By Genna Hegerich
I’m not an angry person.
At least that’s what I tell myself. I do get angry, but I like to believe I get the “bad” feelings or misunderstandings resolved quickly by communicating with the other people involved. I try to stay open to hearing and understanding the other persons point of view. Angry feelings that hang around and come up to pick a fight, even if only in my own psyche, are explored and processed towards resolution over time.
I maintain a deep desire to move beyond whatever conflict, hurt or damage is causing pain through communication and hard work on myself, rather than nursing bad feelings or acting against anyone out of that place of hurt.
At least that’s the plan. Sometimes life has other ideas for me.
Recently I spent a good portion of time during the week with my 87 year-old mom taking her to doctors’ appointments accompanied by her sister, my beloved 89 year-old Aunt Katie who was visiting from Michigan. They are wonderful people—feisty and fun and both still have all their smarts intact.
Not surprisingly, however, mom’s been having more frequent bouts with health problems and pain lately. I’m happy and grateful to be able to support her in any and every way I can through these challenges, especially since I’m unemployed right now and have plenty of time to be a caretaker. But, it’s tough to see her in pain. Especially when that pain is reducing her independence and slowly diminishing her quality of life.
That being said, shuttling two over 85 year olds to appointments, especially when one is using a wheelchair that doesn’t fit in the car, involves a lot of planning for things we normally take for granted. Even the two shuffle steps mom would take from the car to a bench were really painful and laborious work.
Standing was tough for her that week; walking was almost impossible. Thinking through every potential obstacle or problem we might meet during our trips without seeming to be micromanaging these expeditions was tricky.
My mom asks me “How did you find out that the doctor’s office would let us use their wheelchair unless you called them even after I asked you not to call?”… “Oh, and, thank you.” Sigh. The term for the greater good becomes part of your mental lexicon as you imagine how to help without overtly interfering in someone’s life. I was balancing trying to be there for her even before she knew she would need me against allowing her to maintain her sense of control by waiting for her to tell me what she specifically needed from me to function.
Perhaps it was the clustering of a number of appointments close together or perhaps the added pressure of having Aunt Katie along for each trip, but by Friday of that week I found myself feeling out of sorts and crabby. I hoped it would just pass as I went through my day, but it didn’t. I couldn’t figure out what was wrong since my rational mind and everything I could connect with inside myself had been very willing to support my mom in any way I could.
My mind was wondering what the heck was going on with me as I started to notice that I was, actually—angry.
Angry as in imagining it would be a great relief to act out my feelings in public by “accidentally” being mean to a stranger like a store clerk or something, or maybe being a little self-destructive by eating something really bad for me (bakery-made toffee chocolate chip cookies anyone?) to stuff my feelings down. Fortunately, some deep breaths and sitting quietly got me past that, but it seemed that the more I tried to figure out what was wrong and how to fix it, the more frustrated and edgy I got.
That afternoon I decided to go to my big neighborhood bookstore, one of my favorite happy places. I headed straight to the Buddhism section looking for relief and started reading the titles on the spines. I got engrossed in my search as I pulled a couple titles out and kneeled back on my heels to page through those books.
I don’t even know how long I sat there, but the pain and tingling in my legs reached my consciousness and I rolled to the side to sit on my rear and allow the blood to flow back into my legs. After a couple of seconds they still felt pretty uncomfortable, so I pulled my pants legs up a bit to peek, and saw my legs were bright red and swollen—white spots appearing when I touched the red skin. The tiny woven square carpet pattern and the tiny little rocks embedded in the carpet clearly pressed into my flesh and the shapes retained even after the pressure was relieved. I was a little alarmed at their appearance and thought, “No wonder why my legs are hurting!”
Then it hit me—like a wave of light that started at my head, swept quickly down through my body then back up through the top of my skull: I am my legs.
I am red and swollen and have been under too much pressure for too long. The imprints of the life I’ve come into contact with recently have left their marks and I haven’t been able to allow those painful and pressured points of contact relax and release. My legs are angry and in pain right now—just like me—and it doesn’t even matter why.
As that surge of energy and understanding swept through me I found myself lifting my face upward and smiling. I felt a sense of bliss as all thinking, emotions, physical discomfort and searching for answers released and were replaced by compassion. I just sat there with my legs stretched out in front of me, leaning back against the books on Buddhism, face slightly turned upward, and smiling.
And I thought, “What a wonderful life this is… what a mystery it is to be human.” I noticed an older woman walking by my aisle and saw her turn to look at me. She broke into a big smile and waved at me. I smiled and waved back.
It might seem as though the lesson here is to let go—to practice being in the moment over and over again by releasing the past and the future and just noticing what is happening now. I do that and find it a rewarding practice.
But we as humans are hardwired with the need to connect.
We must experience both giving and receiving love throughout our lives or we begin to slowly die even while our bodies go through the motions of being alive. Our five senses connect us with the lush layers of life in ways both thrilling and horrifying. That means that our human lives and all our very human relationships are going to be layered with wants and needs, with the past and the future, with uncertain dreams and individual memories.
Yet, everything is temporary. Everything.
Not to be too obvious here, but every one of us is going to die. Every living thing on this planet will die at some point. Our homes, our friends, our jobs and all the beautiful and annoying ephemera that fills our lives—their days are numbered, too.
So, what are we to do? How do we live with the complexity and drive for human connectedness and attachment while releasing and choosing to forgo control over circumstances and events as they happen as much as possible? I can only tell you the word and idea that fills my lungs with breath, my heart with gratitude and allows me to step out of the intensity of the most personally painful moments of my daily life. That word and that idea is invocation.
Invocation by definition requires an “other,” usually a power that is deemed to be bigger than you. For me, the relationship I experience and work to deepen between myself and this power is the basis for everything good in my life. This power could be your concept of a “higher power,” or the energy you believe that created all life, or the organizing principle of all life, perhaps a unifying and omnipresent soul of the universe, or maybe even God—whatever feels real, alive and powerful to you.
This power must be something you believe will always be working for your good, for the best possible outcome, even if you’re not able to witness or experience that good in the moment or a week or a year. My experience has been that the questions you ask with an open heart are much more powerful and effective than anything you could ask for specifically in bringing about the changes that will truly move your life into a positive future.
So, while my “monkey mind” may be running and searching—desperately—for the reasons why I may feel the way I do or why something is happening the way it is, my more developed inner witness to my life asks the questions needed to really break through to a new place, “Why am I in so much pain? Why does this keep happening to me?”
The questions may need to be asked repeatedly for the answer to come to you. Or you may not even need an answer. Maybe you just need the deep release that I experienced in the bookstore.
Have faith that it will all come to you at the perfect time.
Being alive as a human is our life-long pursuit, exploration and gift. But I think our divinity is in each moment, waiting for us—each experienced second of our divinity allowing us to glimpse a moment of eternity.
And in the mental space for all the other dharma moments in my life I love to go to my favorite version of the metta prayer:
May all beings be peaceful.
May all beings be happy.
May all beings be safe.
May all beings awaken to the light of their true nature.
May all beings be free.
God bless you on your journey.
Genna Hegerich was born in the Midwest, raised in the “new south” (yep, Florida) and lived for 19 years in Brooklyn, NY. Starting out in college as an art student, she changed majors in her senior year to theater (sorry Mom & Dad). Not long after graduating with a BA in acting she moved to NYC to attend the graduate acting program at NYU. After a number of years banging on the acting career door she pulled the plug on that dream and settled into a life of work and play in the big city. 15 years ago she moved back to Florida after two deaths in the family that shifted her heart and soul in a new direction. Now, life has swerved again. The custom stationery store she managed for over 10 years has closed. Life seems to have more questions than answers these days. And that feels good—open ended and filled with choices and possibilities. Being creative feels healing and empowering. The whispered wish that as one life ends, another is already beginning has become a prayer and an affirmation. Life moves us forward.
Editor: Dana Gornall