Shame. Dammit. There it is again. I feel it burning in my chest. Surrender, don’t suppress. Sure enough it dissipates, even sooner than I’d thought possible. I’ve been surrendering to my uncomfortable and negative feelings for months now, simply sitting with the pain as it moves through me. When I first began doing this as a regular practice, it took much longer, sometimes an entire thirty minute meditation session.
I remember when meditation used to be for relaxing deeply into nothingness. Surrendering to the empty everything. So relaxing not to have to think about feelings. Or feel them. I was suppressing, or that’s my guess. You can suppress or repress and repress is automatic, you really can’t control it, it just happens to save you from pain. Suppressing negative emotions also saves you from pain — in the short run. But let me tell you, it comes back. Especially if you are going through a particularly bad patch in life.
Everyone has those. No shame there. No shame in trying to fix them, either. My shame goes a little bit deeper than that … it’s #ShareBlogSunday on Twitter and as I sipped a coffee and caught up with my favorite bloggers, I came upon Sharon’s post about choosing a word for the year. Hers for 2014 was “release” and that’s another way of letting go. Surrender to the feeling, allow yourself to feel it, if it hurts. Don’t suppress it, which is always my first inclination, but now I just surrender, feel the pain, and release happens by itself. Surrender is the first part of release.
I started thinking about a word for myself for this year. It’s gonna be peace. I need me some. Surrendering to the painful parts of life “the full catastrophe” as Jon Kabat-Zinn calls it, is now a habit with me. It feels good to let it out and let it go. I tend to stick with things that feel good, like meditation and yoga and drinking wine and writing. I know surrendering will bring peace. It already has, a tiny bit.
But there’s that shame. It’s old, and it’s been shoved so far down it is crammed and compacted and now that it’s coming up it just expands and expands. There’s always more. I might be releasing, um I mean surrendering, this crap for the rest of my life. That’s okay. That way I die clean. Shameless no matter what.
I’ll tell you what brought on the latest round of shame … I’m reading a new self-help book and I wrote a too-long Facebook comment on it that was supposed to be funny. A commenter chastised me for it, advising me to stop reading that self-help crap. I was having fun reading the book and cracking myself up about how much self-help I’ve done though the years, I just laughed and laughed, until this comment made me feel bad about myself. Listen, I like to laugh at myself. I think of the self as the human condition in that we are all in it together and we all have felt these emotions and its absurd and wonderful and just a laugh to look back on our particular peculiarities.
But that comment, meant kindly I’m sure, made me feel all alone in my strangeness. It wasn’t so funny anymore. Shame, shame, shame. Except … the commenter misunderstood.
I wouldn’t change anything. I’d still read every one of those books and have incorporated many of the habits of mind such material has given me. I’m better for it. I like myself better. I’m more at ease in the world, and that ain’t been easy. So anyway, that was the particular shame thing, not anybody’s fault, just my own stuff coming up from lord knows where. A blog post I read this morning by my friend Laura Zera had another clue for me.
Laura wrote about making a soundtrack of your life. Like in songs. She wrote hers down. It was fascinating. Some good tunes on there! I love music. And I thought about making my own soundtrack, just like I thought about finding a word for 2015. What can I say? I like trying things. So I thought back to the first song I really loved. The song I played over and over on my first record player when I was a little girl. It was Elvis and it was “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” I was five years old and I thought someday he’d marry me and we’d never be lonesome again.
I actually felt a pang when I was thirteen and he married Prisilla. I felt betrayed for a minute. I know it was stupid, and I quickly suppressed that feeling. “You’re such an ass” I told myself. Then, and this is years later, I cried the day he died. I don’t cry easily and especially about celebrities who I once adored but currently made me cringe. I felt embarrassed about that, too. My husband was simply baffled. I bought the switchplate snapped above a few years later. It’s been through many moves with me. And then today I thought about that song and I realized it is the soundtrack of my life. All by itself. One song.
Elvis does some spoken word on that song. He says “You know someone once said the world’s a stage” and that someone is of course Shakespeare who I went on to study extensively and to teach for many years. My favorite play As You Like It includes that “All the World’s A Stage” speech. I never made the connection before today. Do I love Shakespeare because he’s Elvis’s “someone who once said…”?
And the whole “lonesome” thing. If my life had a word “lonesome” would be it. “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” by Hank Williams is the only country song in the world I adore, because country is not my thing, but that one speaks to me so clearly. Williams knew lonesome. Don’t we all?
I’m not alone in this lonesome thing. Plenty of people have told me, or written, that they too feel isolated, alone, distanced, detached … one of the most famous Buddhist sayings is “we are born alone and we die alone” and nobody can argue with that. Being alone, being unknowable, is the basic fact of humanity. We all feel it. Or we suppress it. I think I’ve suppressed it. A lot. Because everybody longs for connection, even if they don’t know it. It’s in our nature.
We want connection, we miss it over and over, we are lonesome. Or alone. Because they are different. Lonesome is the shameful, sad side of alone. Alone and okay with it is fine, maybe even enlightened. People like me, who seek to constantly improve their happiness quota as quickly and painlessly as possible, will do things like fall in love, get married, go on dates, have many friends, all in order to stave off lonesome.
I’ve been “in love” a million times, playing out that same scenario Elvis speaks: “Act One was when we met/You read your lines so cleverly and never missed a cue/Then came Act Two/You seemed to change/You acted strange/And why I’ll never know./Honey, you lied when you said you loved me/Though I had no cause to doubt you/But I’d rather go on hearing your lies/Than to go on living without you./Now the stage is bare/And I’m standing there/With emptiness all around/And if you won’t come back to me/Then they can bring the curtain down.”
Elvis was still speaking, that whole part. I have not played that song in over fifty years, but I remember every word. Then he sings “Is your heart filled with pain? Shall I come back again? Tell me dear, are you lonesome tonight?” And that’s the end of the song. Except for those brief “Act One” in-love moments, my answer has always been YES I AM. I’m lonesome.
Even married. Even with a boyfriend. Even in a room full of people who love me. I feel so alone and not happy about that. I feel so lonesome around people I hate parties. I have to go home and be alone just to feel better about being so lonesome. It’s fucked up, yeah? Shame. Come on, you know you want to hit me again. But shame is not here right now. Neither is lonesome. Peace is here. And oh how I welcome it. Now I just gotta make a new soundtrack.