I attend a meditation group on Saturday mornings. It is my sangha. My community. It is a group of about 9 people with a teacher who instructs us to focus on our breath, our bodies, loving kindness for others, and compassion for ourselves. On occasion she will read a passage from a mindfulness book to give us an intention or thought to focus on throughout the day. One particular thought a couple weeks ago stuck with me.
This is an old story that many have probably heard before but goes like this: Natives in Asia devised a plan to catch monkeys by drilling holes in coconuts large enough for the monkey to fit their hands into but small enough so that when they reach in to grab a banana left for them they cannot pull their fist out. The monkeys would reach into the coconut to get the bananas and because they were so intent on getting the banana out (but could not get their fists out) they would starve. The monkeys would starve, attempting to get the banana, not realizing that if they just forget the banana they could be free to eat elsewhere. The monkey is trapped by an idea. The monkey is unable to see that a principle that served so well, holding onto the banana, has become deadly.
I have bananas inside coconuts in my life that leave me trapped. My need to hang on is no longer serving me well.
I have many coping skills that do not serve me well anymore although I still use them because I believe wholeheartedly that they are still helping. I have my hand in the coconut: self-harming, over-exercising and disordered eating, and isolating.
Self-harming has served me by allowing me to numb my feelings. A couple months ago I had a flashback in my therapy session. I was unable to talk about what happened or what was going on in my mind and left abruptly at the end of the session. I immediately went home and engaged in self-harm. It was my way of grounding, but an ineffective method because it did not last and left me feeling empty and angry with myself.
About four years ago I began exercising for hours at a time (about 6 hours) and eating as few calories as possible (400 per day). I was angry about several things going on in my life including a diagnosis of Systematic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE). I was intent on proving that an immune system disease would not take me down. It became a punishment. It was because I did not feel like I could measure up or live my life the way I planned. By now I should be a licensed counselor, have my student loans paid off, have more than one child, and own a home. I am on disability with nearly $20,000 in student loans 11 years after graduating from graduate school, I have one child who wishes for a sibling, and I rent an apartment with no chance of buying even a small home. My life was on track, and then it wasn’t, and the only thing I could control was the way I would treat my body.
Finally, I have chosen to cut myself off from others. I find it difficult to discuss the current struggles of my life with anyone. Maybe I am afraid of judgment, or maybe I am afraid that someone will hurt me. Or both. This blog is the communication I am capable of. There is no face to face. There is no intimacy in relationship. There is no chance for disappointment. In the meantime, I am missing out on the concept of iron sharpening iron. Proverbs 27:17 in the New King James Version says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.” I have no one to hold me accountable to living my best life. Living life. I try to do it on my own. I add things to my schedule and push myself to be busy with others, but I feel like I am going through the motions. I am hiding in social contexts without actually getting granular about my personal life.
I need to let go of the bananas, the idea that I need these things to survive. I’m not entirely ready for that, but I am making progress. I have not self-harmed in about 2 months. I am eating. Most of the time. I am working out with a trainer so I do not overdo. I am opening up with my therapist. At least talking about talking (metacognitive) about what is going on with me.
The recognition that I am holding the banana, the ridiculous ideas that the things I am doing are serving me well, is the best I can do right now. But I am learning to let go one moment at a time. Sometimes I let go, and sometimes I stick my hand back in. We all do that. Maybe we should all look at ourselves under the microscope a bit more.