Stone Statues and Green Smoothies
This piece of writing is about impermanence and blowing up stone statues and how I help people turn “if only it were that easy” on its sharp, pointy little head so they can just do what's needed right now and be kinder to themselves. Honestly, if that's not something for everyone, I give up. Add whipped cream, if you must, or drink a green smoothie while you read it, then you will surely be fulfilled, at least for a moment.
I have an inspired, inspiring twenty-something client who took to my concept of stone statues and together we coined the term statuefication—which it turns out exists as a word in French (just drop the e, bring not just your lips but your whole face forward as you speak it, and land in your sinuses at the end). The idea is that living life well puts us face-to-face with all kinds of concepts, ethics, and aspirations that are flexible, open to interpretation, abstract, not literal, not made of matter, and, perhaps above all else, impermanent, and we sit around like a bunch of frustrated sculptors seeking to make stone statues of it all. Does that sound like a good idea?
Here's an example. Let's say that, like another client of mine, you have the truly sensible idea that you don't want to react to your partner when he (substitute your preferred pronoun) has hair-raising reactions to your driving. It's a common ideal among spiritual types: I don't want to react. I want to walk around like a thin, fit Buddha who drinks green smoothies, and just smile beatifically when people around me react. I just want to love them in their humanity and stay solid in my equanimity. So that's nice, right?
It's nice as long as you stay out of statuefication. Stone statues violate impermanence, which is a law of the Universe. Not reacting to others, contrary to popular belief, is not a law of the Universe. It's just a really good idea a lot of the time. It's just an ideal, which means that you, as a mere mortal, won't always achieve it, though you can aspire to it if you wish. And there may even be times, since it's not a stone statue, when reacting is a truly inspired idea and your best bet, as when you scream STOP before someone hits someone else with a moving vehicle. (You might even scream it in a hair-raising way.)
Make a concept a stone statue and you're saying it's a THING, it's solid, it's real, it will sit there for a very long time because it'll still be cute when its arms fall off. If you statuefy not reacting, same as with any concept, you're bound to get in trouble. People react. That means you need permission to react. You need to keep away from guilt when you react—because you're in fact guilty only of being human, of doing what human beings do. You haven't violated a universal law, or even a federal or local law; you haven't done anything wrong.
So what if you want to be nonreactive (that's your intention) and you find yourself reacting? In my language, you simply catch yourself reacting, celebrate catching yourself, and then, in that moment (NOW is the only time for change), step toward your intention. In this case that could mean apologizing for your reaction, offering another response, getting quiet so you don't react some more, noticing that you're also reacting to your own reaction, and beginning to direct kindness, forgiveness, spaciousness, at the very least, toward yourself.
Here are two things you can always do: mind the pain body and tend the mind. Pull in and tune in to your pain body—that place in your body that feels the ache or raw pain of whatever just got churned up by the thing you reacted to compounded by your belief that you shouldn't have reacted. Your pain body wants awareness and breath, so give it those two not-so-much-to-ask-for things. (That actually does something.) As soon as you're ready, you can address your thinking and start to identify and dismantle the belief that caused you to react (children shouldn't shriek at the top of their lungs, teens shouldn't make unhealthy choices, partners shouldn't have hair-raising reactions to your driving).
I'm basically always exhorting my clients to be in a two-part process of minding the pain body and tending the mind. When I talked to this client about this process, she said she was trying to do those things in the moment but kept getting sucked back into her own judgments of herself, which got her irritated at him again, which got her judging herself some more—one of those seemingly (seemingly) no-exit existential-nightmare loops.
So I told her about me, something my clients seem to love and which I get to do because I'm not only a mere mortal but also a mere coach, not a therapist. I get to tell on myself. I told her about something that happened for me recently that brought up full-blown shame—so weirdly unfamiliar—the kind that makes you feel sick through and through. It actually made me feel weak: I had to go lie down. I swear the last time I felt this way I was wearing that hoopskirt dress and they were still marketing smelling salts, but there was just no such thing to reach for this time except everything I know about and practice for being with pain.
I accessed the compassionate, dispassionate witness and gave myself to the pain body. I breathed into the place that hurt, and let myself really, really feel it, the full extent of it, the breadth and depth and exact quality and pitch of this particular pain-body event. I wrote down my thoughts, and then I went back over them and found how they weren't true.
Then something beautiful happened: I landed in humility instead of shame. I'd never thought of humility as the light side of shadowy shame, but there it was. I found it helpful to name this thing I was feeling, because something was still there but palpably shifted—what was it? Ah, humility. Much better.
Ah, but humility is no stone statue, and damned if it didn't flip right back to shame. I witnessed the pain body. I sat in the question, Do I really have something to feel ashamed of? I sat till shame flipped to humility, again. And it flipped back to shame. Humility, shame, humility, shame … There's no stone statue. I just kept meeting what came up and consciously steering toward humility, because it's so much kinder and truer. (I've written about how shame is a liar.) Some of this flipping back and forth happened not sitting or lying down, but simply going about my business. I held the pain body, I held the question, I steered toward humility and, perhaps miraculously, kept coming back to that kindness.
I invited my client to that kind of process. Blow up the stone statue that represents “I should not react.” Then blow up the stone statue that says, “I should bring myself back from my ugly reaction and stay put in the prettier place.” Now you're in a much more realistic and even more Buddha-friendly (certainly more you-friendly) process that doesn't violate the law of impermanence. Now you can simply witness yourself going back and forth from clarity to murkiness, from light to dark and back again, and get okay with all that. This is how you blow up your stone statues, and maybe it's not a truly glamorous or gloriously gritty process (no actual explosive exploits), but it sure does a lot to realign you with reality, which is as full of impermanence and kindness as you'll let it be.
Does this make sense to you? My client's first response was, “If only it were that easy.” Wait a minute—that's stone-statue thinking right there! Forget easy. Forget hard, too. The greatest effort required here is to be present and allow what's really happening. (Nonresistance!) You might want to exert some effort to access the compassionate, dispassionate witness—but you don't have to do anything; just watch what you are doing and how you are feeling. Then if you want to live intentionally (and here we have the intention not to be reactive), point yourself kindly toward what better fits your intention than what you just caught yourself doing.
Hard? It's hard to be someone who never reacts; it's hard to shift out of a reaction into some super-serene state then stay put at that new setting: stone statues are hard, hard, hard. If you're willing to be in flux, if you're willing to get real, if you're willing to get present—that means, now and now and now, to simply witness yourself without judgment, then to move toward where you want to be because you've found yourself where you don't like it so much—then where's the problem? You're great … but only right now. You're not a stone statue's worth of great. I personally choose to follow such a process until it spends itself—that is, carrying on with the above example, until the shame stops reasserting itself and even humility becomes a moot point.
Any questions? Direct them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or direct them to that great What Is in earth, water, fire, and sky and watch the answers come and go and sink and lift off and spark and smolder and whirl around like so many green smoothies in the making. (But avoid stone statues. They're not good for you.)
Love & blessings, Jaya