Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Art of Transformation

I just purchased Thich Nhat Hanh's book Peace is Every Step: The Path to Mindfulness in Everyday Life, and I want to share an excerpt about the power of transforming both physical and emotional issues that reside inside us.

In his section called "Non-Surgery, " Thich Nhat Hanh writes:

"Western medicine emphasizes surgery too much. Doctors want to take out the things that are not wanted. When we have something irregular in our body, too often they advise us to have an operation. The same seems to be true in psychotherapy. Therapists want to help us throw out what is not wanted and keep only what is wanted. But what is left may not be very much. If we try to throw away what we don't want, we may throw away most of ourselves.

Instead of acting as if we can dispose of parts of ourselves, we should learn the art of transformation. We can transform our anger, for example, into something more wholesome, like understanding. We do not need surgery to remove our anger. If we become angry at our anger, we will have two angers at the same time. We only have to observe it with love and attention. If we take care of our anger in this way, without trying to run away from it, it will transform itself. This is peacemaking. If we are peaceful in ourselves, we can make peace with our anger. We can deal with depression, anxiety, fear, or any unpleasant feeling in the same way."

I love his line, "If we become angry at our anger, we will have two angers at the same time." I call this the "double-whammy," and this is so easy to do to ourselves. During a particularly difficult time in my life, I was sad about my sadness, angry about my anger, and depressed about my depression. After duking it out with my melancholy too many times -- and feeling exhausted from the process -- I decided to try and sit with it. What did I have to lose? It took a lot of sitting and listening and being with myself to see that melancholy was not the enemy; in fact, it was trying to tell me something important about my beliefs and perceptions, the true causes of my feelings.

Hanh's idea of "non-surgery" for our emotions can also apply to our bodies. We can transform our feelings about our physical discomfort in a similar manner. When in pain, it is hard to just be with the pain and see what it has to tell us. This is particularly difficult when the pain is chronic and we are so tired of it. It's easy to feel pained by our pain. Again, the "double-whammy" shows its teeth. Below is a method I have used to deal with both physical and emotional discomfort.

Try this:

Feel what you feel. If your neck tension has been bothering you, feel this pain from the inside, as if you could travel inside your body and actually see and touch this place of pain. If you feel sad, feel the sadness wash over you; if tears come, let them flow freely. Imagine that your pain is another person who has come to you for comfort. Listen to her. Ask her why she feels this pain; ask her if she understands the root of her sadness. Remember to tell her to breathe. Remember to tell her that she is safe.

See if it makes a difference to view your pain in this manner -- as if it is a close friend or loved one who needs your support and guidance. See if your body's tension transforms into something softer, lighter. See if your sadness becomes something powerful and poignant.


wheylona said...

Thanks for posting this!

The idea of needing to get rid of imperfections to be "well" has been a lifelong bugaboo for me, but not once, until I found a wise therapist (who must have read this book) was I told that excising my imperfections was cutting away at myself, that it was ultimately a destructive way to think. Instead, like you said, he encouraged me to accept them, and to nurture them. It was such a revelation.

Origami Nightingale said...

Yes, a revelation, indeed! It's been a big shift for me as well. Thank you for sharing your experience and insight, Wheylona.

I still sometimes fall into the self-criticism trap, but I try to remember to be gentle with myself.

I recently read a wonderful memoir called _Eat, Pray, Love_ by Elizabeth Gilbert and in it she describes using her journal as a way to have a dialogue with herself. When she asks for help during moments of depression or panic, she writes a reply in her journal (usually starting with something like, "I'm right here. How can I help you?") as if her journal voice is a friend who helps and comforts her.

There's a lovely moment when she describes writing to herself the following: "I'm here. I love you. I don't care if you need to stay uip crying all night long, I will stay with you...I am stronger than Depression and I am braver than Lonliness and nothing will ever exhaust me."

1,000 Faces of MotherHenna said...

Continuing to love your blog! I've been reading Pema Chodron lately. Very interested in the idea of being compassionate toward myself rather than having self-aggression when I hit one of my human flaws like anger or making a mistake, etc. It's really such a small shift in my thoughts, and yet it is hUgE! :) Thanks for continuing to share your explorations with us! Miracles, k-

Courtney Putnam said...

K ~

Yeah, I think small shifts can also be HUGE shifts. Sometimes the small issues stick around a long time, get engrained and sticky. It's hard to get them to budge at times. I'm glad to hear that your explorations into self-compassion are fruitful!