As Simple as a Cup of Tea

My monk, Titch Nhat Hanh, practiced something called a tea meditation. It’s said he would spend an hour drinking a cup of tea with his fellow monks. It sounds glorious. Honestly, I’m saying that without rancor or sarcasm. In his book Anger: Wisdom for cooling the flames, he talks about how a cup of tea, when drunk with mindfulness, will bring us back to ourselves. The whole world melts away when you spend the time thinking about nothing else but drinking the warm infusion of leaves, smelling the botanical aromas and feeling the concoction infuse your soul with each sip.

I have started my own tea ritual at night before bed. I’m not able to completely concentrate on the tea, I don’t quite have the discipline yet. I also have a bird who demands my complete attention after being left alone all day. I have a small one-ounce cup I try to put out for her when I drink but she doesn’t seem as interested in the tea as she is in pushing the small cup off the desk. She makes me smile. The tea does make me pause, to inhale the floral bouquet (tonight is lemon balm) and try to exhale the feelings of being overwhelmed, overworked and inactive in the direction I want to go. The herbals I drink at night are designed to promote calm and restfulness of mind after the long days I’ve been having, and the spice teas I drink during the day are to get more liquid and less chemicals into my body for better health.

I didn’t practice last night. I was too tired to do anything, including sleep. I was irritated because work was long, lunch was gastro-intestinally distressing and the work environment dredged up some old forgotten feelings from long, long ago of people long since passed. I watched TV eating salted caramels from Costco and stayed up well past my bedtime (8:30pm!) and still couldn’t sleep. I eventually got up around 10pm took some Tylenol then rubbed a melatonin infused lotion on my legs and feet and eventually fell into a quasi-restful slumber. I blamed my restlessness on the family interaction from the night before, I blamed it on working too much, I blamed it on being too tired to sleep. In reality, I didn’t bring myself back to center with a cup of tea after being scattered mentally, physically and emotionally from the day. Rituals are powerful tools, even when they are as simple as a cup of tea.

Sharpening The Tools

Therapy to me has been about gaining the tools most lucky people honed at the knee of their loving and sympathetic parents. It’s hard to till emotional barren terrain with a sarcasm and empty promises. I like to believe I am well on my way to the fully stocked and functioning emotional tool shed I should have graduated college with. If I had graduated college.

The blow to my emotional foundation from last week in Mixed Messages put me in an easily angered and dark state making it hard to be around my family. Then my sister fell and broke her ankle. It brought up a lot of unresolved anger from when I broke my foot. I know, the two aren’t the same but they aren’t mutually exclusive either. I learned there is still a lot of anger in me at the living family. Sure, I forgave mom but it’s easy when you know you’re never going to have to deal with them, or care about them, or be measured and judged by them ever again. The anger I’m still dealing with in regards to my sisters and brother sometimes overtakes me and apparently I’m not as deft at hiding it from them. My humor turns scary dark. Who knew?

The anger was getting too comfortable so I took out my journal and I wrote for a few hours. When I was taking care of my mother I would open a vein and let the ichor run over the pages until the pain receded back to numbness. That was the purpose of the ‘vomitorium’ entries as I’ve come to label them. When I needed more than the temporary peace I limited myself to not just spewing but finding a solution to the bone stuck in my throat. I did a lot of spewing in this entry, about the abandonment, the narcissistic or neurotic tendencies which make me and my sisters who we are and how it affected me directly. It is all about me in my journal, that is the purpose of my journal. I calmed down the anger as well as talking myself through it and I’m turning to my tools to deal with it.

My most useful tool has always been my journal. I can remember writing a lot of posts about how I needed to be a better person, not for my mom, but for me because I wanted to achieve my goals. In some way I laid the foundation I’m building on today, in other ways I reinforced the illusions my mother conditioned me with. Focusing on my breath helps me work my way through acute and immediate stressors so I don’t get wound up in the anger and I remain functional. Forgiving the living is still a tool I’m trying to put to the whetstone but I can’t seem to make contact well enough to do anything but dull the blade. I don’t know why I can’t just wave my hand and say “All is forgiven”. No, I know why. It’s the memories and their words and the not being there when I needed them that present in my mind and refused to be mown down by the dull blade.

I love my sisters. I really, really do. Even when they don’t believe in me. They don’t have to believe in me as long as I believe in me. I don’t let the anger get between us, if I can help it. I need to sharpen my skills at hiding my moods better though. I don’t have to be the happy little clown all the time to humor them but I don’t need them worrying about me and trying to get to the festering angry core of my issues either. Thich Nhat Hanh taught anger has to do with the angry person not the one causing the anger. I can’t control why people do what they do, the only thing I can do is control what I do. Anger isn’t in harmony with Christ’s teachings, it isn’t in harmony with Zen teachings and it isn’t in harmony with a happy and healthy emotional wellbeing. Maybe it’s time to stop spewing in my journal and going to back stating a problem and finding a solution. So, I guess a blank journal is going to be the whetstone for the forgiveness scythe to put in my tool shed. Time to order more ink.

uPDATE

I started reading ‘Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames’ by Thich Nhat Hanh I realized I wasn’t trying to help myself or anyone else with the comments about my sisters. The ultimate goal was for them to read my words and be hurt by them. I don’t think they really know how deep this goes, I honestly didn’t know how deep this anger went until after therapy on Tuesday. I don’t want to hurt them (yes, I do) but the purpose of reading and journaling is to work through it until it’s resolved. into forgiveness. I had hoped this process would be a wellspring of posts for the blog but in light of my Monk, wanting to hurt the person who hurt me is natural but it is not freedom from the flames of anger, it only fans conflagration.

“To be happy, to me, is to suffer less. If we were not capable of transforming the pain within ourselves, happiness would not be possible.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames

Therapy was also enlightening in as much as I learned to get to forgiveness you have to go through (not skip over) the anger. I have to deal with anger as it comes up, like my Monk says, but I am allowed to be angry. There has always been a real fear of anger taking me back deep into the void. Ellen pointed out in the Void there was hopelessness and depression. I’m not hopeless any more, and though I am still medicated for depression I am not suffering with it any longer. I can get angry, I can feel it and learn from it and work to transform it into forgiveness and freedom. This, however, is going to have to be dealt with in my journal and therapy. I will try to express my progress as long as it isn’t a subversive attempt to hurt my sisters.

Not My Circus, Not My Monkeys.

Mom and I hit the rocks, then the reef, then the iceberg over the weekend.  One realization that came from it was startling, sorta dream-crushing and it needs to go through the journal process before I can share coherently.  Sorry.  The other realization is that I can’t make my mother have a happy end of life.  I can’t do it for her, I can’t ease her from her dystopian state into the station where she believes she belongs.  It’s not my job to make those choices for her.  It’s like trying to have a pet polar bear in Phoenix, just isn’t going to end well.  I will be there to help her with her choices, of course, but I’m no longer going to foist them on her.

The fight was bad, things were said, apology made but we’re still dancing around each other not sure when the other one is going to launch the next salvo of words to try and destroy the other.  Neither of us willing to admit we love the other, and there are moments when she talks to me and I wonder if I still do.  I guess I do, I haven’t called the Shady Pines to come and take her away.  She hasn’t called the police to report me for elder abuse, so I guess we are still on an even keel.

What I don’t really like about myself in this fight is the war in my head of how to behave.  I don’t want to be mean to her, yet I think bad things, and wish I had the wherewithal to do what I imagine.  I get too much pleasure out of calling her bluff and watch her try and squirm away from the consequences.  For example she believes I don’t love her because I won’t dust my room or clean the birds cage on a more regular basis because of her allergies.  So, I’m sending Sammy away to my sisters to live for a while.  My reasoning is two fold, I want the feathers that stay aloft in the air for hours, the one she breathes in, to settle down and to see how well she improves and to, mostly, call her bluff.  I won’t let her use my parrot as a wrench in her manipulation toolbox.

It’s those words, the mean words, that I want to get away from.  I know I’m angry right now and I’m working hard to keep my head from swimming in the anger and frustration.  When I start getting angry I start deep breathing and chanting in my head, but that’s ameliorating the symptoms, not ripping out the foundation of them so I can build anew.  I’m at a loss of how to do this though.  How do you plug the holes and snip off the pour spout of the venom in your brain in favor of peace, love, and …YIKES…I sound like a hippie!!  I don’t want to feel the bile bubble up or the desire for revenge or strut the I’ll-show-you posture any longer.  Part of me is hoping this declaration will be enough, that making the choice to do so will be all I need to do to become that loving, peaceful zen-like person…..I guess that is my circus and one of the many monkeys that are on my back.  Reality sucks, and it’s hard work.  Maybe I should rethink the hippie thing.