On a walk with a friend last week the topic of complaining came up. Along with it came a memory of a profound experience I had with my mother involving complaining and how this simple breathing meditation had saved the day. My clients will definitely appreciate this story. I hope others will garner value from it too. Stories are great teachers.
Since the experience happened in the 90’s I’ll start with a little backstory.
I was on a break from Corporate America at the time and wrestling with some health issues. I had thought yoga to be too slow for me. That was until my health had called for me to revisit my Type A tendencies. My first introduction to meditation was in a yoga class.
If you are familiar with yoga, you know that savasana aka corpse pose, is typically the final resting pose at the end of most yoga classes. During those few restorative minutes our instructor would read us something meditative, contemplative or profound.
I don’t know about you, but when I first began my yoga practice my mind would either race or I would fall asleep during savasana. I just couldn’t stay with what the instructor was saying. I became determined to learn to meditate, even if it killed me. Well, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but close. I was even competitive with myself back in the day. If you have over achieving tendencies you can probably relate.
I started reading about meditation, and practicing it in small increments between yoga classes—breathing in relaxation, breathing out tension and stress—at a red light, in line at the grocery store, walking to the bathroom at work, on the treadmill at the gym, while cleaning. Then there were singing bowls, chanting, one pointed meditations, relaxation music, eye pillows, incense—I was getting into it. My wise inner guidance even suggested doing a full body meditation when I got home from work and before spending time with my family. I had so much more patience and love to offer when I took the time to rejuvenate. I liked that me so much better, and so did my family. (Link to meditation below)
My friends began noticing a change in me. So much so they asked if I would teach them what I was learning. I was delighted! Meditation was changing my life and I thought everyone should know about it. This led to me putting together a meditation class at a friend's aerobic studio. We ended up with more participants than she had chairs to accommodate, so I asked my mom if I could borrow some of their folding chairs.
This is where it gets interesting…
On the way to teach the class I swung by my parents’ house to pick up the chairs. They were just outside the door, ready to go. I rang the bell to let them know I was there and to say, “hello.” I was feeling both excited and nervous about teaching a group of people I didn’t know, when my mother opened the door. She invited me in then proceeded to ask me to go through some items she was going to be donating. I explained that this was my first meditation class, that I wanted to keep my focus there, and that I’d look at the items later. She was insistent that it would only take a minute.
There was no, “How are you feeling about the class?” “Good luck,” “I hope it goes well.” She made it all about her and her stuff, and I got mad. I gave a more emphatic version of “no” and left in a huff. I loaded the chairs into my trunk, slid into the driver’s seat and shut the door. Ugh! I was annoyed. This was not how I wanted to be feeling prior to teaching people about meditation.
My wise inner guidance chimed in, suggesting I put into practice what I was about to be teaching. So I gently closed my eyes and took a few deep breaths—breathing in relaxation and breathing out my annoyance. At the end of those few breaths, much to my surprise, I saw a completely different picture of my mom. I saw a mother who doesn’t know how to say, “I miss you.” “It’s been too long.” “I'd love to see you.” Our relationship had always been awkward, but with the kids all in school, me working, and learning about self-care (in part to offset her controlling ways), I wasn’t seeing her as often as I used to. I told myself, “I’m going to invite her to breakfast or lunch when I return the chairs. “ That frame of mind felt so much better. Now I was ready to teach meditation.
I got to be the student before I was the teacher that day. When I dropped off the chairs, I vividly remember saying to my mom, “Mom, we haven’t gotten together in a while, would you like to meet me for breakfast or lunch this week?” Plans were made. I did go through the “stuff,” as I had promised, too.
After inviting her a few more times, my mother invited ME! Rather than call to criticize me for not calling her enough, or to tell me toilet paper was on sale, she bought me some and when could she drop it off, she called to say, “I know you’re really busy, but if you have time in the next couple weeks could we meet for breakfast or lunch?” You have no idea how that invitation touched my heart; or maybe you do.
On revisiting this experience, close to 30 years later, I have a new takeaway. I had my mother’s love all along. Reminds me of when Glinda, the good witch, told Dorothy she had the power to get back to Kansas all along, and how the Scarecrow asked Glinda why she didn’t tell Dorothy that earlier. Glinda’s response, “Because she wouldn't have believed me. She had to learn it for herself.”
So there you have that!
My mother passed 3 years ago. I thought we had made peace before she passed but it feels as though she’s still finding ways to let me know how much she loved me. All the times she had criticized me and manipulated me with excuses to stop by were her awkward attempts at saying, “I miss you,” “I’d like to see you.” This was the equivalent to finding a treasure chest filled with unopened love letters for me. I’ve heard it said that the love we are unable to receive will be saved for us until we’re ready. This memory held the key!
I’ve certainly done my share of complaining when my means for “seeing” were limited. And not to condone condemning or manipulative behaviors; they are so not cool. But they are immature calls for love. No one who feels all good about themselves goes around condemning, complaining or manipulating others.
People who feel good about themselves extend love. Criticizing my mother’s manipulative behavior was a call for love from a wounded part of me. My mother and I were both, in our own ways, complaining about how the other wasn’t doing a good enough job of loving us. With a holistic counseling background, now I can explain what happened that day. Stopping to breathe validated who inside me was angry—not to justify it but to acknowledge it. My breath provided a loving, self-care response. From there I was able to see the mom behind the curtain, (sticking with the Wizard of Oz analogy), and offer her love which broke the old “not good enough” cycle.
Today I see my life as a living meditation. The conversation about complaining was no accident. It was rich when I breathed about it. Part of my work with clients involves teaching them to connect with their wise inner guidance because we also have a guidance that’s not so wise. Following our not-so-wise inner guidance will leave us numb, exhausted and complaining. Our wise inner guidance leaves us love filled, energized and happy. It shows us how our experiences can increase our capacity to love and for love. I can only imagine where I’d be today if I had continued following that not-so-wise voice. Some version of Not-Good-Enough Land, I'm certain. I still find myself in that proverbial Oz every now and then, but I know what it takes to get back to "Kansas." I have the power, I always have; it is love.
My hope is that you found a pearl or two of insight from my story that can be applied to yours. It's never too late for peace in our hearts but it's nice to have it while the person is still with us.
Friends in this Love,
Gas Station for the Soul Meditation aka Rehab for the Heart