things I feel bad about – my mitzrayim

As Passover comes to a close and we leave Egypt, the land of our enslavement, I pause to consider my own personal needs for liberation.  The word for Egypt in Hebrew is mitzrayim, a narrow constricting place.  Oh yes, mitzrayim, I know you well; let me count the ways.

At any given point in a day I have a short list of things that plague me, things I feel bad about.  My skin, my neck, my jowls, my feet, my stomach, my chest, my hair, to name a few off the top of my head.  If given any length of time I’m sure I could double if not triple that list.  I regularly feel bad for not being a more demonstrative, loving, engaged and engaging spouse.  Similarly, I castigate myself on a fairly regular basis for not being a more patient, involved, adventurous parent.  I’ve been feeling bad for close to a year now for possibly being rude to a neighbor I met once and felt I wasn’t enthusiastic enough in meeting.  Oh honey, I could go on and on.  This mitzrayim shit is a cake walk.

But wait.  I’m supposed to get OUT of mitzrayim, not make it my tour de force.  Perhaps it is like the Israelites of long ago, leaving behind all that they knew to go who-knew-where, to do who-knew-what.  It makes sense that not everyone was psyched about the venture and change.  In fact, some were repeatedly and vocally more comfortable looking back with longing.  The slavery of Egypt was hard and harsh and constricting.  But we knew it.  Knew what to expect and how to deal with it.  Slavery we could do.  I know how to feel bad.  I know how to feel shame.  There is a certain comfort in it, or some secondary gain in feeling those things.  At least for me.  I guess.  I mean, there must be something I get out of feeling bad about myself, right?  Otherwise, why do it so often?  So loudly?  So well?  What would happen if I didn’t feel bad about all those things?  What would it be like to clear some of that negative mental energy?  What would I do with all that free time?

So during the week of Passover I chose to focus on this dilemma by meditating on it.  And since I have basically taken the Buddhist notion of monkey-mind to a near professional level, I allowed myself to read some Pema Chodron to keep my mind more focused during my meditation time.  What I began to understand this week is that I’m not supposed to be swapping one emotion for another {cue shattering glass} (I know.  Tracy has been telling me this for a while now – Thanks T, you were right!).  I’m simply supposed to be noticing the emotion as it arises.  I’m not supposed to be trying to replace the negative emotion with a positive one.  I’m not supposed to (as I usually do) attack it with my primate persecutions and exacerbate the negativity.  It would seem (according to Pema and Tracy) that I’m supposed to be gently and tenderly approaching whatever I’m feeling, observing it with quiet regard and interest.  Oh, curious, I feel ugly, fat and stupid hmm, how interesting.  Wondering rather than judging.  My Maitri has always (obviously) been sorely lacking. {Maitri is a Sanskrit word that can be translated as something like unconditional friendship with oneself}  I can handily come up with an abundance of lovingkindness, compassion and tenderness for just about anyone.  Except myself.  So what if someone else felt ugly, stupid, fat?  Perhaps rather than jumping on that bandwagon (don’t forget irritating and wrinkled!), I might just say, “I’m sorry you’re feeling that way. It sounds like a hard place to be in.  I wish I could send you some peace of mind with my next out-going breath.”  Once again, my Maitri seems to get accessed through Tonglen.  I can’t imagine comforting myself like this.  I can only imagine making it worse.  Of course you’re ugly you idiot!  But I can’t imagine for even an instant not feeling compassion for someone else who is feeling those things.  So once again and still, I send my healing compassion and lovingkindness to others first, with the hopes that some day I will learn to send it to myself.  And for now, until I can do that, I at least won’t add to the bonfire of my vanity.  I will simply be cognizant of whatever I’m feeling and breathe.

In my meditative noticing, I also became aware of the fact that my heightened anxiety about the way I look is connected to spring actually appearing here in Boston.  As the weather warms up and the layers come off, the panic begins to bubble up.  The well-established distress, terror, dread over the bathing suit dilemma rears its ugly head.  Perhaps ignorance really is/was bliss.  As a kid and well into my teen years I couldn’t wait for summer.  We were lucky, we had a huge built-in swimming pool in our back yard.  I didn’t even complain about having to vacuum it.  Because that just meant I got to dive into the crystal clear blue.  I was a fish.  Would swim for hours.  Until my lips turned blue with cold.  I was so free and content in the water, as graceful as a dolphin and as powerful as a shark.  I didn’t think about what my body looked like or was supposed to look like because I simply melted into and became the water.   I felt strong and sleek and agile, uninhibited.  But something changed.  And it wasn’t the pool or the water.  I became aware of and began to think about my body.  Something just wasn’t right.  And we all know where that went.

And my newfound mental dexterity of simply noticing my emotions breaks down somewhere between the changing room and the water.  The mere thought of a bathing suit elicits a panic attack that I can’t even describe without hyperventilating.  What on earth am I going to do?!  I don’t want to spend another summer avoiding the water as if it were sulfuric acid, making excuses and having to breathe into a paper-bag every time I contemplate swimming.  Last summer I finally became imperceptibly composed enough to wear swim trunks and a tank top when I went to the beach.  But I did not enter the water.  Even the thought of heavy wet clothing clinging to and accentuating my body was more than I could tolerate.

I was freaking out about this in the shower the other day when Cleo stuck her nose under the curtain and nudged it open.  After lapping at the splashing water she looked up at me with her head tilted sideways and just stared.  She followed me up the stairs and watched me do my usual posing, mugging, strutting, sauntering, tightening, loosening, stomach-sucking, jaw-thrusting, scrutinizing and frowning in front of the mirror.  Again, she watched me, tilting her head this way and that.  Then she abruptly left the room.  And came back with a half-chewed bone, which she dropped at my feet.  No buddy, that’s not going to make me feel better, I thought.  She contemplated me a bit more and left again.  This time she brought back her tennis ball.  She seemed to be saying, “Hey, you haven’t got much hair, but then, I don’t have opposable thumbs.  We’re a good team that way.  So let’s just go play some fetch. Who cares what we look like.”  So without adding to or even trying to change the things I was feeling, I just took note of them, nodded once to my reflection, and breathed.

Maybe I should consider a top-hat?


About halitentwo

i am. god is. we are. as soon as i write something about me i change, am different, evolving. i am trans. i am a parent. i am a partner. i am a human. i am attempting to live a well-lived life in the spaces in between, beyond definition, fluid, dynamic, omnifarious and always changing. hopefully growing.
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4 Responses to things I feel bad about – my mitzrayim

  1. Mary Martha Thiel says:

    Cleo is already doing her (dare I say sacred?) therapy with her most beloved…..

  2. Jamie Ray says:

    The interesting part of the exodus story (as I remember it) is that they wandered in the desert for 40 years, until a new generation was born into freedom – without the memory of being enslaved. I don’t know if it is possible to heal the feeling of body dissonance (I initially wrote erase the feeling) or whether the “missing limb” memory of it is always with us, no matter how much work we do.
    I am still working on the swimsuit conundrum.

  3. halitentwo says:

    That is a fantastic connection you make! Indeed, the generation of slaves are not the ones who revel in the freedom. Fascinating. I do hope we can enjoy some of it though. And if you do figure out the bathing suit thing… please let me know.

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