Friday, February 12, 2010
We were at a friend's concert, my Very Affectionate Friend (VAF) and I. Right from the start, I didn't feel right; I felt unbalanced, awkward, slightly sad. Mutual friends had gathered there with us, but, as is sometimes the case with this group, I felt excluded by them. They've known each other for years, while my friend and are relatively new to the group. It reminded me of high school, us hanging around on the outskirts of the circle while the rest of them chatted and laughed, rarely ever looking our way. At the time, I wasn't aware of what had triggered me that night, but looking back on it, it was that sense of being left out, of not being accepted into the "popular"group.
When we all filed upstairs to the stage area, the larger group all found tables up front but there were no seats available for us, so we took a table in the back. In hindsight, I realize that nobody was purposefully excluding us. We could, as VAF pointed out several times, have pulled up another table or chairs and sat with them. I was in that space where everything felt dark and foreboding, nasty and brutish. Everything sucked.
We waited for the show to start and I did my best to pretend to be happy, light, and fun. The opening band was pretty crappy, but once the music started, I did start to have fun, even if just to joke about how bad the band was. Our friend came on, and then I really got into it. She performed wonderfully; the band rocked out. We even danced a bit.
Some more mutual friends came and joined us in the back. Eventually, I went to the bathroom. When I came back, something happened that sent me into a tailspin of anger and fear. What happened isn't really important, but in a split second, I was off balance, like a speeding car that has lost a wheel.
It starts with a sinking feeling in my gut, and something that feels like tightness and coldness at the base of my throat. Then I can no longer think; my threat response is screaming at me to fight or to run.
I sat there for a minute or two, in silence, just trying to process. Then I felt strongly that I needed to be away from this person, so I got up and went to the other side of the dance floor to watch the band. I thought about leaving and going home by myself, but we had driven together and I had no way to get to my car without his. I stayed there, leaning against a pillar, trying to get back into the music. But through it all, my brain was creating stories, passionate stories, about what had happened. Once again, I was left out; once again I didn't know what was going on and had to cope with a rude surprise; once again, my VAF had put himself - and potentially, us - in danger; once again, my needs weren't taken into consideration; once again I would have to be the one to be responsible, to take care of things if anything went wrong. It was a tidal wave, and my sea wall was cracking under the pressure.
I looked in the crowd for the other person who I felt had fomented this situation, had encouraged it, and simultaneously had left me out of it. I couldn't see him anywhere, but I felt such an overwhelming rage towards him that if I had seen him at that point I may have hit him. And I'm not a violent person.
Eventually, thinking I had calmed down, I went back to my seat. And there he was, the one I was looking for. He smiled at me and I just ripped into him. I can't even remember what I said, but it wasn't nice. Later, VAF told me that he had never seen anyone move so fast as my target scooted away from me on the bench seat, like he had just touched a hot pan. My eyes and voice must have carried all the rage and pain I was feeling.
After the initial burst, I just felt weak and hot. My senses returned, and with them the knowledge that I had just lost it. I stopped myself, sat back, bowed my head and covered my face with my hands. I think my hands were trembling; I was holding back tears and just trying to take deep breaths to calm myself. I had done it again; had lost it again in a public place. All the stories came flooding in: Why am I so crazy? Why do I keep doing this? What is wrong with me? Did I just ruin my standing in this group by going insane? How would I make up for this? How could I recover? Maybe I should just never have friends again, to protect them against my craziness.
Then I felt a hand on mine. Our friend, the girlfriend of the man I had just barked at like a rabid, crazed dog, put her hand on mine and told me it was going to be OK. What? It was the last thing I expected. She had every right to scream right back at me for attacking her man. But she squeezed my arm, put her other arm around me, sought out my eyes, and told me it was going to be alright.
Her compassion stopped my stories, and in that moment, anchoring myself with the feeling of her cool hand on my hot one, I was able to step away from my emotions and to observe. I felt so low, so humiliated, but somehow, in the space that was created by her touch, I understood that she was right: everything would be alright. It was hard to do, but I reached out and took her hand. I felt like I didn't deserve her compassion or kindness, but I did it anyway because she was offering me a lifeline.
In the moment that it took to reach across an abyss of pain and take the hand of someone, who, by all rights, should have been attacking me back, I understood how it is to stand in a turmoil of pain and to make a decision that is based on the desire to open to the moment, and not on self-protection or fear. Normally, I would have turned away from her in shame, or yelled at her even more because I was afraid of her love, or didn't trust it. But I made the decision to open rather than to close, and I took her hand and learned, firsthand, how compassion can change everything.
On Patty's blog, Why Not Start Now? I just read a post about accepting our own contradictions. That night I once again had to face the contradiction that, even with all my studying, reading, and meditation about Buddhism, awakening, compassion, kindness, and intention, that I am still a human being who, deep inside feels, flawed, broken, and rejected. And that I have a temper that scares people. My friend's hand, reaching for mine, was a validation that love can co-exist with imperfection. I am so grateful that she was there to teach me that lesson.