The Bad Guy

A friend of mine told me once he realized his internal suffering was ‘helped’ by letting his  super-ego, a destructive inner critic, dominate his inner landscape. This critical voice loved to point out every error, lapse in judgement or faux pas that my friend ever made.  My friend calls it “The Bad Guy” or B.G.

My friend said that when he beats up on himself, it’s really the Bad Guy voice that is running the show.  His B.G. voice says, “You made a mistake. You are at fault. You should feel crummy. You always mess up. Feel bad about yourself. Blah blah blah blah.”

Until he creates a distance from the negative thinking, my friend found that he couldn’t question the truthfulness of Bad Guy’s voice.  But once he was not triggered by this stream of negativity, he became aware that B.G. doesn’t give objective or constructive information. The critical persona is only capable of judgements. B.G. has no investment in whether we feel bad or want to improve ourselves.

 

I was thinking yesterday about my friend telling me this story, and thinking “My god, that is so right!” How many times have I gone down the path of feeling bad for past mistakes, without looking at my own Bad Guy sending these messages. Feeling bad happens and I step kick towards doom and gloom overwhelmed with feeling and unaware of choices.

Someone might be disappointed, or displeased with me… or worse yet– I imagine they won’t love me. As an adult I can logically figure out a solution, but a younger me didn’t have that skill set. This dread-filled feeling filled my psyche. I would be in a panic– feeling like I was going to die– before any facts or objective information regarding the situation could be investigated. I believe it is called being “limbic”– separated from the reasoning of  higher functioning cerebral cortex. It may have been in my best interests when I was young to imagine the worst case scenario to prepare for the unexpected. However, there isn’t an ‘off’ button. Bad Guy can rule, if I am not vigilant.

Terrance, my husband, has been a meditator for about thirty years. He reminds me that there is nowhere to go “fix” these feelings when they arise. I hate that. No, Terrance says, try to sit still. Breathe. Just get close to the negativity, without joining B.G.’s rap. Nothing bad will happen, he says.

But, there are icky feelings, the hard and lumpy feelings, the panicky stuff, and general awkwardness. I don’t want to get close to any of this. I feel sick to my stomach. I feel heavy and dense and my breathing feels constricted. The truth is I am flooded with resistance. I don’t see how this will help. I’d like to take a toke and haze out on Netflix instead.

Since Terrance and I have been together, we have had many conversations about meditation. I am not against it, but I feel like I got the meditation mug, ashtray, and bumper sticker in the sixties and seventies. I work at being mindful through other modalities: drumming, Sufi dance, TaKeTiNa, yoga, and free-form dance and sometimes, meditation.

 

When we talk about meditation, I find that I am defending my right to work with mindfulness/awareness practices the way I do. Sometimes, I am just resisting the lure of the cushion –just as I avoid feeling my feeling the energy that is Bad Guy. I feel like a cat in a paper bag, fighting to get out. Or is it in? Doesn’t seem to matter because I am not going anywhere.

So just for today I will try it.  I will sit down and be quiet. Here goes. Sitting. Breathing.

 

Uh-oh.  My mind is buzzing. My stomach feels upset.

What is it? It’s an icky feeling.

 

What color is it? What shape? Puce green and the size of a football located bright around my heart center.

 

This is ridiculous. Inner critic.

 

Breathe. Breathe in, breathe out. Let it go.

 

I just remembered: there is a phone call that I have to make.  Restless. I want to get up from my seat. I will stay for now and call later.

 

Stay. Sit. Breathe again.

 

What am I feeling? Where am I? I just nodded off for a minute.  I noticed I am thinking about the conversation I had with my girlfriend yesterday.  Come back.

 

Breathe. In and out. In and out.

 

And then I notice that the football is slightly smaller. There is more relaxation in my gut. The edges of yuckiness don’t feel as pervasive.

 

Off again–day dreaming about seeing a movie.

 

The Bad Guy is definitely in the room. I am not breathing fully, I am aware of his critical vibe. Familiar triggering thoughts begin trickling in. The memory of a negative conversation and guilty feeling arise simultaneously. I said, they said.

 

Back to the breath again.

 

Hmmm. What is this bad feeling? Is it really true? Will it matter if I sit here? Breathe.

 

I notice the tension around my ribcage beginning to relax.

 

This time perhaps I can let a provocative thought go by, instead of following it.

 

Oops.

Thinking, thinking.

 

I feel my butt on the cushion. I straighten up again.

 

The story is wafting around but I am not denying or embellishing it, just sitting. Breathing.

My panic is starting to ease. My breathing becomes fuller. My attention is on the inhalation and exhalation. I relax a little more. I can feel the animal-ness of myself breathing.

 

Then another thought: remembering breathing in yoga class. Return to the room, the breath, my body. Slumping. Straighten again. Cramp in my calf.

 

Breathing.

 

Distractions continue. Nanosecond shifts–this and that. I drift away from following my breath. Moments of being embodied for a half-second or more.

I notice that I am feeling neutral. Not triggered and not vacant.

 

All of a sudden, the bell rings. Time is up.

 

Nothing bad has happened. I do feel more expansive, especially in my gut and my ribs. I open my eyes and stretch.  I notice that I still feel like I have to “do’ something, but the urgency is gone. There really is nothing to do, except to notice. I can breathe. Hmm.

 
And I notice this: the Bad Guy is still here, but he is drinking a mai-tai and chillaxing at the pool. He has nothing to say, and he raises an eyebrow and lifts his glass in a salute.

Silent Retreat of August 2014

Silent Retreat of August 2014

I have been attending a silent meditation retreat all this week. There is no outward speech, but by no means is it silent.

When Jesus got together with his disciples he said, “Whenever two or more are gathered in My name there is…”  The end of the sentence should have said , “there is disagreement,  doubt, fear, animosity, and lots of projection.”  I am right and you, (whoever you are,) are wrong.  And in retreat, not one of you says a word!

In silence with others you see the contents of your garbage-y mind. You begin by being unaware that you are commenting about everything and everyone.  The background mutterance (barely detected), contains all your continuing assessments and judgements.

A week of silence is a whole week where you look at and own your inner crap you project onto others (and yourself) every minute of every day. All the time. Constantly.

You might be the kind of person who placates, ameliorates, ingratiates– a beta dog crawling around on your stomach. “Don’t reject me, don’t hurt me. Please,” with a winsome, winning, smiley whine. In silence, this behavior is more visible, and harder to bear.
Or, possibly, you are the kind of person who ‘judges unto others’.  You might implode instead. ’God, these people are so weird. Look, this guy is taking up all the cushion space! He breathes so loud when he meditates! Sheesh! Some people!’

If you are not rendering the verdict or punishing yourself, you are mentally flipping someone else the bird.

In silence, in a retreat, you get to see every one of these moment to moment judgements, thoughts and boy, oh, boy. mmm. Some are quite astounding. And with no speaking, they lay where they lay. In your mind, not on others.
For example, I see this woman and just by what she wears I type her in less than two seconds. Wealthy, divorced, conservative.Even though we are on retreat, she is wearing Eileen Fisher quality, beautiful haircut. I have her pegged. Marin, or San Francisco. Or Santa Fe.
Then just before she eats her food, she bows her head. A softening of her face, and a long moment passes before she picks up her fork to eat. The projection I have held of her is blown.

 I may have been right about all the externals. I might be right that she is privileged and monied. That simple act of grace and bowing before she ate made those judgements irrelevant.

But maybe that is a projection, too. It’s a hall of mirrors guys.

As someone new walks by, the radar says: Straight or gay? Married or single? Holy or holier than thou? If I like them, I smile. If I  don’t like them, I imagine that they don’t like me. I wonder if I did something wrong. I cringe.
And how would I know the meaning of any of these projections anyway? It’s a moment by moment play of how my mind sees, filters, imagines, and daydreams.
And this is going on all day, every day, as the cast of characters at the retreat walk about on the conference center grounds, in silence.
It is as Rinpoche says,  “See the monkey mind, doing what it does.”

There are also my inner projections: “This was smart, that was dumb,” cringing with self- loathing at the ineptitude of this being called me.
Or … congratulating myself for being brilliant, insightful, having special effects like kriyas, or bliss bombs showering all over me and up and down my spine.  This means I must be very highly evolved. Or it just may be that my kundalini is out of whack and needs reé´alignment and I have gas.  Who knows what it means? You sit and see all of it. The fantasies of how I can be noticed by the teacher, or the flaws of the teacher or the teaching. Pay your ticket and you too can go to the movies. What’s playing? “The Life of Me”, starring me and everyone I know.

I – you– the drama unfolding– can be funny, sad, nervous, death-defying, all of it. The circus is in town.

That is why you may go (even though you don’t want to) on a silent retreat.

My knees are killing me, and I am falling asleep in half the meditation sessions. And there is something so important about getting close enough to your own inner landfill that makes all the discomfort worth it.

But I am not going to sign up for another retreat next week. I will wait until my knees heal. It make take a few years.

Meanwhile, back at the mindfulness ranch, awareness is corralling random projections into a big pen. The monkeys have crawled out of the mind and are serving the projections as left-overs, and they are all as happy as pigs in shit.