Tag Archives: mindfulness in anger

Elimination Meditation

“How’s it going with the brain training?” my furry little imaginary friend asks.

“Umm, okay,” I answer. “I’m meditating every day, but I can’t stop falling asleep in the middle of the practice.”

“Sounds like my kind of workout,” my companion says. She yawns as she arches her back and spreads her tiny toes luxuriously. Then she smacks her lips and smiles. Her black eyes glimmer like glass beads in her charcoal bandit markings.

“Must be tough, being a raccoon,” I say.

“I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty sweet,” she answers. “I nap all day and roam all night. People worship me. It’s delightful.”

“People worship you?” I laugh.

“Of course. That’s why they leave me tributes.” She answers.

“What the hell are you talking about?” I ask.

“You know,” she says, pointing to the garbage can beside me, “tributes. Every household maintains an altar in the back lane. People even leave spontaneous offerings on the sidewalk. They rejoice in me. The spirit to praise The Dark Little Critter strikes everywhere.”

I chuckle.

“Wow,” I say. I am impressed that my imaginary talking raccoon has more colourful delusions than I do.

“Hey, listen,” I add, “can we chat later? I’m kind of occupied.”

I am sitting on the toilet with my leggings scrunched around my ankles and a notebook on my lap.

Critter tilts her head and regards me.

“You don’t look busy,” she says.

“I am,” I say, and heartburn flares in my chest. “I’m fighting with a blog post again. It’s four days late. I have to get this thing out.”

“Well, why don’t you?” she asks.

“I’m trying!” I whine. “I’ve been working on it all week. It’s stuck. There’s this idea that is driving me nuts, and I’m trying to get down but it won’t come out right.”

“Hmm…” Critter says, “but, why are you writing in the bathroom? Is this some kind of metaphorical gesture, like you’re mentally constipated and you’re trying to push the words out?”

I roll my eyes.

“No, it’s not a metaphor. I really have to poop. My husband took the kids out to play, and I was going to write, but then my guts started to groan. I brought my notebook in here to multitask. The kids will be back any minute.”

“Oh,” she answers, “too bad.” Then, she looks quizzical, “Well, why aren’t you pooping? I can smell a turd from eighty paces, and my stink counter isn’t registering a single pebble.”

Suddenly, my throat feels hot and tight.

“You’re right,” I moan, “I can’t even get the pooping done. I have no time, and here I am, completely wasting what little I’ve got.”

Dark Critter scowls.

“Completely wasting? Some people would be grateful to get an audience with a minor deity,” she pouts.

“This is not a spiritual communion!” I snap. “This is you, harassing me. On the shitter.”

“You’re the one who called me,” she huffs, crossing her short arms.

“I did not!” I burst. “You just barged in here and started bragging about your fan club!”

“You can’t blame me for anything!” she shouts, “I’m a figment of YOUR imagination!”

Our eyes lock, narrowed against imminent battle.

Then, my face drops. The Critter’s face softens. She lets her arms flop to the sides of her fuzzy belly and heaves a deep sigh.

“Listen,” she says, “I’m here to help. It wouldn’t matter if you were in the middle of eating toenails on a toadstool with a… toad. When you need me, I’ll be there. Now, silly human, why did you call me?”

My eyes well up.

“Because I can’t do this,” I whisper. “I can’t be a professional writer. I am terrified to monetize this blog. I feel like it isn’t an honest trade because my writing isn’t good enough. I want my words to be sharp and deep and full, but they’re not. They’re muddled, because I’m so muddled. I can’t run a real business, and I’m wasting my family’s resources by trying.” I close my eyes on this, and hot tears spill down my cheeks.

Dark Critter pads softly over to me. She stands on her hind legs and rests her head on my bare knee. I stroke her coarse fur. I can feel the warmth of her body radiate up my arm. Amazingly, I can even feel the pitter-pat of her heart. It raps out a rhythm in double-time with my own. The soft, steady beat makes my blood feel lighter in my veins.

After a moment, she raises her head and catches my eye.

“What do you need right now?” she asks.

This is her magic question. Whenever I answer it, I find my way.

I think for a minute.

“I just need to poop,” I say. “I need to put down my pen, close my eyes, and have the poop, the whole poop, and nothing but the poop.” As I say it, I start to feel better.

The Critter smiles at me and I smile back, and then I do what I need to do.

It is amazing.

As soon as I let go of my desperation, stillness embraces me. My body does its job effortlessly. I realize that at that very moment, it is quietly completing a million processes. Metabolism, digestion, and elimination are all unfolding in a dance of enzymes and tissues that know exactly what to do. There is no pressure for me to intervene or understand the mysteries at all.

I feel amazed and grateful.

Words start to flow in my head like a glacial stream. Out of nowhere, I start to pray.

Dear god, thank you for this poop. Thank you for my body that is so healthy and more intelligent than my mind. Thank you for the food that it has transformed.

Thank you so much for this quiet. Thank you for this break from the kids, and for my husband who steps in when my head is about to explode.

Thank you for this bathroom, the plumbing that makes it so comfortable to do my business, and our home.

Thank you for this weird world where I can find bliss in the fog of my own stench.

And thank you for Dark Critter, who shows me the way.

When I open my eyes, my friendly racoon is gone. My bowels are empty, my blog post is outlined. Even though I have no idea what my readers will think of this story, I know that somehow, everything is going to be alright. Maybe I can link this to an ad for Metamucil, or something.

The Critter and I hope that comfort finds you wherever you need it. And we hope that you trust your inner raccoon (or giant talking gorilla, or whatever you’ve got) to help you let it go.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

Last week, I almost slapped my daughter.

The brutal urge chilled my guts. The image came through crystal clear. It seemed nearly real.

Shaking, I stepped away from my girl. I retreated to my room and paced. My heart raced, but my head was surprisingly clear. I watched myself buzz back and forth, feeling the dust on the carpet as I pounded with my bare feet. I heard the air scrape in and out of my chest like a blacksmith’s bellows.

At the same time, I replayed the awful mental scene in my mind. I felt lightning flash from my belly to the tip of my hand. I heard a brittle crack that brought a sting to my palm. It felt horribly good, as though the hot, tense energy from weeks of escalating frustration was suddenly released.

In my mind’s eye, I saw my girl’s head snap to the side and back. I saw her mouth open, fingers splayed in shock. I watched her little face crumple as she lifted her gaze to mine and raised her hand to touch a red patch blooming at the corner of her mouth. I saw her shrink away from me as a scream began to peal from her throat, so high-pitched it barely made a sound. Then, the noise suddenly swelled, and the piercing wail made my brain tremble.

I couldn’t watch anymore. I came back to myself in my room and looked at my hands. They had almost done The Really Bad Thing, something of which I thought I was incapable.

On seeing the truth that yes, I was indeed capable of striking a child, my first thought was, “I am a monster.”

But luckily, I know better. I can thank a really filthy bout of prenatal and postpartum depression, and the counseling that got me through it, for teaching me how to see through this shattering mental spiral.

Peace and security, knowing that my children are safe in my care and that I can cope with this frustration, comes from peeling back all the layers of the truth. The process is ugly, but it is only by facing the ugliness in my heart and mind that I can deal with it and stop it from lashing out through my hands.

These are the layers that I found:

Truth: I am capable of violence. I am essentially no different than other people – my father who spanked, my mother’s father who went further. We all encounter pain, helplessness, and rage, and we all have a limit beyond which we can lose control.

Truth: I can hurt the people I love. Loving does not shelter us from that possibility; it only makes the consequences more devastating.

Truth: I am responsible for how I handle my fear and rage. No one else can see it, tolerate it, and process it for me.

Truth: Rage can be resolved, but it requires determination. It is uncomfortable and it takes time, energy, and humility.

Truth: It is hard to admit that I need help, but doing so is the only way to save my relationships, my soul, and my life.

As I remembered this, the blood in my face started to cool. My eyes welled up, and I admitted to myself that it had been a hell of a couple of months.

The stress between my daughter and I had reached titanic proportions. She and her baby sister kept taking turns getting sick, each receiving a handful of sleepless nights, while I volleyed, bleary-eyed, between them. This began at the end of January, and is just waning now, in the middle of April.

The big girl and I have been a mess. We both struggle through our mornings, slip-sliding on the slop of our brains. We constantly fall off track and our tempers spew out of nowhere, scalding each other like treacherous geysers. Every breathless, clenched-teeth late arrival to preschool makes both of our hearts sink in shame.

Week after week, the misery has been rising. My big girl’s behaviour has become increasingly defiant and demanding, and she melts down like Fukushima over the tiniest denials and disappointments.

I have been gripping the shreds of my patience desperately, but they keep slipping.  I snap and yell. I keep getting filled with a scorching desire to put my fist through the wall. I keep shoving it back down into the darkness, but it keeps bobbing back up.

The image is so satisfying – a bang of exploding paper and plaster, a white mushroom cloud of dust, a delicious burn in my scraped knuckles and stony-clenched fist – I think I might have been secretly harbouring it, while letting myself think I was letting it go.

Everything came to a head last Thursday morning, when I had finally coaxed, cajoled, threatened and reprimanded the four-year-old into the bathroom. I asked her to open her mouth to let me brush her teeth, and she flopped down onto the floor with the fiercest, “Nooooo-ooo!” that her thin little chest could produce.

My fantasy-self wound up and let loose on her, as though ridding me of all of her infuriating reflexes, throwing all the stress she had caused me back into her face. My punishing-self thought that pain would finally teach her, where firmness and explanation had failed. I thought it would end our war.

My rational self knows that it wouldn’t work, but like many burnt-out parents before me, I felt the destructive compulsion.

Why do these poisonous impulses surface when we experience anger?

I think it’s because violence sells. It gets our attention. Anger has a message for us; something is threatening us and we need to act. If we ignore our anger, it swells into rage. Rage speaks through visceral images and urges. Like a dream, it can access all of our senses and transport us into a vivid scene. It is like a waking nightmare with a warning. Also like a dream, we need to dig deeper into our dark visions to decode their message.

The fury that slashed my brain wasn’t really shouting, “that kid needs her bill slapped ‘round backwards like Daffy Duck.”

It was whispering, “Laurie, you’ve got to do something about your girl’s stress and behaviour. It is pushing you toward violence. You need to change it. Find a way.”

It was a hard truth to take, because I felt overwhelmed and at a loss for a plan. But seeing where our path was leading, all I could say back was, “Hell, no. We are not going there.”

It made my overwhelm and doubt suddenly unimportant. That horrifying view of my darkest potential gave me strength. It opened my eyes and made me determined to choose a better outcome.

The next day, I did some things I had been thinking about for a long time, but kept putting off.

I emailed my daughter’s teachers and admitted we were struggling at home. I asked for their input; were they seeing the same anger and anxiety from her at school?

I had been avoiding asking them. If they said no, I was afraid they would think I was either a neurotic, overreacting parent who saw problems that weren’t there, or worse, a hot-headed, incompetent one who was causing her own problems with her child.

I was afraid they could be right on either count.

If they said yes, it might mean there was more going on with my daughter than typical childhood boundary-pushing, something that needed more attention. Where would I possibly find more attention?

Next, I sat with my husband and told him about my chilling moment, and the email to the school. It made him freeze up, like I knew it would, because he is even more fearful than me of how people see us, and of receiving bad news about our children.

To his credit, even though he was distressed, he didn’t walk away. I eventually managed to reassure him that reaching out for help would gain us information, and possibly resources, that could help our family.

We are moving forward.

What I learned from that Dickensian vision of my darkest potential is that I need to get over my self-consciousness and find concrete answers for my girl. If that means revealing my imperfection to her teachers, so be it.

Perhaps, though, with them seeing me come panting into the class with her, late, day after sweaty, grimacing day, I think that particular cat may have already left the bag.

Of course, this blog is out there, too, proving to the interwebs that I am a messed-up mom. I don’t mind, though. I know I am going to do something productive with this mess.

And I trust you all to take my stories and see the truth, that there is strength and hope for you, too, in your darkest, most honest moments.

Don’t be afraid of the dark; see it, hear it, and take care of it.