iPhone or the latest electric car, we plunder resources from the earth and abuse the poor people who harvest for us. Collectively humanity is raping, pillaging, consuming the earth and the beings inhabiting it. We live in huge masses called cities, which necessitate the cultivation and slaughter of plants, animals, minerals, and the land to sustain and entertain us. I don’t know where the hope is. And I am part of this human organism.
Perhaps my soul cries not only because of what I witnessed as a child, but also because I know the killing and suffering goes on and on and on. I have not yet truly reached a place where I understand it.
Yet here I am. And I remember to see the light of the candle glowing in the dark, and the translucence of a hawk feather as morning rays touch it through the window. I feel this body, solid and relaxed. I know there is so much more than killing and death. Bittersweet paradox. There has to be death, or there will be no life. Does there have to be killing? In this question there is a lifetime of exploration.
I know there is compassion in my heart, clear-seeing in my eyes. I have had the good fortune to be supported in cultivating this. Here is the place from which I can be more aware, more present, more able to stay with things as they are–painful as they may be–without slipping away to that faraway place outside of my body. Here in this space I have the capacity to act differently. With patience, clarity, compassion. And owning up to my past, and all pasts, that have led to this very moment. Which is all we have, anyway.
Listening to the cries of the world: the distressed cow in the slaughterhouse, the rabbit’s squeal as it is killed, the malnourished child too hungry to cry at all. Because I am not only the perpetrated upon–I am also the perpetrator. Under the right conditions, we will be each one–both. Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, Please call my by my true names,/ so I can wake up/ and the door of my heart/could be left open,/ the door of compassion. I think it is good to wake up in the morning with a vague, jittery, anxious feeling. It gives me the opportunity to wake up.