Saturday, August 28, 2010

Not in Action, But in Observation

Dear Carina,

I am 59 years of age, but I too am an angry little girl inside. My family was from Long Island, New York; a wealthy community where we appeared to be “normal and happy”. But, my parents were dysfunctional people who desperately tried to form-fit me and my brother to their fucked up standards. Neither parent grew up with an important father or mother figure in their lives, and as a result didn’t know how to be parents to us. My father was a success-driven man who worked, ate and slept with little time for anything but discipline for his children. My mother didn’t have a role model of a mother and was totally unequipped to show love or affection to us. I rebelled as soon as I was able to think and speak, thus becoming the ‘difficult, uncooperative and argumentative’ daughter. I grew up feeling that I was never good enough, didn’t deserve love and affection, and very self-destructive.

As an adult all of these inner feelings manifested into bad decisions with relationships and life in general. Now I realize that each and every thing that happened was meant to happen for my inner growth and evolution.

There is one thing I am wrestling with, which I need help with. I was born with a scoliosis (spinal curvature) and have been in physical pain since I was 24, and it just got worse (it’s a degenerating condition) with age and time. I am dependent on pain medication, as there is no cure or relief for my condition.

I find myself living in the ‘pain body’ literally and figuratively. I am always in pain, and it’s very easy to be in the present and watch the pain body, acknowledge that it’s there, but never can get past it. I am a survivor. I had to become that to get through life. There is always anger right below the surface. Most of the time I keep it in check, but when I have to interact with my mother the anger seeps out and I can get very ugly with my words. I know now that she did everything she could to be a “good mother,” yet she was a failure and I cannot seem to let it go.

I want to get rid of the anger I have inside, but everything I have ever tried never works for very long. I read Be Here Now when it first came out, and every book Ram Dass wrote in addition to many other teachers. Mr. Tolle’s works are very important, yet extremely heavy reading for me.

Do you have any thoughts you could share with me?



Dear Debby,

Thank you so much for sharing your story and your question with us.

We all have some part that we manage to keep beneath the surface that sometimes just comes out, like it or not.

There are few situations that bring it out of me like hanging out with my family. It's such a trip to see. And that's what we're going to talk about here: seeing. That is, watching without judgment.

The way you describe your parents is familiar. So few parents were given workable road maps for parenting. Our parents surely stumbled - and continue to stumble - through the process and the role playing as most of us stumble through most of our intimate relationships: driven by righteousness, thoughts, emotions, and social constructs; unconscious, and with a weight from our minds telling us that either they or we should be somehow other than how we are.

My family scares me; they are such mirrors for me. When I'm with them my general laissez-faire attitude goes right out the window, and I just become one big ball of resistance. I wouldn't even know I was resisting if I couldn't feel it in my body. And Debby, I know you are acutely aware of your body, so you can notice the tensing of resistance right away. I tighten up because there's some other way that I want my people to be (even if I have no conscious vision of what any other way would be). Then there's the way I think I should be being, too. Then I need a chair massage.

We can't control our family members, nor can we rationalize our way out of feeling discomfort, resentment, sadness, fear or anger. And I'm quite certain that our parents had their version of this with their parents - not to mention with us, too - and that they feel badly - combined with justified - about their feelings. We all have this in common.

The good news is, nobody's doing anything wrong.

And, in fact, nothing needs to change. There is one small shift that we can make, not in action, but in observation, that can make a huge difference and can breathe space, freedom and movement into these situations that just seem like failures.

I watched myself go through it with my mom the other day. We were driving in the car, and she asked me a question that just flipped my automatic switch. Rather than being that comforting space of presence my boyfriend encouraged me to be (easy for him to say, he's in New Zealand, not in Ohio), I was just my mom's kid, offensive and offending as ever. Even as I write this, I smile. It's been such a mirror and such a lesson in just watching the waves of humanness.

We watch, as if from up in a giant oak tree, with solid branches to hold us and roots that won't budge no matter how we behave. We see the whole scene play out and have compassion and empathy for ourselves and each other. We have compassion because from that vantage point we see and know that these emotional moments, however minute or grand they seem at the time, are part of the natural arising and passing away of everything in this life. We can watch, without being lost inside of them. We can allow them to play out. What use is it to try to resist a wave?

And we have empathy because from up in the observation oak, we can see that we're all in the same boat. Unconsciously acting out our robotic roles and wishing that we behaved and reacted differently. Most of us think on some level that there's something really wrong with us. We have this in common with everyone: our parents, our siblings, everyone.

We can be grateful that we have any moments of consciousness at all!

I know in your heart that you want to forgive your mother and allow her to be. But it's tricky when your head is trying to do the forgiving. You write, "I know now that she did everything she could to be a 'good mother,' . . . " and you probably make yourself wrong for not being able to internalize that.

Remember, there's no should in spiritual growth.

What we are here to experience in every moment is what we are here to experience. That's just how it is and it couldn't be any other way.

So what you get to do is just feel that anger, notice your resistance, watch it all play out, and allow the moment to be. You’ll notice that the allowing and observation lets the air out of the tires of the situation.

We would do well to remember that we are spirit born into form to experience life through these specific forms. And along with these forms come emotions and weirdness and words that we wish we could take back. And if we can, however momentarily, get ourselves to the place where we can watch it all go by with a smile and a pat on the head, we are bringing the source of all life and unchanging peace into that moment, and the moment has infinite value.

I'm grateful that you wrote and that we're contemplating these experiences together.



P.S. You mention that Eckhart Tolle's works are heavy reading for you, and I want to recommend his amazing and almost unbearably simple new book, Guardians of Being. My attempts to describe the simple spaciousness do not do this book justice. My mom and I both relate to this sweet book, with drawings by cartoonist Patrick McDonnell. In fact the copy of the book I have now, my mom gave me. It is instant slicing through the noise of the mind, and is an usher into the present. I highly recommend it.

If other questions arise from this writing, please email

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Birth of True Compassion

Dear Carina,

How do I get rid/tame the angry little girl who lives inside me? She sabotages almost everything I do, holds my tongue to keep me from speaking up for myself which compounds the self-hate that I am trying to heal.

(Inner child, emotional and sexually abusive childhood)

Yes, I have "The Courage to Heal" and yes, I am in counseling, and yes, I am taking anti-depressants.


~ Annie


Dear Annie,

Thank you for writing. A lot of times when I get letters from readers, I go through a time of feeling inept. I read about scenarios that I may or may not have experienced first hand and wonder what I can possibly contribute to the situation. I think this process actually helps because it gets me out of my mind and into a deeper inquiry.

I've been chewing on your question for some time now, and I went through that inept phase. Next I thought about automatic therapeutic answers: working with the little girl, nurturing her, asking her what she wants, working out a deal to give her loving attention as soon as possible. These can be useful practices, in part, because in order to practice them, we need to have a level of awareness that the little girl is activated.

All humans have some form of this. Eckhart Tolle calls it the pain body. What's beautiful about his distinction is that it depersonalizes the experience. In fact, it universalizes it. The pain body could also be referred to as our unconscious or automatic states of being. These are ways of being that are programmed into us, coming from many different sources: genetics, our parents, our culture and its own collective suffering, the great suffering of our ancestors, or simply being human and forgetting that we are the Divine itself.

These states are not personal, and they are not the depth of who we truly are. But, man, are they convincing, not only that they are us, but also that who we are is awful.

Right? Did I hear you say something about self-hate? So painful. So terribly painful. And on some level, all humans have this experience.

I found this written on a notepad next to my bed last night: "When the pain body is activated and in charge, we cannot choose," and I thought of you. It's not your fault nor even the angry little girl's fault. We are not conscious when the pain body is active. It's like sleepwalking.

So what are we going to do?

How about this, from Eckhart Tolle's Power of Now; when you are activated, especially if you can notice it coming on:

"Focus attention on the negative feeling inside you. Know that it is the pain body. Accept that it is there. Don't think about it—don't let the feeling turn into thinking. Don't judge yourself out of it. Stay present, and continue to be the observer of what is happening inside you."

When you move into the observer position, even for a fraction of a second, you break the resistance and struggle with the situation, and the seed of peace is planted.

This is also where true compassion is born. As we stop associating who we are with what's happening in our mind and settle back into a neutral place of watching, our hearts soften at the poignancy of the human condition.

We see these tender hearts that long to be cared for, and in these moments when the upset part of us is driving the show and we fight against it, it can only turn and hit back. The paradox and relief comes through allowing it to be. So, we observe, as gently as we can. Oh there's that again. And here I go again. And [keep breathing] there it is again.

In doing this practice, the mind stream is interrupted, and a sliver of presence is inserted. Oh, here I am walking through the grocery store parking lot and the sun feels hot and so does the blacktop. We do not think these things, we simply experience this moment through our senses. It may be brief and fleeting, but these moments have cumulative benefits.

Just remember, you may not get relief in the very moment that you're practicing. Or you may. But even if you don't, trust me that any practice that brings us into the present over and over again - that is, interrupts the judging, judging mind - is ultimately beneficial and could very well begin to soothe that sad (and so acting angry) little girl.

I know that your question will be helpful to lots of people and I thank you again for writing.



If other questions arise from this writing, please email