This past week seems to have been a week of difficult communications. My day job involves firing off emails in all directions and although I pride myself on taking care with the clarity of my communication, it’s still very functional stuff. I’m just doing a job, trying to be efficient and effective. In my personal correspondence, I have a different approach. Increasingly I take time to savour it, to enjoy the process of communication, of ordering my thoughts, feeling into what needs to be said, enjoying the relationship.
The difficult correspondence this week has not exactly been enjoyable, but it certainly requires a lot of care. Perhaps more care than ever. Care of my emotions, mainly. In trying to say what I most need to say, there’s a lot of vulnerability. The unilateral act of writing to someone is a bit scary. There’s no way of knowing how or if they’re going to react.
First I wrote to one of my teachers with some questions about the nature of practice, or about the nature of my own practice. They were pretty big concerns, and I wasn’t sure how they’d be received. If they’d be received, in fact. But rather than brushing me off with a bland ‘just keep practising’ message (though of course he did say that too!), he sent me multiple pages of articulate thoughts, acknowledging my concerns and giving me some idea of ways to work with them. And he ended with the reassurance that whatever I had to ask in future, he would always answer me. Although his message overall was pretty tough to read — serious philosophical stuff can’t be easy! — this reassurance of ongoing help had me practically weeping with relief. Yes, my practice, my journey… but someone is watching over me.
I wrote to another of my teachers with a very different question, one that I’m slightly regretting asking for fear of the answer. But even so, I think it needed to be done. Now it rests with him. Either way, hearing back will be difficult, so I’m not second-guessing or trying to predict his response. This too is part of my practice after all (as the first teacher reminded me!): cultivating patience and equanimity, allowing myself the vulnerability and the not-knowing. And the practice of not allowing myself to be defined by the perspective of others.
Which brings me to the final, most difficult communication. The one requiring paper and ink, rather than an email. This one reaching back into what feels like a different lifetime, when I was a different, much more troubled, young person. This correspondence entered into rather unwillingly, but perhaps helping me take a small step towards lightning the feelings of unworthiness I carry around. This person reinforced that message for years, repeatedly showing me how inadequate I was and never allowing my efforts to be enough. I’m trying to cling less tightly to this way of seeing myself through his eyes. And some way through this slow exchange of letters, he tells me how amazing he thinks I am, how wonderful and deserved my recent exam result it, seen as the outcome of dedicated hard work around my other life commitments. He is impressed. He expresses a massive vote of confidence in me.
And now I realise that the feelings of inadequacy I’ve been carrying around so many decades are way out of date, in more ways than I previously understood. He bequeathed them to me years ago — but he’s long since stopped seeing me that way himself. I’m the one caught in the past.
I wonder if this intellectual understanding will eventually make its way beyond my brain and into all the cells of my body? Right now I’m still always fighting the instinct to contract almost to disappearing point (if only I could). One day I will find a way to expand into the space I deserve and I will believe I am enough.