Today, the Cookie Monster followed me on Twitter. It’s a childhood dream come true – okay not entirely since there was no Twitter or Internet then – still, it makes me smile.
When I was around four or five years old I went to a picnic with my family. It was an organized day with lots of festivities – games for kids and grown-ups alike – and an appearance by none other than the Cookie Monster. I was completely mesmerized – so full of excitement and wonder at seeing him right before my eyes. Getting to meet him! It was as though every single cell in my body was full of joy – beaming and radiating even after he left. I was completely content.
Later that day I was indoors with my mom and for some reason I was looking under the tables. I don’t know what I was looking for but I do know what I found. As I pulled back the tablecloth I saw a large beaten-up cardboard box. Something familiar and blue was in it. I pulled back the flap of the box and to my horror there was a flattened Cookie Monster.
“Cookie Monster’s dead!” I sobbed. A mix of grief and horror shocked my system to its very core. Completely devastated, wonder and awe seemingly destroyed, I kept crying and crying at this lifeless mass of blue fur who not so long ago had brought me so much joy.
My mom tried to explain and I certainly didn’t have the skill or understanding at that age to hold both realities. Which was real? The Cookie Monster I saw not so long ago moving around and bringing such happiness or the Cookie Monster deflated and contained in the box underneath the table? Why did I have to open that box? Why did I have to find him like that? I wished I hadn’t.
Of course both were real, as were the emotions that came with both realities. I just happened to like the reality that I understood more and liked more. The one where I felt good and enjoyed life! The one before “reality” was crushed and I didn’t believe I could ever recover from the loss and the torrent of huge emotions of pain that came up and ran through me. I wanted the first reality back. I tried to will it back into existence, but it was gone. Both were gone. Past.
The polarity of these two extremes stuck with me like a framework within which to ride through life. Oscillating from one extreme to the other. Cling to the good (but not too much joy because it’ll be taken away and I don’t like how that feels) and avoid the bad. I can feel the remnants of years of brainpower used up trying to get back to many a reality I liked or thought I’d wanted. Trying to curb the emotion by sheer will. Trying to get to what “should” have been or could have been or the maybes or mights. Years of beating myself up for what I did “wrong” or simply trying to figure out how to get back. How to go back. There must be a way.
The thing is it’s not separate. One reality doesn’t replace another. It’s fluid. A movement through time and experience. Some moments will be intense, others won’t be.
It happens in moments as simple as being on an overcrowded subway car, all the while using energy to try to get out. It happens at crossroads in life, not trusting which “reality” is the right one. It happens on vacations and wanting or not wanting to get back to “real” life. It happens in the extremes of death and trauma and dramatic change.
The practice of yoga is to learn how to tolerate the intolerable and be able to allow all charges of emotion or energy (even the strong ones) move through without getting stuck or held onto anywhere in our systems. The charge of energy or emotion in that moment needs to be felt, fully experienced, and let go. Moved through. Not stored. Once it’s past it’s old energy. No longer needed. I’m coming to see that storing bits of old energy and clinging to it helps cling to judgments and beliefs including the belief that you can get back to the past which is impossible, and causes suffering.
Suffering also comes from clinging to one reality. When reality doesn’t actually exist to just adhere to my definition of it or my belief of what it should be or was or is. It’s just there. Constant. All these “realities” or moments are real and all require the same energy and care to flow through us in order to be present with what is instead of what could be or should be or might be or wasn’t.
Now, I smile at that person who tried so hard so many times to dig her way back. To uncover what was lost. I smile at all her efforts and hard work at trying to turn back time (and believing that she could by willpower alone). I smile because I understand her and I can now see her efforts of persistent tunneling to get back never would have got her far. She just couldn’t see that yet.
I can see now that I was powerless in what I was doing and didn’t want to believe it. I felt like I had the power to do it. I didn’t want to give up. If I just kept digging…I could get that “should have” back. I could undo opening the box. I could stay in the reality I liked – if only I could find it again.
I was caught up in an endless cycle of suffering that consumed so much of me and for so long.
I had to change direction. I had to let go not only of the past memories but also of my attachment of believing they meant anything about me. I had to see that my current reality – the one I’m actually in is real.
Changing direction has taken years of daily practice and there’s still a ways to go. I have noticed though that my severe and constant self-judgment about what I did “wrong” or how to change things I’ve done really has fallen off. It went from a constant churn in my brain to being pretty much non-existent. I no longer exert myself trying to get back with such intensity. The more I work to remove the charge from past moments and let current charges move through the best I can, the less I have to cling to and the more easeful and kind I can be.
When I saw that the Cookie Monster had followed me this morning I had a flood of happy emotions and instead of remembering the painful parts as painful or extreme joy all I could feel now was compassion; for myself as that little girl and compassion for myself now. Not disregarding the grief or loss or pain or joy. Including and incorporating it and letting it have had its place to pass through. Now it’s gone and the memory is no longer charged with anything other than love.