The storm inside me started with two recycling bins, a trashcan and a compost container. My husband had just returned from three days away and I was coming in the door from a 12 hour day of teaching yoga and running our studio. My expectation was of a romantic embrace and a cast-our-cares-of-the-world-to-the-wind kind of evening. I was met with a kiss – and the overflowing trash containers that I had neglected while left in charge of our home. There they were out on the kitchen floor, and to my chagrin, there were several containers of rotting food that he had removed from the fridge and set out next to the sink.
In that moment I felt the heat and disturbance of an emotional cocktail rising in me, shutting off the peaceful, compassionate part of my brain that had been open in the yoga studio all day. Instantly a switch, like the routing mechanism on a canal, flipped. The neural pathways so deeply carved and habitually etched over time opened wide, allowing anger, frustration, shame and resentment to wash my brain and flood into my bloodstream. My reaction was defensive, ugly and far beyond “appropriate.”
All my husband wanted was for me to simply, and with no underlying sense of being “bad” or “wrong,” own up to the fact that I hadn’t done the things I’d said I’d do, the things that make him feel loved, cared for and respected.
Being a yogini, I was curious and aware enough to know that if I brought awareness to the trigger point, a whole new way of being could open up. Freedom and relaxation were there – but I had to be willing to look. Tell the truth and look it in the eye.
I started a deep inquiry with myself. I observed. I went as far as I could to the root of my reaction. I was desperately curious to feel into and discover the trigger point – because I knew it wasn’t just the trash. For me what was at stake was my freedom from causing myself harm and others harm around me. What was at stake was being able to have a healthy peaceful relationship with my husband where being called out didn’t send me into a tailspin. I wanted, like most of us, more calm and less anxiety in my life. Here are the layers and insights that surfaced as I deepened my inquiry:
– Layer 1: Defensiveness. I had lots of “legitimate reasons” and excuses for why I didn’t do the chores. But my husband didn’t care about that.
– Layer 2: Shame. Then I saw a more raw and painful place inside me. I felt embarrassed and ashamed. I ‘fessed up that I felt badly about not doing the chores. About being lazy, slovenly, irresponsible…the judge in my head was holding full court and it got dark and ugly. I truly believed, in this shadowy place, that I was a “bad” person. I felt anger close by.
– Layer 3: Fear. Where was all this self-directed negativity coming from, I wondered? In me, a fairly self-confident and assured person? Be willing to really tell the raw truth, I told myself. Here I found pent up emotion – sadness, fear, and terror. Some part of me was terrified! Tears began to well up.
– Layer 4: Ugly Gremlin. When I asked myself in the most vulnerable and direct way, what it was I was terrified of, a surprising answer bubbled up: I am an imposter, a hypocrite. The part of me that has been so stellar and achieved so much in my life is a fraud. If anyone could see the real me, they would discover a shriveled up incompetent, not-enough, doesn’t belong here gremlin (I had a mental picture of a piece of over-chewed gum – all grey and rubbery and mangled). That, a part of me told me, is what is at the heart of you.
– Layer 5: Whoa, Freedom! Joy! BREAKTHROUGH! Then another part of myself called bullsh*t on the gremlin. But I’d been to this layer before and had experienced only frustration. I’d tried to eradicate this part of myself. Silence it with meditation. Ignore it. Override it in the moment. That never worked. Then I tried loving it and living with it, like an unwelcome passenger that I’d come to accept was going to be along for the ride. But always my relief was temporary and the gremlin returned, running me when I wasn’t looking. I’m I supposed to live with these two sides always, I wondered? Why do we have this gremlin inside of us anyway? Are we born with it or do we develop it as we grow up. I thought about the biblical fall from grace and how Don Miguel Ruiz, one of my favorite spiritual teachers explains the fall as a forgetting, a moment where we humans started to believe this little lair gremlin was the truth. And then I had a stroke of insight – one of those “AHA Moments.” The gremlin wasn’t just a liar. That the gremlin exists at all is a lie! A complete lie! I don’t have to deal with it, love it, placate it, kill it, no! That just gives it energy to be. All I have to do is remember that it doesn’t exist at all! There is no liar! And then and there I felt free.
I recalled a biblical teaching in which God says we cannot serve two masters. Often he is talking about golden calves or material objects or human idols versus a spiritual God. But here in this moment I saw this teaching in a new light. What if God meant also that when we serve the Liar and the Light at the same time, vacillating between the two, we can’t be free? Once we gain awareness enough to realize that the Liar itself is a lie – we have only one master to serve – the Light of Love and we are free.
That reminded me of a Native American story about two wolves inside us. I went and looked it up online and this is what I found:
“An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”
I like to add to this story now. I see one wolf that is just a ghostly imagined wolf, who comes to life when I believe he’s real, and another that is real, with a huge heart and smiling eyes, gentle paws and soft fur that I can bury my face in and smile.
Are you afraid that those around you will discover the real truth about you? That there’s a frail, pallid source at the heart of you? Are you defending against that in your actions in the world? What would happen if you just opened up and let everyone in to see the heart of you? What if what they found instead was infinitely beautiful and powerful?
How would all of our lives shift if we lived from this place?
The funny thing is, when I went back to my husband and said, “I’m sorry” for not taking care of the household chores, it no longer held a charge for me. It didn’t tweak me out at all. What I felt instead was a solid core of me inside that of course knew that just because I was out of integrity with what I’d said I’d do, I was most definitely a fine – no, magnificent – being. This is what it feels like to hear someone say something insulting and mean and simply be calm in hearing it. No reacting. No triggering, I thought. This is what it is to live at the calm and peaceful center of myself so that I can choose my actions instead of unconsciously reacting. And it felt good. Really, really good.
I’ve learned over time that these breakthrough’s and insights have to be practiced to take hold. So this is now part of my daily practice – on and off my mat. I invite you to practice too.