Last Sunday my 10 year old broke his leg while skiing. It was his first “official” time skiing after a lesson the week before with my friend Sarah, who is an excellent ski instructor. He was a quick learner. He was excited, capable and ready. He and his Dad hopped the ski club bus with some of his best friends and their dads, and had an amazing afternoon of skiing and fist bumping fun. Until the last run. He was chugging along in his best snowplow, and an adult skier lost control and cut in front of him and they collided. And now he is in a full leg cast with a broken tibia, and will be for months. He’s been home from school for a week. And we are making the best of it. We really are.
This morning as I sat in meditation, I discovered first a sense of love and care for Max that cause my heart to break open with sobs and shudders of emotion. As I allowed that emotion to “be,” it moved deeper into regret. Regret that I wasn’t there to protect him, regardless of whether or not I could have. Then grief, grief for the loss of our regular daily schedule and activities– his, as a joyful extrovert who loves school, loves his friends, and loves his sports — and mine, as a busy working/stay at home mom with few precious hours to pursue my dreams and desires — yoga, writing, teaching (that happen during the school day). The grief stayed for a while, and under the grief I found anger. Anger that this happened to my son, that it caused him pain, that it messed up his life, his ability to do what he loves, to MOVE and to just be able to go to the bathroom without anxiety of falling. I allowed the anger to be. And then behind the anger was blame. I wanted someone to be responsible. I want to find the person who wasn’t paying attention and collided with my son, and I want to hold them accountable, make them pay somehow, make them understand what they’ve done to us.
And then another shift. Helpless. Helpless. Helpless. Helpless felt like an abyss. A big wide dark open space of nothing. I continued to name the feeling. “Helpless.” And helpless continued to be a big wide open sensation. The longer I sat with it the more I expected it to turn into something more intense or uncomfortable or upsetting. But no, there it was, helpless — just a vacant space. So I sat with helpless for quite a while. And as I sat, I realized that the feeling of helpless is the root of many of my greatest challenges with reactivity, anger and rage. I recalled times as a child when I felt completely disappointed and angry at a situation that I had no power to change. Helpless. I recalled a moment in high school where an older boy put his hand up my shirt in the back of a suburban and I didn’t want it there, but I was too terrified to say anything, afraid of getting teased or worse. Helpless. Watching my parents marriage crumble. Helpless. Watching my brother and sister struggle in the collapse of our already glued-and-taped-together family structure. Helpless.
Helpless to my husband’s over-commitment to work. Helpless to his affinity for cigarettes and old fashioneds. Helpless to my kids not getting along, not keeping their rooms clean, not doing what I want when I want them to do it. Helpless. To the hours I spend every day serving these people who don’t do what I want when I want them to, when I’d rather be doing what I want to do. Helpless.
My innate reaction to helpless is to fight. Fight everyday. Fight with fists up, guns blazing. Fight the war of the imperfect world. Fight to make it better. Fight to improve. Fight against injustice, violence, disrespect, mindlessness, lack of effort. But this fighting is so exhausting. Many nights I lay awake replaying all of the skirmishes of the day, and already devising the plan of attack for the next day, the next week, the next conversation, the next infringement. And now I’m not so sure that this is always working. Yes, I think being an activist of life is a good thing. Always looking to improve, to heal, to make the world a better place is a noble and valiant goal. But not when it exhausts my nervous system. Not when it turns my beautiful curves to edges, my voice sharp, my heart flat. Not anymore. Not after all these years.
So I decided today, while in my meditation, and in the moments afterward, that I am going to explore this feeling of helpless with more curiosity. Because my gut is telling me that helpless is an illusion, and that’s why it is such a vacant experience. I’m ready to discover the power behind this illusion. Because I believe there is power there. The kind of power I’ve been searching for my whole life. Maybe it’s the power of acceptance. Maybe it’s the power or surrender. Whatever that power is, I caught a glimpse of it today, and I am intrigued, and curious, and excited.
This is what I love most about meditation. It always provides at least one tool when you open the toolbox. More and more as I practice, I’m able to say “I don’t know what to do.” Instead of doing what I usually do when I don’t know what to do — which is FREAK OUT!!! There is a power in the not-knowing, in the being willing to admit not-knowing.
May we all be free from the external forces that create feelings of helplessness, and may we all arise in our true sense of power, and peace.
Om. Amen. Hallelujah.