Recently, I was speaking with a friend about some recurring challenges, that bothered me; and what bothered me wasn’t the challenges themselves, but the fact that I was still feeling them.
Like, shouldn’t I be past the whole empty nest thing? And ya, immigrating is hard, but it’s also exciting. And learning a new language? So what if you feel like you’re three years old most of the time; humility is good for the soul!
Which is why, when I listened to an interview with Daniel Goleman and Tsoknyi Rinpoche about their upcoming book “Why We Meditate”, I suddenly, and I mean suddenly felt a whole hell of a lot better. Reconciled.
In the interview, Tsoknyi Rinpoche introduced a concept he calls beautiful monsters; these are the hurt parts of us, the childhood trauma, the less wise responses to life, the overreactions and underreactions, the deep feelings we don’t always understand. And usually hide and hate.
Tsoknyi Rinpoche says of these beautiful monsters that they are real but not true. The feelings of abandonment and sadness and loss and fear are very real—even if what we are reacting to happened decades earlier or is happening on a tv screen or photo album or hasn’t even happened yet. But, whatever conclusions our mind is coming to—about these feelings—like, oh now that my children don’t need me I am useless or because I split from my partner I will never find love again, or there is a war somewhere in the world and therefore every corner of the planet is unsafe. Or, right now I feel untethered and that means I’ll never feel at home.
But…big but here…just because the conclusions aren’t true, it doesn’t make the current feelings any less real or painful. And we don’t help ourselves by shaming ourselves for having painful feelings.
Which is why Rinpoche calls these aspects of ourselves beautiful monsters. They are beautiful because the welcome us into the collective universal human experience. Who out there does not know pain? Or loss? Or fear? Who doesn’t carry wounds from childhood or relationships gone awry?
And who doesn’t sometimes go back to those hurt places and overreact? By withdrawing? Or screaming? Or by turning to addictive behavior? Or at least want to turn to addictive behavior?
We all have stuff. Life stuff. Personality stuff.
Yet, we all want to pretend that we don’t. That we’ve got our shit together.
Truth is—sometimes we do and sometimes we don’t. Truth is—we take turns.
We all have beautiful monsters. And when they come knocking on the door, they need to be welcomed in. Loved. Invited in for herbal tea and maybe some dates and walnuts (the Mediterranean version…cookies and milk elsewhere?), and soothing music and hugs and breath. Lots of breath.
And, stealing from another beloved Buddhist teacher, Pema Chodron, maybe when they come knocking, maybe we can try something different, she instructs. Because, let’s be honest, that old stuff we did…did it ever work?
Try something new—to welcome in the beautiful monsters. To accept all the feelings as real. As necessary roads we must go down. To let them run their course, for as long as it takes. And to remind ourselves—and when we can’t remind ourselves, to call upon loved ones to remind us—that the fears aren’t true in this moment.
And I don’t know about you…but the more often I welcome in and even love my beautiful monsters, the more I readily welcome in and even love the beautiful monsters of others.