In this post I depict an inquiry I did on “Self-hatred is my business.” I was facilitated by a wonderful man who has practiced the Work for many years. The four questions are not tightly adhered to in this inquiry. You may notice as you read that he has me hang out in variations of “is it true?” And “can you absolutely know it’s true?” for a good while, and we really explore what those two questions can evoke.
I’m sitting back in a wicker armchair, leaning into batik throw pillows, eyes closed and wearing headphones. Silent.
“What if there is absolutely no way possible that you could believe that self-hate is any of your business?” Jerry asks, his voice deep and calm.
I take this in and sit. How could that even be possible, that it’s not my business?
“It’s totally my business” I say, a little irritated and incredulous.
“And can you be absolutely one hundred percent sure that that’s true? That self-hate is any of your business?” he asks.
I sit, eyes still closed, feeling this self-hate and re-ask the question to myself. “Yes, it is absolutely my business. The only way through it is to deal with it. Take care of it. That’s my job. My business.”
“Picture a bird” says Jerry. “Look at that bird.” He gives nice pauses between his sentences as he speaks, letting me sink into the scene. “It just flew by and landed right next to you. Is that bird, in all it’s birdness, any of you business? Any at all?”
The bird is there. Vivid in my mind. I see it like it’s real, and feel its birdness, its ownness, feel it like a substance. “No.” And the bird isn’t my business, that is completely clear.
“Ok. Now picture a table in front of you. Look at that table sitting in front of you.”
I see it. The dimension that sometimes opens in my mind into a place of images that unfold without having to try is active. I can just walk through that world like walking down the street and look at what’s already there.
“Is anything, anything at all about that table your business?” his voice asks into my headphones.
“No.” The table is absolutely its own thing. There is no part of me required to make it a table.
“Now look at that self-hate.” A pause while I look. “Is it your business? Is any little part of it your business at all?”
I hold two smooth dark grey stones, one in each palm. They are conical and heavy and radiating heat soaked up from sitting on the little oil radiator next to my knees. I look. Suddenly there is a whiff of space between myself and the self-hate. The self-hate is absolutely enormous. A giant boulder, no, more accurately a ginormous asteroid, like the asteroids depicted in movies that are about to annihilate the earth, reaching clear to the sky, taking up a huge amount of room. I can’t see around it or over it, but there is this little bit of space between me and it. I see it hung right above me, it's rough rock edges clear. It is clearly completely its own thing. Not me. I tell this to Jerry, eyes still shut.
“Is ANY part of that self-hate your business?” he asks again, steady and warm.
I sit, looking at the immense asteroid and ask the question again to myself. NO. It’s its own thing entirely. I see its vastness. It is taking up an unbelievable amount of space and there is not one atom in that boulder that apologizes for that use of space. In fact, the thought of apology is so far from the boulder’s experience of itself that I don’t feel a whisper of the idea coming from it. I tell Jerry this.
“Yeah. That boulder would never think to apologize for what it is” says Jerry.
I sit, sit next to the asteroid and watch it. It’s so obviously not me. It’s a giant boulder with its own form and edges and being-ness. I suddenly feel absolutely gigantic. Much much bigger than the asteroid. If that asteroid was in me, and it’s not me, I am amazed to realize how big I must be. I have just become so much bigger that I ever thought I was.
“So is there any bit, any little bit of that boulder, that self-hate, that is your business?” he asks again, voice patient, deep, and magically a part of the image world I am walking though.
“No. It’s not me. It is its own thing, and I can see it’s violent to think that I should have power over it, that I should own it.”
I pause and watch awhile. “No…. no. I actually like it. Now I’m inside my front door looking out through the window at it. It’s sort of bending down and looking through the window at me. Like it’s just come up the driveway and wants to come in for a visit. Like a friend, and I like this friend very much. I’m happy to see it. For real. I’m curious about it. There’s no part of me that’s moving to pretend I’m not home, or hide until it goes away. I actually want to open the door and hang out.”
“Yeah.” Another pause, and then his deep slow voice again “what happens when you think that self-hate is your business now?”
I feel the question and recoil internally. “Its awful. I see myself trying to strap up my friend and control it. I’m taking over; I’m dominating the big boulder. I don’t like that feeling at all. It is so violent. All I feel is fear and violence and that I have to desperately hurt this friend of mine. It hurts to do it.”
I see myself take giant ratchet straps and truss up the boulder in my house. The boulder is cringing and scared, looking at me, shrunk back in fear. “I don’t want to do that” I whisper, horrified.
“That’s what happens when we think that self-hate is our business, even in the least bit. We try to control it, we try to change it. We think it’s our job to do that and we’re hopeless because self-hate just IS. Self-hate is self-hate. It has a right to life because it IS, and as soon as we think it doesn’t have a right to life, it hurts because it’s not true.”
“Yeah I actually love this friend. I want him to come over again. I like spending time being with him” I say, astonished that I’m saying this, but it is true. I start to feel gratitude for this friend, that this friend wants to take the time out of its life and come and spend so much of it with me. It’s an honor.
A dump of doubt suddenly floods me. “Jerry” I say, opening my eyes and looking at him on the laptop screen sitting on the bedside table. “I just had the thought that yeah, this is great and I really see this right now, but it’s all just in this place in me I can go where I see things without trying to see them. It won’t have any bearing on tomorrow when I feel self-hate. This will be totally gone.”
“So what?” Jerry says.
I burst out laughing.
“So what? So what if this is totally pointless tomorrow?” he says.
His unapologetic ‘I don’t give a fuck’ attitude delights me. I want to jump around and play like a puppy. “Are you going to throw your cigarette on the ground, grind it out with your boot, and then kick someone over?” I ask “Cause that’s what you look like.”
Jerry mimes smoking a cigarette, and nails it. He laughs. It looks like the persona is appealing.
“Well”, says Jerry, “it might be that tomorrow when self-hate comes there will be a pause and something new might happen. It's like the Rumi poem. When they come to your door, invite them in, give them tea, welcome them as guests.”
I’ve heard the poem dozens of times. Read aloud by others, read in books, I’ve read it aloud to myself. Teachers have talked about it. I thought I understood it, but I hadn’t.
That very night I lay in bed with my son as he falls asleep. He is fidgety. Not fidgety in a “I’m so frustrated that I can’t get to sleep” toss and turn kind of way, but fidgety in a little boy with lots of energy who’s thinking about Martin Luther King Jr kind of way, and “we don’t have anyone like that here right now” kind of way, and a “When was Abraham Lincoln president?” kind of way. When I tell him about 130 years ago he says, “Kermit’s dad could have known him. He was alive then.” Kermit was our neighbor who died 3 days short of reaching his 99th birthday. My son is throwing his leg this way and pulling the blanket down that way and then taking off his socks and thinking deep thoughts.
I lay through it, curled up on my side next to him, one arm across his little chest. I’m impatient. I don’t mind lying here, but my mind is wandering to all the things I want to do once he falls asleep, and I am starting to think if he doesn’t go to sleep soon I won’t be able to do those things.
Oh! Impatience. This is impatience. It doesn’t feel good. Ohhhhh. Oh maybe this is one of those times, one of those guests. “Is this impatience my business?” I ask myself. “NO.” The answer is immediate and unwavering. “Whoa.” Something is happening inside of me. I can actually feel the impatience separating from me and taking form as it’s complete own thing. IT'S NOT ME. Whoa. I am so big. I am suddenly wide-open space and immensely calm. I feel all the energy in my body change and become soft, alive, and peaceful. My son falls asleep instantly. I can actually feel the waves of sleep wash over him, and he’s out in a matter of seconds. I lie there for a long time, the quiet starlight filtering through the pine boughs outside the window, my son’s little body warm under the quilt.
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.
Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
— Jellaludin Rumi,
translation by Coleman Barks