IT WAS OFFICIAL: I had passed the tests. The temp agency gave me a regular assignment two days a week processing payroll for Avon, so I was back in the workforce. I smiled when they called me about the assignment, remembering the tiny little lipstick samples Mom let my sister and me play with when she was an Avon Lady. She would have gotten a kick out of the fact that I was going to be working at the assembly plant where I could watch all the Avon products coming down the assembly line.
I was to begin my new assignment on Tuesday. For the next few days I was diligent about sticking to my meditation schedule, figuring I would need my sitting routine now more than ever since I would be back out in the “real” world.
A new pattern began to emerge in my sittings. Something I couldn’t quite identify was making me feel anxious. This was not a physical restlessness I was dealing with. My body wasn’t feeling twitchy. This was a restlessness in my mind. The feeling of anxiety was so strong I found myself ending my sittings rather abruptly, without even realizing I had made the decision to do so.
I decided it might be helpful to talk to Pooh about this, and found him relaxing in the garden, watching the birds peck at the blackberries on the vines. I shooed the birds away from our lovely crop of berries, and sat down next to him.
“As you have no doubt observed, Pooh, I’ve been cutting my sittings short lately. I’m feeling restless. When I looked up restlessness in one of my books, it said it’s usually in response to worry.”
The birds having flown off, Poohbear settled down with a small sigh and turned his attention to my plight. “It is true that worry may be one of the sources of restlessness, Kat. Perhaps it might help to talk about it. Tell me, what are your worst fears right now?”
I thought for a moment and began to count my concerns on my fingers.
“Well, first, while I am grateful to have actually gotten this job, I think I’m afraid I’ll be stuck doing this kind of work forever. Second, I’m still worried about money. What I’m being paid won’t really help that much. Third is my health. I’m exhausted at times, and I’m scared the whole chronic fatigue thing will start up again.”
“So—work, money, health. These are big concerns, Kat.”
“This is true, Pooh, but these worries are nothing new to me. I’ve been able to watch these same worries in other sittings and was able to let them go. Why would they suddenly create such anxiety now?”
“Well then, perhaps it is something more, something you have not allowed yourself to see before.” Pooh sat up to take a swat at the fly that had been annoying him. I thought for a moment that he would turn the fly swatting action into some sort of lesson, but he just went on to say, “If this is the case, then there is a fight going on inside you as to whether you want to see what it is or keep it buried. This is the restlessness. If you decide you want to investigate it, you will need to learn more skillful means to handle that. Perhaps you should bring this matter up at Your meditation retreat tomorrow.”
Acting on Pooh’s suggestion, on Sunday at the retreat I brought up the experience I was having with this feeling of restlessness, this undefined anxiety. Jason suggested that when I felt overwhelmed by such strong feelings, I could develop more tolerance for them by occasionally going back to the still points of my body. Once again, using the still points to ground myself would help me weather the emotional storm. I smiled. This was something I already knew how to do—something so simple I had overlooked it. I was going to try this in our next group sitting, but perhaps because I was at the retreat and felt such support, my sitting was very calm and uneventful.
Tuesday morning I started at Avon. Peggy, the manager of the agency, met me at the Avon facility in Pasadena to show me around. She introduced me to everyone as the temp who would be processing payroll. I put my mind on autopilot, learned the routine, and got through the day without letting my feelings well up. It would have been so easy to start comparing the quiet, low-key, ordinary person I was now with the fast-paced, insightful, forceful person I used to be.
The day was long and demanding, both physically and emotionally. Fortunately, my Tuesday night meditation group was not meeting that week. I was exhausted when I got home, too tired to eat or talk, and went right to bed.
The next afternoon I took my cushion into my writing room and settled down to meditate. In the beginning my thoughts were scattered. I watched different scenarios take place and managed to let them go. I started feeling relaxed. Then, without warning, I felt extremely anxious, and I really wanted to end the sitting. Instead I went back to the still points in my body and that calmed me down a bit.
I continued to sit and tried to get distance from the feeling of anxiety. I tried being curious about it and began exploring where it might be in my body. My body felt tight all over, but the tightness was mostly in my chest. I realized I was holding my breath, so I began taking some long, slow, deep breaths. This made me feel better.
And then again the overwhelming anxiety came up, and again I wanted to end my sitting. My thoughts shifted to the Buddha. I saw him sitting under the Bodhi tree and remembered the stories about the Buddha’s battles with Mara, the god who personifies the hindrances to meditation. Fears had assaulted the Buddha in the guise of demons, dreadful screaming sounds, floods, hurricanes, avalanches, lighting bolts, and, worst of all, a silent, all-enveloping darkness. And he sat through it all. Surely what is lurking in my meditation couldn’t be any worse than that.
And yet, to me it was. I could barely stay on my cushion. Then I remembered the rest of the Buddha’s story. When Mara saw the Buddha was winning, he screamed at him, “Get up from this seat, Siddhartha! It does not belong to you, but to me!”
The Buddha answered Mara’s claim by touching the earth with his fingertips, whereupon the ground quaked and a great roar burst forth. “I, Earth, bear you witness. Buddha, this seat is yours!” Mara and all his forces fled, and the Buddha continued to sit until he reached enlightenment.
I touched the wood floor with my fingertips and resolved to remain on my cushion. An image popped into my mind of Catz sleeping on the kitchen counter in the large blue bowl that Pooh and I laughingly referred to as Catzenbear’s tranquility bowl. That image brought with it the quality of tranquility, and I began to feel calm. I could still sense the anxiety lurking around the edges, but I was able to remain in a very calm state, visualizing Poohbear was on the couch next to me when I opened my eyes, and I shared my experience with him. I told him I was able to deal with the anxiety in the meditation but still felt it lurking around me. It seemed more ominous than any of my usual thoughts and worries.
Pooh looked thoughtful as he pushed one of the pillows out of his way in order to look at me more directly. “This anxiety that is frightening you so, what is its name?”
“I don’t know,” I answered.
“Yes you do. You can name it if you allow yourself to, Kat.”
And then he commanded, “Name it now.”
I hesitated and then said, “I’m not good enough.” Lowering my head for a second, I looked up at Pooh and repeated, “I’m not good enough.” Then quietly, as if now used to the idea, I softly said, “I am not good enough.”
We sat in silence for a long time until I spoke.
“Pooh, all my life I’ve been able to avoid naming my anxiety, my fear. First by receiving accolades by being a workaholic, and then, when I was sick, I avoided naming it by putting all my energy into getting well. Depression was just another way of repressing my big secret. And now here I am back out in the work world without my workaholic ability to split off my feelings and obsessively tackle any problem. Won’t I feel naked out there without my Wonder Woman bracelets?” I was only half joking about the Wonder Woman reference. She had been one of my favorite comic book characters, precisely because her bracelets made her so invulnerable.
Pooh waited a moment to make sure he had my attention. “No, Kat. By naming your fear, you take its power away. So many people leave the practice at this point because they cannot deal with these strong feelings. It is unfortunate because when they can name their fear, it loses its power. I am very proud of you for staying the course.”
My mind was still whirling from my discovery. The underlying core belief driving me like a mad woman into one achievement after another, into an illness, and then into depression was all to hide the fact that deep down I believed I was not good enough.
“It’s hard to believe something so empty and so untrue could have been my driving force all my life,” I said.
“And now you know,” Pooh replied.
“Yes, and now I know.” I smiled and laughed out loud. The tension and anxiety were gone. Could it really be that simple? I suspected it was not, but I was certainly willing to bask in the moment. I knew more layers would be revealed in the future, but for now I breathed a deep, fresh breath and said, “Yes, and now I am free to feel good enough.”
Michael would be home soon, so I picked up my cushion and put it on the couch. The Buddha was able to touch the earth. I lived in a loft three stories above the earth, but I, too, had been able to touch my fingers on the wood floor and reach deep into a connection to Buddha mind that I had not known was possible. Once there I was able to release another of Mara’s obstacles, not the demons or floods or screams or darkness inflicted upon the Buddha, but something more debilitating to me: an unfounded core belief that I was not good enough.
I stood up and went to the kitchen to make some tea, and there was Catzenbear on the counter, sound asleep in his tranquility bowl. In his young state of Buddha nature, Catzenbear is a perfect example of how tranquility triumphs over restlessness. I smiled at the thought and leaned over to give him just the lightest kiss on his little nose.
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