Reflections by Jerry Webber

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Difficult Struggle of Noticing My-Self

I've had a couple of sleepless nights this week . . . and that's not a good thing on several levels. For one, it means that the next day is going to be long and exhausting. The upside is that the next night I'm almost assured of sleeping through the night.

But when I lay in bed sleepless, I also have a tendency to pick apart some of the people and situations around me. I'm not talking about the kind of racing mind that comes when I'm on chemotherapy and steroids -- that's crazy and crazy-making! -- and my mind won't stop running at full speed in circles.

This week I've laid in bed for hours at a time to a running inner commentary recounting hurts and slights and personal injustices . . . giving interior angry speeches and making silent ultimatums. It's crazy-making in its own way.

I had enough snap to realize that some of the events and situations were not intended to hurt me, and in fact many were not hurtful . . . until I started on the inner commentary and began stacking up the injustices, replaying them one by one, inviting each one to live angrily within me.

It became apparent to me that for the most part, the events of my life are not what hurt me. Sure there are some hurtful things that happen to me and to all of us. I'm not going to diminish those. But I am far more susceptible to the hurt or pain caused by my reactions to those events. These responses, what I've called the "inner commentary," are what send me into a spiral and drive me toward anger and ultimatums.

In a sense, I realize this or that event did not hurt me nearly as much as my reaction/response to them did.

So how do I parse out the actual event from my reaction (and the inner, emotional commentary that follows) to it?

It's not easy. We consider ourselves to be "thinking" creatures and we get a lot of energy from being people who think about things. Culturally we buy into the notion that, "I think, therefore I am." That is, our very essence is tied to our ability to think about things, to reason and consider and reflect.

But most great religious traditions, including Christianity, find that kind of thinking and emotional commentary to be damaging and stunting. In fact, in the Christian contemplative tradition, there are prayer forms that specifically address this kind of spiraled thinking.

Christian meditation, whether on the Scriptures or with a prayer word, is intended to give us a different field in which to reflect. Rather than narrow us down to the tight and closed world of our imagined hurts, it opens us to a wider world in which we (and our emotional commentaries) are not at the center.

And Centering Prayer gives us a specific method for allowing these commentaries entrance into our awareness, but then letting them go. During the silent prayer we do not set up a mental road-block, trying to stop the thoughts from coming into our awareness. We allow them to come, but then let them go just as quickly as they came. We let them go by use of a prayer-word which is a way of returning to the "center" when we notice that we have wandered away into our emotional commentaries, thoughts and distractions. As often as we need to use the prayer word to let go of the commentaries, we use it. This process of acknowledging, then letting go of the thoughts and commentaries is not reserved only for the quiet of the prayer time. Over time it becomes the way we deal with the thought patterns that arise in daily life. We receive the thoughts and then let them go; receive and release; receive and release.

This week it was helpful for me to distinguish between the actual life events and my commentary around them. They really were distinct and separate, and as much as I tried to tie them together (and wanted my commentary to settle me into anger!), I could not escape that they were separate.

Life happens. And my reaction to life happens.

I often have no control over life as it happens.

I most always have some say, though, about my response to life as it happens. As I gain awareness of my sometimes-cancerous response to life, and as I open myself more honestly to releasing it, I'm also more open to the good work of mercy and generosity that God is shaping inside me.

It gives me hope . . . and hope for all of us.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Very well said. And so very true as it has been on my slow journey to awareness also.
Blessings fellow traveller!