As I mentioned previously, I just returned from the Diamond Approach 10-day summer retreat in California, and I’d like to share some of the learnings from that, because they tie in with the summer part of the wheel. Summer is the time of childhood innocence. In fact, Bill Plotkin writes in Nature and the Human Soul that innocence is one of the gifts children give to the world. And it is the parents’ job to maintain the safety of the home-nest in the early years, to allow this innocence to flourish. Unfortunately, this often doesn’t happen. But we all are innocent at the core of our nature. Even George Bush, Hitler, and Charles Manson. Although innocence wasn’t directly the theme of the retreat, I found that when I was working with people, and being a very allowing, clear space of openness for witnessing their work, their innocence is something I kept seeing, over and over. And I also felt in touch with my own innocence. This is part of the radiant preciousness of who we are. I felt it was a gift from the universe to be able to experience this and know it directly, in myself and others.
So when I left the retreat, I was in quite an expansive, open state, after 10 days of working in a deep way with people during the exercises, meditating, and having many satisfying connections with friends that I only get to see once a year. I arrived at the Air Canada security line at San Francisco airport in this open, friendly state. Although the line was quite long, and only one belt was open, and they kept letting people in first class go around the side and to the front of the line, I was in my open state, had four hours before my flight, and didn’t want to get caught up in my usual reactive judgement about this situation. I spoke to the woman behind me, who was from Calgary, and we shared some airport security experiences. When I got close to the front of the line, a man asked if he could cut in. I asked if he was crew, and he was, so I said sure, and we had a nice conversation too. He was from Montreal, and we talked about different cities. It was very pleasant, and I was pleased to be enjoying this potentially frustrating situation.
I guess this is where the universe wanted to test how grounded and connected to being I really was, because suddenly my bag was halted, brought out, and the security guy asked who it belonged to. I said it was mine, and he said there was a liquid in the bag. I had thought my water bottle was empty, but it wasn’t, and that was why it had been flagged. I pulled it out and dumped the water in the bin, and put my bag back through. Then my laptop was halted, and the security guy asked who it belonged to. I admitted it was mine, and a jerk in the line who was late for his flight said “Have you got anything else in your luggage that doesn’t belong there?”
Huh! Snap! I was totally out of my open spacious peaceful place and into a defensive response that came to the fore automatically. I said “It’s not my fault security is so fucking anal.” Luckily for me, they weren’t actually that anal, because they let me go through and didn’t say anything about this statement. But the passenger continued to heckle me as I collected my belongings at the other end of the belt, and I lost it again and said “It’s not my fault you’re late for your flight.” And he said “It’s not my fault you’re a stupid *&%&!” I said “I didn’t call you names and I would appreciate if you don’t call me names.” He called me another name, and then took off down the hallway.
So that’s it, huh? That’s the limit of my capacity to stay open and nonreactive. Less than an hour from arriving at the airport. Altercation. Irritation. Feeling caught up in reactivity, which is very familiar, and feeling hopeless about being a slave to it. Why am I getting triggered so easily, all the time? Here I’ve just finished a 10-day retreat and I’m totally caught up in what some idiot stranger said to me. It was an attack, but I got caught in it. Where is the benefit of the practice? The openness and spaciousness? If you are familiar with the entity known as the superego, you will notice it at work, making the situation even worse by attacking me for not being more equanimous.
But I have learned something after these many years of various practices, so the next part of the story is how I worked with the stew of anger and reactivity I was caught up in. And, no coincidence, anger is also one of the qualities connected with the red of the south part of the wheel. It is a form of the red essential aspect which can be experienced as strength, and the heat, fire, and aliveness of it can help us to protect ourselves and others. It has often motivated me to take action in the world. But in its less purely flowing form it can be felt as irritation, frustration, rage, and so on. Which is one of the things I worked with over and over at the retreat. The movement, like here at the airport, from openness to frustration or rage.
As I walked down the corridor toward my gate, pulling my well-examined luggage behind me, I saw how I get caught in this uncomfortable place all the time. I felt the discomfort of it and the desire to move away from it. It feels so awful to be caught in this reactivity. And it happens to me all the time. This made me wonder what I’m doing to keep getting caught in this. Is this a familiar, comfortable pattern from childhood? (Well, yes.) Is that why it seems to happen over and over? Am I creating it? And I noticed how much I wanted to escape from the discomfort of it. I don’t want to feel this way. I want to control reality so I never have to feel this way. I wished I’d said something even more annihilating to completely shut the stranger up and stop him from making me feel this way. I spent a moment or two trying to think of what that might have been—what I could have said. I noticed again how the feeling was so uncomfortable that I wanted to move away from it. But it was inside me and I couldn’t. So I went to have a pee, and tried to remember to sense my belly center—the Kath meditation—a practice I had been doing for the past ten days (and nine years). As I was sitting on the toilet, sensing my belly, I suddenly flashed on my spiritual teacher, and how she probably doesn’t get caught up in this kind of reactivity.
The feeling was as if I’d done something wrong and the passenger who attacked me had told everyone about it, so I guess a kind of shame. I am normally very together, and follow all the procedures for passing through security correctly, but this time I was still in a somewhat expanded state from the retreat, floating along a bit, and didn’t realize there was still some water in my water bottle. Also I didn’t know I had to take the laptop out of its case. I had already taken it out of the suitcase, and put it in a separate bin, and I thought that was all I had to do.
So the shame I noticed mainly by the reaction to it—defending myself, as if I hadn’t done anything wrong. In my head telling him my IQ was higher than his, because he had called me stupid. But just seeing that my superego was involved didn’t really shift the experience of discomfort and an inner, red irritation that felt very difficult to be with. But as I was sitting on the toilet, I realized that the difficulty was that I was trying to maintain a self-image. My teacher wouldn’t care what her image was—what people thought of her (or so I imagined). But I was feeling so bothered because my self-image of being together and doing things right was challenged.
Seeing this started to bring me more of a sense of relief, inner space. I still noticed some superego activity as I went on to a bar & grill to have some dinner while waiting for the flight. Feeling sensitive and raw, seeing how many times I’d been reactive in the retreat and carried away by anger. But I noticed the table I was given by a window facing the sunshine was very nice, and the food was quite good, and I felt very fortunate to be in this amazingly quiet place in an international airport. Feeling some sense of the surroundings being safe and supportive helped me relax into my true nature, and the awareness of myself as an innocent and precious being. The reactivity dissolved completely and I enjoyed my meal.
Anger is a very potent doorway for learning for me. In this instance, seeing how it was working to maintain a self-image is what allowed the whole experience to shift from the almost unbearable heat and irritation to shame (which the anger was protecting me from feeling) to a sense of inner spaciousness and quiet enjoyment of my veggie burger.
P.S. The exploration I just described is an example of the practice of inquiry—the main practice of the Diamond Approach. Staying with our experience, being curious about it, and letting it unfold. The movement of the unfoldment, when we allow it to just happen, can go anywhere. In this instance, it went to spaciousness and a good burger.