I’ve been fighting with my best friend. Over our two decades of friendship it has happened a handful of times — conflict, hurt feelings, angry words, the silent treatment, and ultimately wondering if the friendship is forever broken, or not worth the pain it causes in these times of disconnect.
When it’s happening I think I’m right. She thinks she’s right. Just as in Parsha Korach, we were like Korach and the Israelites in their uprising against Moses and Aaron, asking the two leaders the age-old question “Why do you raise yourself above us (me)?”
Throughout the process, I felt anger, judgement, jealousy, indignation and….and…and. All the stuff that comes up for me when we find ourselves in this place of struggle together. The difference this time around, unlike previous “fights” we have had, was that I had recently developed a meditation practice. Now, all the energy I spent thinking, processing, and obsessing about the situation was an opportunity to practice my evolving skill of mindfulness.
Still, during the time that my friend and I were in conflict, I alternatively wished it wasn’t happening, that I could make it go away, that I wasn’t “wasting” so much time thinking about it, and that I could just put it — and all the uncomfortable feelings it evoked — out of my mind.
On several occasions we made attempts to connect and work through the conflict, but different styles of conflict resolution kept us apart. One of us wanted to rehash all of the details that got us in the situation, the other wanted to apologize and agree to disagree. Once agin, like in the Parsha when Moses sent for the two sons of Eliab but they would not come, neither of us would put aside our visions of how to move forward, so we both couldn’t show up the way the other needed us to.
It was through my readings and practice of meditation and mindfulness where I found other insights that suggested an alternative approach to dealing with the suffering I was experiencing.
Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels writes: “How is the practitioner of a spiritual path to react to the trails and tribulations of life? In particular, how does the practitioner respond to those forces which seem to oppose her on her path?….Hasidism offers a distinctive approach to this problem, an approach which counsels the practitioner that rather than battling to overcome these forces of opposition, these demands, the path of wisdom is to invite the demons in.”
Invite them in!! Wait! What!! I had been so busy judging myself as being too sensitive and too scared to contemplate a self-compassionate response to the endless emotional roller coaster I was riding.
Rabbi Jacobson-Maisel goes on to write: “Terror, fear, anger, hatred, self-doubt, desire, jealousy, pride, and shame are unavoidable aspects, unavoidable demons, on any true path of transformation. The Besht, and the Hasidic movement he spawned, present a unique answer to this question, founded on a notion on what we might call — borrowing a phrase popularized by author Tara Brach — “radical acceptance.” For Hasidism, demons are overcome precisely through their embrace, transformation is achieved through acceptance, and transcendence comes through fully embodied presence.”
Rabbi Shelia Peltz Weinberg puts it this way: “Like everything else, restlessness (or anger and hurt in my case) is a composite, a series of thoughts, feelings and sensations. Because we believe it to be something solid, it has a great deal of power over us. When we stop resisting and simply allow it to move through us with mindful attention, we can see how transitory and insubstantial the state actually is.”
I spent a lot of time in my meditation seat watching a whole repertoire of painful thoughts come, hang around, and pass. And then, they came back around, sometimes only a few breaths later. In these sits, my intention, my Kavannah, was not to grasp, not to attach, not to wholeheartedly believe what I was telling myself about myself, my friend, the situation, and what it all means.
“All thoughts are lies,” Mindfulness author and teacher Rabbi Jeff Roth said to a room full of Jewish Mindfulness Meditator Teachers in Training at a retreat I attended. When I heard that statement I felt my body say “Ahh Hahh!” Funny, but there was relief in that thought for me, even if that too wasn’t true.
Many months after the fight began, my friend and I finally came together for a conversation. So how was it that we eventually got to the place of connecting again? By following another piece of wisdom from Rabbi James Jacobson-Maisels. By turning towards uncomfortable feelings (enemies) and welcoming them in. Whether in the moment these “enemies” are painful thoughts, or a friend across the kitchen table, the way to end the suffering is….”somehow both a letting go of our opposition to the enemies, and an ability to feel compassion and care towards them.”
Again drawing from the Parsha, there was a moment during that conversation when I felt like Aaron standing between the dead and the living after G-d has sent a plague to kill those who didn’t believe. What did I believe? Holding on to my anger and painful feelings seemed likely the death of our friendship, but letting go and seeing my thoughts as manifestations of the hinderances the Rabbis speak about felt like choosing life.
Meditation and mindfulness didn’t take away all of the fear, judgement, anger and resistance I was feeling towards my friend, but it helped me see the transitory nature of all thoughts and all things. It allowed me to understand that there was no one truth, no real solidity to arguments made on either side. There was just her and I, both trying to find space at the table with each other, and all the “enemies” that we could make room for as well.
Set an intention to invite your uncomfortable emotions — your demons — anger, jealousy, resentment, sadness, regret, fear, shame etc. in for a visit.
Take your seat, settle in and begin to become aware of your breath. Turn your awareness to one of the emotions that causes suffering in your life. For a moment speak directly to the emotion and say “Welcome Anger (or what ever you are addressing) please come in and have a seat at my table.”
Start to notice how this request feels in your body, in your chest, your stomach, your throat, your heart. Is there resistance, aversion, openness, relief. Sit with what ever sensations arise in your body, and gently let go of any thoughts that arise in your mind.
Relax into your body and be curious about how this familiar uncomfortable emotion makes its presence known to you through bodily sensations. Observe the texture of these sensations as they arise, evolve, and dissipate. Through this awareness recognize the truth of the temporary nature of all things, and take this knowledge with you into your daily activities and interactions.