I learned the art of "checking out" early. I would shift my attention from my body to some small detail of the moment. The vivid colors of cartoons on the television. The quality of the morning sunlight coming in through the north facing windows of my Mother's bedroom. The pattern of the paint and plaster on a ceiling. Code. Work. Writing ideas.
You get the idea. Something I could make so deeply engrossing that I was no longer connected to my body. I was outside of what was happening to my body. It is a pretty useful defensive tool and it has got me through abuse, doctor's exams, and dental work.
As a Zen practitioner we work toward being present to the moment. Fully conscious of the whole moment. The sensations of the body. The speeding of the mind. The sounds, textures and entirety of the present moment.
When I first was given the practice of Metta from my teachers it was profoundly difficult for a long time. I could send Metta all the live-long day to people I knew, people I was neutral toward, and even became more comfortable cultivating loving-kindness toward people I found difficult.
Where I got stuck was cultivating loving-kindness toward myself. The idea with Metta is that you start with yourself, filling yourself with so much loving-kindness that it very naturally extends outwards to benefit all living beings. I was right there with the benefits to all living beings, but not myself.
I realized with some shame that when I tried to focus on myself I'd "check out". Many people have a struggle with their inner critic who finds any number of reasons why they don't deserve loving-kindness, but I didn't get that. I just left the scene.
My teachers gave me all kinds of ideas on how to stick with myself. After many months, well over a year, of working with Metta practice, I can finally stick with myself. I built up slowly through the phrases, getting stuck on wishing myself happy for quite some time. Now though I can even find myself truly wishing that I be free from fear and anxiety, may I be peaceful and happy. I also sometimes add an additional loving wish that I be free from shame.
In this case it has felt like a victory to not "check out" (such a gentle way of saying "disassociate"). However, I've noticed in the past few months that I don't really check out anymore. I'm going through a period right now where it doesn't feel like progress or healing at all. It feels like I've lost one of my best allies.
I find myself fully, wholly present to what is happening to my body and mind. While at times it is great and other times tedious (chronic pain is, above all things, tedious), there are other times when it is truly horrifying and awful. I feel utterly defenseless against memories both mental and somatic. At those times I really grieve the loss of my ability to disassociate.
Don't know when or how it happened, but I feel bereft. I'm sure there's some combination of Yoga, Zen and EMDR therapy at work in this.
I am assured by both therapists that it is very certainly progress even though it feels like a terrible loss. They've also pointed out the progress I've made in being my own advocate and asking for what I need. My cognitive therapist even noted that I've been able to more clearly articulate events that have happened.
At this point I'm just going to accept that it is progress and stick with things. But I miss it.
An Artist Trading Card I made recently reminded me of the sun. It was for a trade around a theme of a word chosen by the recipient to inspire them in 2011. My recipient asked for a zentangle with the word "Cherish". When I completed it, it reminded me of the sun.
And then I was reminded of a poem by Hafiz that I just love:
The Sun Never Says
All this time
The sun never says to the earth,
With a love like that,
It lights the