Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

October 20, 2009—October 21, 2009

October 20, 2009
On September 19 I attended a Chi Gong workshop. It felt surprisingly demanding physically and I also felt some emotional resistance, maybe because it interrupted a feeling that I didn’t have time to release as the workshop began. I experienced some discomfort in my back, during and after the session.

The next morning Bettina and I drove Andy and Tessa to Deer Park, for one of Thich N’hat Hanh’s rare dharma talks. Sitting in a chair towards the back I began to experience an acute pain in my back (behind my heart as I decided later). No position I moved into could ease it, and it felt like the most intense pain I had ever known. I found myself asking myself an absurd, existential question, “Does this really hurt as much as I think?” I had no answer to that, and I found myself caught in a wave of grief—my recognition, for the first time, of an aspect of childhood neglect I had never even thought of intellectually. My parents, my mother, never comforted me physically or verbally when I was feeling ill or in pain. Sometimes my mother brought me goodies to eat if I was sick or some magazines, but never touched me or said, “wow, that throat must really hurt,” or looked at me with love or compassion. At Deer Park, I went to sit on the grass where there was an audio system for the dharma talk, but again no position was possible. I grabbed onto a pole for support, still feeling the great grief rising up inside me. Because we had brought friends with us, I couldn’t release the grief until after Bettina and I returned home, and though the physical pain had diminished, I sobbed with my new knowledge, the soft shallow sobs of a helpless child.

My work in the hospital often mirrors, often uncannily, what has come up in my own life. Just a few days after my experience at Deer Park, I encountered Holly. Holly had spinabifida and other conditions as well as a child. Her father was a doctor who never showed caring for her situation or even, she feels, a professional interest in treatments for her, and she believes there were treatments, even at that time, that could have alleviated her conditions. (I guessed he was a narcissist who could not tolerate imperfection in his child.) She was holding onto that bitterness, and at the same time she held on just as tightly to a very special memory of his kindness and love. I asked her if she would share it. At night after she had gone to bed, he would be sitting watching television, and sometimes she would have the courage to creep into the room and sit beside him. He didn’t acknowledge her presence but allowed her to stay there, well past her bedtime, without scolding or making her go back to bed.

My father too was a doctor, and though I had no condition as serious as Holly’s, Deer Park told me that I too felt keenly the uncaring for my physical being. Holly’s memory also told me how deeply a child will dig to find something that passes for love. For Holly her father’s kindness lay—not in spite of his not looking at her or speaking to her or touching her, but because of it. He proved his love for his suffering daughter by not being angry with her for wanting his company. The memory had become a sacred piece of evidence that there were a few moments when she was loved. Like all such evidence, it held her back from the full grief and rage that she needed to feel in order to let go of the bitterness that continued to torment her.

October 21, 2009
It’s been a month since the Chi Gong workshop awakened the energy cyst that then, from the day at Deer Park, awakened Little Cynthia and a period of unsettled feelings—dissatisfaction, frustration, grief, self-doubt, the whole magillah.

Recently, from time to time in this month, I’ve felt tears close to the surface, eruption sometimes into sobs. Today I let the sadness roll through me, giving it space as I moved through the day. In doing so, I observed that often it wanted to move into a feeling space that calls out, “I am worthless.”

I think I’m discovering that while staying with the grief is entirely appropriate—there is much to grieve in my childhood and, as Willy Loman’s wife said, “attention must be paid”—it’s important not to let the grief open a door to “I am worthless.” Indeed any thoughts that are generated by the sadness are almost certainly invalid. Cheri calls those thoughts the voices of conditioning, but they are also the logic of the child. “If I am so sad, it must be because I am worthless.”