Life hurts all of us and we all carry wounds from our childhood. The question is how we deal with them. Openness and non-judgmental attentiveness to these wounds can lead to strength and wholeness rather than ongoing trauma regardless of how severe the wound was. Our wounds are general lodged in the body, so if you spend time in your meditation staying with your sensations, you may make contact with feelings that emerge. It is your actual experience in the moment, not your old stories or your thoughts about how your life was supposed to be, that’s most important.
Shame or the fear that goes with it doesn’t have to be a problem. It only plagues us if we repress it, try to wish it away, or let it hold us back from doing what we want to do.
When we start to feel depleted, inferior, not good enough, or defective, shame may be kicking in. And we can all learn to recognize its energy.
Here’s a meditation you might try:
1. Name an experience you had not too long ago of shame. During your meditation tune into it. See if you can identify the external trigger and what you said to yourself right before feeling the shame (e.g., “I never get it right, no one will ever love me because I’m too old,” etc.).
2. Realize that you are not the feeling. You are much bigger than any single feeling.
3. Be curious. Where is it coming from? A particular memory or series of memories? Are there accompanying bodily sensations and thoughts or images?
4. Do you have an ideal or expectation you’ve created that causes the shame (e.g., “I should be perfect at work or exercise, I shouldn’t have this fear, this shame”). Are you clinging to an ideal that there will be no uncertainty, only stability and control, and shame comes up when the ideal isn’t met?
5. Notice how the word “should” maximizes your fear or shame. Who would you be without that ideal? Imagine yourself trusting in uncertainty, being open to whatever comes.
6. Who are you when you are not hooked by that fear or shame? Can you move around with a sense of trust in yourself and in the world? What you might do to experiment with being more trusting?
You might try experimenting as my therapist friend recently did. She felt ashamed when she found out that a statement she made to her client led the client to consider quitting therapy. When the client shared this with her, my friend made a simple apology and owned up to her own feeling of shame. It helped the client a lot to see that even her own therapist experienced shame.
When you’re feeling ashamed you might notice one of two things that commonly occur: 1.) You want to hide, to withdraw from the human closeness we all want and need; 2.) You let the shame propel you to give into the other person’s demands.
When I work with folks at Zen Center, I explain to them that disengagement/withdrawing or enmeshment/going along to get along are generally mirror images of each other. Then I help them consider how they might practice the middle way of engagement.
Often what we take personally is really quite impersonal. What was done to you or for you arose out of a complex series of causes and conditions over which you had little or no control. Besides, in most cases you were just a kid!
Our wounds do not disappear, but they stop hooking our mind and imprisoning our heart thru the practicing self-awareness and self-compassion. As Zorba the Greek said, “To live is to roll up your sleeves and embrace trouble.”
Tim Burkett, Guiding Teacher