I have always remembered dates. For me they mark the passage of time and I have always felt it is important to acknowledge events in my life, both good and bad, and the emotions that are inevitably generated by these events. It is easy to remember the good dates and the positive emotions – the day I was proposed to and accepted, the days my children were born, my grandmother’s birthday (January 24th) & my parents wedding anniversary. I have marked these dates for years: my friend Clare who I met in September 1987 and I celebrated 25 years of friendship in 2012!
Other times, these days are inherently bittersweet – the day I immigrated to the USA, for example, marked my journey into adulthood and a new life for myself, but I left behind my family and childhood friends in London. The day my son was diagnosed with cancer (the thursday after Labor Day, 2008) is forever carved in my mind. Every year on that thursday, I tell him that I am SO glad he made it and bake a cake and celebrate his life. My no-longer-wedding-anniversary, which I recently blogged about and have decided to celebrate the day as my children’s day. And six months ago, the structure on which I had built my life for the past 15 1/2 years, was a structure I could no longer trust. I knew our journey together had run its course. I am now moving on, building anew. I am the only architect in the company of my three children, nurturing a feeling of stillness after a life of too much motion.
And then there are the grief dates, marking deaths and diagnoses, and the birthdays of dead loved ones. The day my grandmother died when I was pregnant with my first child, is a day I always remember. For the next 9 years after she died, I sent my grandfather flowers on that day. I also sent him flowers every year on her birthday (March 24th). And then in 2013 he died and I now send flowers to my mother (his daughter).
It is easy to ignore dates – a desire not to face that impending big birthday, or to remember the passing of a loved one. But, I feel that it is important to acknowledge dates. I have been meditating regularly for about six and a half years. One of the things that I have learned through this practice is that if you try not to think about something, it will inevitably be the thing you think about the most: like the white bear experiments where you try to avoid unwanted thoughts! Repressing the complex emotions that are associated with some dates is unhealthy – as is an over the top expression of these emotions. As my Buddhist teacher said recently: do not express it or repress it: face it, see it for what it is and let it go; you’re aiming for these emotions to arise and disappear immediately – like writing your name on water.
So, today I am making the case to remember: both the good and the bad. Interestingly, this approach to acknowledging the unpleasant, is mirrored in the Vajrayana path of Buddhism’s approach to dealing with negative emotions. The analogy is that in this path of Buddhism, when the poisonous plant is discovered, instead of cutting it down (the Hinayana path – renunciation as a way to let go of the ego and negative emotions) or cutting it down and destroying the roots (the Mahayana path – realization of emptiness as a way to let go of the ego and negative emotions), the poison is converted to medicine: the energy of negativity creates the transformation necessary for realization. There is a belief in Tibet, that the peacock’s beauty is a result of the consumption of poison: the peacock thrives on the poison. This represents the path of self-realization. Thus, to acknowledge and find a way to commemorate these events, both good and bad in a way that does not involve an unhealthy expression or repression of emotions. But simply is this: I see this, I look at it and I let it go. I want to be the peacock – facing things for what they are and converting the negative ones into beauty and making them part of my practice.
Copyright Tamsin Astor-Jack, PhD, YogaBrained LLC 2015