Negativity Simply Becomes Food

“Originally there were conceptual ideas and then they were cut through altogether so that you no longer regarded light and dark as light and dark. It becomes the non-dualistic state. Then negativity simply becomes food, pure strength. You no longer relate to negativity as being good or bad, but you continually use the energy which comes out of it as a source of life so that you are never really defeated in a situation. Crazy wisdom cannot be defeated. If someone attacks or someone praises, crazy wisdom will feed on either equally.”

-Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, The Myth of Freedom

My oldest son is teaching me about working with ‘negativity.’ He’s also teaching me about my own expression of anger in response. We often talk about how in our family “our love includes everything,” even the frustration and mutual mistakes. And, “mistakes” have been abounding. The stress of multiple transitions has affected each of us and wires are frayed all around. My son pushes the boundaries of my capacity to “positively parent” with patience and the face of love which feels most comfortable. I keep hearing the voice of my yoga teacher: “Real Hatha Yoga begins at the point of failure.” A mother recently said to me after she’d been yelling at her daughter: “Motherhood is a humbling series of failures.” I concur.

The question for me becomes: What do you do when you are standing at this humbling doorway of failure and mistake? How do you dance with negativity?

Chogyam Trungpa has an answer for me. “You must not make an impulsive move into any situation. Let the situation come, then look at it, chew it properly, digest it, sit on it….Frivolousness means reacting according to reflex. You throw something and when it bounces back you react. Spontaneity is when you throw something and watch it and work with the energy when it bounces back at you. Once you are emotionally worked up, then too much anxiety is put into your action. But when you are spontaneous, there is less anxiety and you just deal with situations as they are. You do not simply react, but you work with the quality and structure of the reaction. You feel the texture of the situation rather than just acting impulsively.”

Let’s break down what this looks like. My son throws his toothbrush. He does it again. He then pushes his brother. He now throws the toothpaste along with the toothbrush. (Mix in a bit of yelling and writhing on the floor even though we are 10 minutes late for school). “Are you trying to make me mad?” “Yes, mama.” And then, I do get mad, toss the equanimity out the door and resort to acting like a four-year old myself, raised voice, slammed door and all. Note: This IS reacting according to an agitated reflex. Note: This is NOT reacting with spontaneity. Note: This IS impulsive and I AM emotionally worked up. Note: Anxiety has definitely entered the picture. Note: Something along these lines happens daily right now. As parents, what do we do when we are consistently pushed to the edge of what feels tolerable in terms of ‘negative’ behavior? How to work with it? What to do? Where is my love when I fly off the handle? What do you do when it just feels like a continual, grueling mess?

Then, I remember what Dogen Zenji says: “Enlightenment is intimacy with everything.” I can hold all of this: the letting myself and my family down, the experience of failing, the loss of control, the dualistic mind that self-judges, the wrestling with shadows, the impatient mother in me who doesn’t want to deal with four-year old antics. And, as Trungpa points to: I can practice an integration of “negatives.” I don’t have to fall into labeling anything (including my own actions) as ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Rather, this whole process of working with ‘negativity’ can be used as food for my dance in life, energy for my continued unfolding and relationship with what is. As in some Tibetan Buddhist images, I can use the ‘negativities’ – the painted demons or a crown of skulls – as ornaments of my own existence of grappling. I can remember that all feelings are allowed, and all actions can be danced with. I can remember to still set limits, while welcoming the full spectrum of emotions (including my own). Most importantly, I can stay close and connected with my child when ‘negative’ behavior is flourishing. I can do this because I have done the work of staying intimate with my own negativities. Not avoiding. Not ignoring. Not glossing over. Not pushing away. I can be angry, too. And still, I can work to restore calm, not from a place of this being ‘right’ or ‘wrong,’ but from a place of spontaneous dance through whatever is being tossed at me in these crazy moments of parenting young kids.

Intimacy With Everything

“Enlightenment is intimacy with everything.”

-Dogen Zenji, 1200-1253

Even arsenic in rice?

The report was released in September. Arsenic is turning up in rice samples ranging from organic rice baby cereals to breakfast cereals to white rice and brown rice. Something about the indisputability of arsenic’s profound toxicity catches my heart and hits me with a thud. “There is no safe level of arsenic,” says the FDA. It isn’t that I’m surprised, or even aghast. Quite the contrary. I’m grimly accepting, albeit with great pain. For several days I look at my children through a different texture of gaze: seeing the food on Rowan’s plate in a renewed light. Even rice has become a potential poison and this time there is no disputing, no arguing, no escaping through the denial of endless industry funded studies. Arsenic is a poison and it is turning up in American rice.

How to be intimate with this news? It is ultimately the icing on the cake of a month of activism around the endocrine disrupting chemical Bisphenol-A and the floodgates of knowledge being open regarding the harmful effects of seemingly unavoidable chemicals inundating our daily lives through air, water, food packaging, couches, clothes, baby mattresses, blankets and the like. We’ve turned too much of our world into poison. There is nothing like the precious vulnerability of a baby to help me see the vast cruelty of our society’s experiments and there is also nothing like the unavoidable revelation that there is no escape. I often say being an environmentalist is a hard place to be. It requires open eyes and heart amidst the constant barrage of bad news as well as acceptance of the adage ‘what we do to earth we also do to self.’ We as a species still haven’t managed to get the memo: this too is interconnected. Arsenic in pesticides even 100 years ago comes back to haunt us today, creeping into grains of rice and kids’ juice boxes and infant formula.

My mind turns to the Hindu deity Krishna. When traveling in India I was told Krishna’s skin was blue because he ingested the poisons afflicting humanity and was able to transmute them. (Not only did he transform humanity’s poisons, he also drove venomous snakes away by vehemently dancing on their heads). His power to transform poison points to a lesson in integration: radical integration of what is, even what is profoundly toxic, as a path to transformation and healing. How much poison can we sustain? Perhaps that isn’t the question to attend to, but rather how much can we integrate in our hearts, minds and souls in order to be fully sane? If Enlightenment is intimacy with everything, how intimate can we be with our poisons?

Perhaps Krishna also points to the lesson of radical integration as a path to no resistance. Rather than resist, run from, fight and try to avoid what is ultimately unavoidable, perhaps we can practice a sane, relaxed response. As my husband tells me in the midst of my worrying spells: “Relax into the mess.” This doesn’t mean inaction or avoidance or denial. It doesn’t mean apathy or an “oh well” disposition. This means radical integration of the mess and radical intimacy with the mess. From a place of intimacy, with eyes wide open, we can make meaningful decisions from the heart. We can feel the pain and let it bruise us, and we can try to love the bruise. Instead of a “fight for life” from a place of fear, we can surrender into the flow of life, even life’s messes which cause both physical and emotional cancers.

As a mother I want to protect my children. The heartbreaking truth is that in many instances I cannot. Ultimately I cannot create an island that is safe from the poisons of our mistakes, especially the mistakes beyond my sphere of influence. I can however create an enclave of sanity, a launching pad of the relative health grounded in the understanding of interconnectedness and the accompanying intimacy of this perspective. And, I can choose to not cultivate fear and dread, instead moving beyond fear into the realm of integration, which is ultimately Truth. This situation is just True. This hell bending situation just IS. Pesticides dousing soil with neurotoxins and carcinogens, arsenic laden soil giving life and food but also a dose of wake up America reality.

Still, we are called to action and activism, even in light of living into a practiced acceptance. Intimacy calls us to love! And love calls us to protection and preservation. Beyond fear and avoidance is the realm of Love. So surrender. Let this break your heart. Look at your child and wonder what the future holds. Marvel that lessons of our interconnectedness are served up poignantly on your plate. No surprises. Fully integrated awareness, bestowing a calm authority, we move on, vowing to enact our own gestures of transformation.