Meditation can bring up a whole host of negative emotions – anger, sadness, frustration, hurt – and sometimes all that seems to happen is you sit there with them. You try to make the difficult feelings welcome, accept them, and experience them fully. You notice that your throat is tight, your stomach is churning, your chest is squeezing, there are tears in your eyes and you try not to back away from these uncomfortable sensations. When this happens over and over again, you wonder what the point is – nothing seems to be getting better. But then sometimes you have an amazing moment of clarity that is felt on a very different level to the moments of clarity that you might experience through more logical analysis.
So, here is a part of my meditation journey and my moment of clarity.
A situation arose at work where, due to a re-organisation, my position within my work team shifted. I had been occupying what was really my dream job, and a very central position in the team. Because of my role, I was often the first to be consulted by my senior managers and I had a lot of influence with them. We would have little meetings without the rest of the team. I also got on very well with them and they felt like friends as well as managers. They made it clear that they valued my work and my inputs. But with the re-organisation, a more senior manager was parachuted into that central role, and my role was changed, so that, although on the same grade, I was now on the periphery of the team working at much more of a distance from my senior managers and with no special relationships. Suddenly, they were having little meetings, and I wasn’t invited. Emotionally, it felt like a real kick in the teeth and I took it really hard, much harder than I should have done.
Every time I sat down to meditate, I felt overwhelmed with negative feelings of hurt, anger and sadness. It felt like a really personal rejection, although logically I knew that there was no rejection intended. I had been usurped and my position had been taken by this new manager. Logically, it was hard to blame anyone – no-one had particularly chosen this situation, least of all the new manager. But emotionally, I was in bits. I just couldn’t get past it. I found myself turning into a person I didn’t really like very much, full of negativity and bitterness.
Every time I sat to meditate, all these feeling arose, and all I could do was notice them. They didn’t go away. I began to feel a bit disillusioned with meditation since it didn’t seem to be turning me into the wise and compassionate person I wanted to be. Sometimes I did loving kindness meditation, and tried to extend loving kindness to my work colleagues, but I couldn’t really feel compassion at a deep level – it was all my head rather than my heart.
But one day, as I sat to meditate, an image came to me that was so powerful it did transform how I felt. I was suddenly a little girl again, on the periphery of my family. My Mum and Dad and my younger sister (by six years) were close together and I was on the outskirts.
I think that this was a powerful emotion of my childhood. I remembered photos of myself as a toddler, my Mum and my Dad together, so close before my sister was born. Even when she was a baby, she was just a super-doll for us all to play with. But as she grew older, she seemed in some way to replace me. She was easy-going, compliant, cheerful and seemed to navigate her social life with ease. I was awkward, spiky, shy and moody. The more that my Mum seemed to prefer my sister, the more I did things calculated to annoy my Mum. I felt uncomfortable in my skin, and different to every one else. I never quite fitted in.
The image that came to me so powerfully in meditation was the three of them, posed as in the photos of my early childhood, but I am now on the periphery and she is at the centre. I wanted to take my younger self in my arms, give that little girl a big hug and say, you know what, actually you are great just as you are. You don’t need to change to fit in, you don’t need to pretend to be anything other than yourself, and you are of value. You are lovable. I sat for longer focusing all my compassion on my childhood self. Other feelings seemed to soften and dissolve.
Later I extended that compassion to my sister who never asked for that role in the family. This wasn’t hard as my sister and I have always got on well and I always cared for her.
I also tried to extend that compassion to my parents, which was a little harder. Now I am a parent myself, I know how frustrating children’s moods and behaviour can be, and that a parent can love a child and be frustrated by them at the same time. I try to empathize with my mother who was probably doing the best she could.
I was also able to extend this compassion to my work colleagues in a way that felt more genuine than it ever had done previously.
I realised that in every job I have had, I have made great efforts to occupy a central position in my manager’s heart, by working hard, being excellent at my job, being helpful and being emphatic to my manager’s stresses. It’s a pattern that I have repeated over and over with new managers – get my good work noticed, be super-helpful, then make friends. It’s generally worked – my managers have rewarded me with challenging projects, praise, recognition, support and friendship. But when my relationships with managers don’t work out like this, I take it hard. It’s like they have reneged on their side of the deal. That is not the ending I am looking for.
I began to wonder what it would be like to be different at work – less dependent on others for validation. Less willing to please.
Transactional Analysis has a lot to say about how parent and child relationships get repeated in adult relationships. The classic book, which I would recommend to anyone who is interested, is “Games People Play” by Eric Berne. I read it a long time ago and I studied it again on my counselling diploma. So maybe I already knew these things about myself and my relationships in an intellectual, analytical way. I probably did some kind of exercise in class about it. But in meditation, I really felt them deeply for the first time.
I wonder how many difficult work relationships between managers and the people they manage are really the result of people bringing their childhood stories into work and re-enacting them, possibly hoping to achieve a different outcome.
Thinking of the people I have managed, some do really like to please. One spent the first few months of our relationship greeting me with “what have I done?” as if she expected to be told off by the teacher. Some like to make friends, whilst others expect a more hierarchical relationship. They are probably all, to some extend, either repeating a comfortable pattern or looking for a happier ending.